Month: January 2011

Mom’s 100th Birthday

Mom’s 100th Birthday

Mom's 95th Birthday Celebration
Mom's 95th Birthday Celebration

Today is my mother’s 100th Birthday. Though she did not live to blow out the conflagration on her birthday cake, I think she would have liked to. All things being equal, the world conspired against that eventuality. My mother was a woman who saw little in her life’s accomplishments, though they were many. She did not celebrate the number of meals she cooked in her life time, the number of loads of laundry she completed, or the number of times she came to the aid of someone in need. She did not keep track of how many batches of cookies she baked for her children, her neighbor’s children, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren, and the church bizarre, while rarely eating sweets herself. My mother did not indulge in back patting. To the modern way of thinking, her perspective was flawed.

To her credit, she was able to brag about one thing and that was her age, once it advanced to the point where it surprised even her. In her last years, which numbered ninety-seven, whenever I took her shopping she would, without fail, start a conversation with a clerk in each store we visited. Often dispensing with all formalities she would get right to the point. Leaning into the individual conspiratorially (all five feet and ninety-eight pounds), with a decided twinkle in her eye, she’d pose her question, “I bet you can’t guess how old I am”. Then, stepping back she waited until they selected and announced a number that was invariably, by intention or design, lower than the actual one.  My mother would cherish her secret a moment, and then, as conspiratorially as before, divulge the truth. The clerk invariably responded to the truth with astonishment (by intention or design) and Mom beamed with the pride of accomplishment.

My mother was proud of this one accomplishment in her life, although it was easy to sense that she knew she was not entirely responsible for it. The pride of the moment was far more complex than she probably even knew herself. Though all she had done was to manage to survive, she had survived an exceptionally long life, very little of it of her own choosing. She had made the best of it and that truly was a feat. She survived and survived fairly well. Her kids grown and more or less happily married, her husband exceptionally cared for until the day she buried him, her house clean, her cookies baked, she could rest on her laurels long enough to be proud of her age.

It was not hard to see that beneath all of this false bravado was a woman who had done very few of the things she could have done, and had the times been different, would have done. Although I could not quite understand or name her actions at the time, now, three years after her death, I understand completely.  I face my own advancing age and I am much more bothered by what I have not done than what I have.  My mother’s restlessness was incomprehensible to me at the time when I could have made a difference and yet, I feel quite certain that she was locked too tightly within society’s boundaries to have broken free even with assistance.

I continue to wrestle with my family’s choices about her end of life care. She had no health problems that would have prevented her from making it to one hundred. I believed then, and I believe now, that she could have and would have if things had been different. But we chose her end of life care because she would not choose her own and as a result she was unhappy (on the inside), tragically, deeply, beneath the surface unhappy, much as she had been and tried to deny throughout her life.  Sequestered in a “retirement community” she felt cut off from her family, not because we didn’t “visit” but because we were “visitors” and in some sense no longer family. Her apartment was not “home” despite her valiant efforts to make it so. Surrounded by the feeble, the sick and the dying, sequestered within the walls of a commercially designed and decorated building, she felt deeply cut off ~ as much from the earth as the family. Nature had sustained her when nothing else did.

She did not have it within her vocabulary to ask for, or if necessary demand, what she wanted, alas needed,  to end her life properly. She had spent a lifetime denying her needs, how could her dying have been any different?  She chose to relinquish her preferred choice and take the path of least resistance. She chose to die instead and give up on reaching her goal of making it to one hundred. After all, did she really have a choice?

Would it have made any difference to anyone if she had lived another three years? Would her days have counted for more? I don’t know for sure, but I believe that to her it might have been among her greatest achievements, to have lived to be one hundred and to receive a letter from the President, recognition for a race well run, she might have died in peace. I know it would have made a difference to me.

Mom's 100th Birthday

Mom's 100th Birthday

Mom's 95th Birthday Celebration
Mom's 95th Birthday Celebration

Today is my mother’s 100th Birthday. Though she did not live to blow out the conflagration on her birthday cake, I think she would have liked to. All things being equal, the world conspired against that eventuality. My mother was a woman who saw little in her life’s accomplishments, though they were many. She did not celebrate the number of meals she cooked in her life time, the number of loads of laundry she completed, or the number of times she came to the aid of someone in need. She did not keep track of how many batches of cookies she baked for her children, her neighbor’s children, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren, and the church bizarre, while rarely eating sweets herself. My mother did not indulge in back patting. To the modern way of thinking, her perspective was flawed.

