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”

See more of my artwork and books at Lynda Linke Productions

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Small and not so small blessings

Lynda Linke logoJuly 8th will be the fifth anniversary of my “reinvention” journey – the day I retired from the working world and began living life in a different way than I had for the previous 35+ years. Years ago I read somewhere that retirement for “Boomers” is different from their parent’s retirement and that many of us like to think of it more as an opportunity for “reinvention”. That’s a fairly typical Boomer way of looking at things – slightly self-centered and egotistical, goal-oriented, forward thinking, and always striving to be different from previous generations. We’re not going to have our parent’s retirement! Perish the thought!! We might even be the first generation that really didn’t believe we would grow old, or at least the most vocal about it. Remember “don’t trust anyone over 30”? How about The Who talking about “My Generation”? Now that we’re all in our 60’s and 70’s, it’s our turn to confront the challenges of aging and, once again, we are determined to experience it in our own way.

Although I’m sure there are plenty of people in my age group who are happy to spend their retirement playing golf or fishing (nothing wrong with that!), I have read interesting stories about people who are using retirement as a time in their lives when they can create a different lifestyle. Many people have chosen to start a small business after retiring, often completely different from the careers in which they worked for 30 or 40 years. Maybe for the first time in your adult life you’re free to explore interests for which you never had time. You might make a radical lifestyle change – perhaps you always wanted to live on a houseboat or maybe you’re fulfilling the dream you’ve had since you were 18 of traveling the country in an RV. I just read a story about a couple who spent a year visiting all 59 national parks!

Although I can’t say I have created a radically different or unique lifestyle in the way some people have, it is certainly different from the one I used to have. For one thing, the reduction in stress and responsibility has allowed me to change in some important ways. One change, which is a small blessing in itself, is a real understanding that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing at this point in my life. I have accepted my current limitations and restrictions and I’m content. That’s a biggie for me because I’ve always been restless and thinking about the next “thing”. I’m not living an exciting, adventurous life but I appreciate the small blessings of being able to immerse myself in a good book, walk with Liberty, have lunch with a friend, take my Mom on a vacation, go to the beach, get away on my own for a few days and a myriad of other simple pleasures.

I started out 5 years ago with a long to-do list, which is still only half completed. It’s been a small blessing to find I don’t care about accomplishing the rest of the goals I set for myself back then! I’ve learned some things about myself and one of them is that I’m not ambitious enough to be a successful artist or author or to start a business, and that’s okay because an important part of my journey has been learning to accept myself. I no longer feel like I have to be accomplishing something important every day. There are places I’d like to visit, things I’d like to experience and a soul mate I hope to meet before I die, but I don’t have the anxious restlessness I once had about those things – and for a former chronic malcontent that’s no small blessing.

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. ~E.M. Forster

Lake Hall Tallahassee 4-16

Liberty is thankful for the not so small blessing of encountering NO alligators during her recent visit to Lake Hall in Arthur B. Maclay Gardens and State Park in Tallahassee. 

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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!

 

 

Dream Tweaker

A Star to DiscoverA friend, who recently turned 70, made the comment to me that it was difficult for him when he realized that he’s not going to be able to do all the things he once dreamed about, or live all the lives he wanted to live. I don’t like that thought either but, I understand what he means. He’s not saying that you can’t have adventures or new experiences, it’s just that, at some point, the awareness seeps into your mind that time is no longer on your side. Possibilities are no longer endless and some of your dreams will probably never come true. We’re so used to thinking that we have plenty of time ahead of us to achieve our dreams – when the kids are grown, when we have more money, when our  responsibilities to elderly relatives are fulfilled – but eventually we’re confronted with reality.

This is where dream tweaking comes in. I’ve had a dream for a while about traveling all over the country in a small RV with my dog, Liberty. I’ve spent many happy hours over the last few years looking at maps, researching different types of RVs, and doing lots of armchair traveling on the Internet. I’ve planned the routes I would take – hop scotching across the map from one national park and historic site to another. I’ve had a lot of fun with this dream but recently I’ve started to look at it through a more realistic and practical lens. For one thing, this dream can’t become reality as long as my mother is with me. I treasure her presence in my life and hope she lives many more healthy years but, the reality is that I will probably be quite a bit older by the time I’m free to roam. I’m 65 now – is it realistic to think that a woman in her 60’s (or 70’s) with no mechanical abilities could travel the country alone in an RV? Maybe, but I’m beginning to have doubts. I haven’t completely abandoned the dream but, I am tweaking it. I’m thinking about alternate ways to achieve this dream, like doing my wandering in a comfortable car and staying longer in places I like.

Back in 2009, when I adopted Stella, I began renting dog-friendly homes on Homeaway.com for my vacations with Mom and we have stayed in many affordable, comfortable places. I have also rented smaller places for solo trips with my dogs so this might be a more practical way for me to achieve the dream of a cross country trip. There are many expenses involved in RV ownership – maintenance, extra insurance, increased gas costs, and storage fees (my town doesn’t allow RV storage on my property) – so, driving a car and staying in vacation rentals might be financially comparable to traveling in an RV.

Dreams are enjoyable and I happen to believe they’re good for you – let your imagination soar and then do what is possible at whatever stage of life you’re in. If you’re 85 and you’ve dreamed about learning a new language or taking up painting – do it!! You probably won’t become a famous artist and it might be too late to become an interpreter at the UN but you can enjoy the fulfillment of your dream even if you have to tweak it to make it work. It’s reasonable to accept the limitations of age or disabilities but don’t completely abandon your dreams just because the original version is no longer practical. Be a dream tweaker!

Cut not the wings of your dreams, for they are the heartbeat and freedom of your soul. ~Flavia         

Washington Oaks-Matanzas River 5-22-15

Life is but a dream

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Don’t complain, don’t explain

Complaint department is closedDon’t complain, don’t explain. I read this many years ago in a book by the late, great Dr. Wayne Dyer and it stuck with me because it felt true – I admit I still sometimes complain or explain but, at least I catch myself before I get on a roll! As with most mottos, it’s a bit simplistic. It’s really just meant to be a quick reminder to yourself that you’re not thinking or acting in your own best interest. How is this not in your best interest? Because they both reflect a weakness of character – in one you’re a victim, in the other you’re lacking confidence.

Don’t complainAre you proactive about your own happiness or do you expect others to make you happy? Is it easy for someone or something to ruin your whole day? Complaining is one the most pointless, wasteful, counterproductive things you can do with your time and energy especially if you’re complaining about something you can’t even change. Complaining let’s you be the victim because it’s a “poor me” mentality. It’s a way to get sympathy and attention but, chronic complaining wears on people and eventually they become bored or annoyed with you. They’ll probably start to avoid you. Everybody complains sometimes but, the chronic complainer takes it to a different level – it actually becomes part of their identity and creates a self perpetuating unhappiness. I don’t think I was ever a chronic complainer but, I’ve done my share of what I used to call “bitchin’ and moanin'”. Dr. Dyer and my late friend, Carol, helped me realize that you don’t have to actually complain out loud to have a victim mentality. If your thoughts tend to be a constant stream of complaints then you are allowing yourself to be victimized by your situation, the people in your life, and the things you don’t like about yourself. Complaining, even to yourself, is a form of resisting reality and an unwillingness to change the things over which you have control. (By the way, constantly criticizing yourself falls into the category of complaining) Sometimes the only thing you can change about a situation is how you think about it but that alone can make a huge difference. I want to be clear about the difference between complaining and sharing concerns with someone. We all have problems and fears and talking about them with a friend can help us find ways to overcome them. I believe the old maxim “A problem shared is a problem halved” has a lot of truth to it. On the other hand, complaining is when you just keep talking about the same problems over and over but never actually do anything to change them.

Don’t explain. Do you have a constant need to justify everything you do? Do you have trouble giving a brief and simple explanation for your decisions? I used to be like that far too often and I think it stems from shaky self-esteem and confidence. It was important that everyone understood me and I thought if I explained my thoughts or actions well enough, they would agree with me. I wanted to be approved of and liked and I took it personally when someone didn’t agree with me. Of course, I still want to be liked and agreed with, I no longer need it – at least, not from everyone. Reality is that as long as you’re not breaking the law or hurting anyone, you don’t have to explain yourself. When you have the strength of your convictions and confidence in your ability to make good decisions, you will do whatever you think is right and won’t need to justify your actions. You’re able to accept that not everyone in your life will understand or agree with you and you’ll be comfortable with that.

Complaining not only ruins everybody else’s day, it ruins the complainers day, too. The more we complain, the more unhappy we get.    ~Dennis Prager

New toys for Christmas-2015

Liberty refuses to explain her actions!

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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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My friend Carol

Beach club 002The other day I received a call from the sister of my friend, Carol, to let me know that she had passed away on July 4th. She was 81. Carol had cerebral cortex dementia and, in January, had been given 2-5 months to live. Although we didn’t see each other often over the past few years, for many years she was my friend and mentor so, today I’m remembering fond memories of her.

I met Carol in 1995. She was 17 years older than me and, when I met her, she was a semi-retired social work consultant. She had run her own successful consulting business in Cleveland for more than 20 years before moving to Florida at the age of 60, about a year and a half before I met her. She had done grant writing, board training, and program development for some of the biggest social service agencies in Cleveland and was still doing those things on a part-time basis. She was a tall, imposing woman – about 5’11” – with silvery white hair and piercing blue eyes, large features, a wide toothy smile and a loud voice. She was confident, assertive, even somewhat overbearing; not a shy bone in her body. She immediately invaded my personal space, which is something that always makes me uncomfortable and, although I knew she was trying to be friendly, she came across as loud and pushy so I didn’t warm to her right away. It took a while before I accepted an invitation to meet her for lunch but, gradually, we became friends.

There was a lot to admire about Carol. Her generous nature and willingness to help anyone. The way she managed her life – work she enjoyed, volunteerism, an active social life, and financial independence. She had a lot of energy and always seemed to be in motion. As a younger woman she had been a marathon runner and when I met her she still regularly worked out at the gym and swam in the pool. She enjoyed movies and plays, all types of music, and she loved to dance. She had a soft spot for children, especially teens, and she started a non-profit children’s theater group with a friend who was a former actress and convinced me to serve on their board. She had several single friends in her age group, “the girls”, who regularly got together for birthdays and other celebrations – Carol loved to celebrate life – and I was often invited to join them. I started the “Quarterly Group” with Carol and two professional friends. We would get together for dinner once every quarter, on a rotating basis, at each other’s houses and we did that for several years until family and health issues started to interfere. She had been married twice but seemed more than capable of having a full, happy life without a man. I looked up to her as a good role model for a single, independent, successful career woman.

During the early years of our friendship I was struggling financially, dealing with a stressful job and difficult times with my son. She was always supportive and encouraging. She was a good listener and she gave good advice. She had been through struggles of her own – her father (and both husbands) had been an alcoholic, she got pregnant and ran away from home at 17 and gave the baby up for adoption, and then went on to earn Bachelors and Masters degrees in Social Work. She invited me to join her at her timeshare at the beach many times and she always referred to me as her “beach buddy” (I did the drawing on this post as a birthday card for her one year). We were both on a path of spiritual searching and personal growth and we enjoyed sharing the books we were reading with each other. In the mornings, we would sit on opposite ends of the long balcony sipping coffee, reading and writing in our journals, and occasionally reading something aloud that had especially resonated with us.

It was a sad ending for such a vibrant, energetic and caring woman but, I’m choosing not to focus on that. This week I’m going to meet Carol’s sister and the surviving “girls” at the beach to spread her ashes and celebrate her life.

God bless you, Carol. I’m glad I knew you.

Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.  ~Anais Nin

Carol at the Beach Club 12-03