To her credit, she was able to brag about one thing and that was her age, once it advanced to the point where it surprised even her. In her last years, which numbered ninety-seven, whenever I took her shopping she would, without fail, start a conversation with a clerk in each store we visited. Often dispensing with all formalities she would get right to the point. Leaning into the individual conspiratorially (all five feet and ninety-eight pounds), with a decided twinkle in her eye, she’d pose her question, “I bet you can’t guess how old I am”. Then, stepping back she waited until they selected and announced a number that was invariably, by intention or design, lower than the actual one.  My mother would cherish her secret a moment, and then, as conspiratorially as before, divulge the truth. The clerk invariably responded to the truth with astonishment (by intention or design) and Mom beamed with the pride of accomplishment.

My mother was proud of this one accomplishment in her life, although it was easy to sense that she knew she was not entirely responsible for it. The pride of the moment was far more complex than she probably even knew herself. Though all she had done was to manage to survive, she had survived an exceptionally long life, very little of it of her own choosing. She had made the best of it and that truly was a feat. She survived and survived fairly well. Her kids grown and more or less happily married, her husband exceptionally cared for until the day she buried him, her house clean, her cookies baked, she could rest on her laurels long enough to be proud of her age.

It was not hard to see that beneath all of this false bravado was a woman who had done very few of the things she could have done, and had the times been different, would have done. Although I could not quite understand or name her actions at the time, now, three years after her death, I understand completely.  I face my own advancing age and I am much more bothered by what I have not done than what I have.  My mother’s restlessness was incomprehensible to me at the time when I could have made a difference and yet, I feel quite certain that she was locked too tightly within society’s boundaries to have broken free even with assistance.

I continue to wrestle with my family’s choices about her end of life care. She had no health problems that would have prevented her from making it to one hundred. I believed then, and I believe now, that she could have and would have if things had been different. But we chose her end of life care because she would not choose her own and as a result she was unhappy (on the inside), tragically, deeply, beneath the surface unhappy, much as she had been and tried to deny throughout her life.  Sequestered in a “retirement community” she felt cut off from her family, not because we didn’t “visit” but because we were “visitors” and in some sense no longer family. Her apartment was not “home” despite her valiant efforts to make it so. Surrounded by the feeble, the sick and the dying, sequestered within the walls of a commercially designed and decorated building, she felt deeply cut off ~ as much from the earth as the family. Nature had sustained her when nothing else did.

She did not have it within her vocabulary to ask for, or if necessary demand, what she wanted, alas needed,  to end her life properly. She had spent a lifetime denying her needs, how could her dying have been any different?  She chose to relinquish her preferred choice and take the path of least resistance. She chose to die instead and give up on reaching her goal of making it to one hundred. After all, did she really have a choice?

Would it have made any difference to anyone if she had lived another three years? Would her days have counted for more? I don’t know for sure, but I believe that to her it might have been among her greatest achievements, to have lived to be one hundred and to receive a letter from the President, recognition for a race well run, she might have died in peace. I know it would have made a difference to me.

Get What You Really Want

Get What You Really Want

The only way to get what you really want is to let go of what you don’t want. ~ Iyanla Vanzant

Getting what we want in life not only seems possible when we are young, but inevitable. Even in my darkest moments I believed with utter fervor and commitment that if I worked hard enough, did the right things, and followed the right path, I would have a fulfilling and meaningful life. I knew it would not be perfect, but it would be good enough.

Little did I know that I would be trapped by a mindset, passed down for generations, that would keep me bound and guided by forces that I could not see. Driven by a combination of habit, ego, and an immature idea of love and caring, I plowed through the first half of my life as if my days on earth were endless. Though that may sound extreme, it is crystal-clear to me (now that I have really “come of age”), that life is not what it seems when we are young!

When I woke up from a life, that upon reflection seems like a bad dream, I was nearly paralyzed by the awareness that in spite of the fifty years of effort and determination I was no nearer my original destination than I had been thirty years earlier. I felt as though I had wasted my life and that I had given it all away, keeping very little for myself.

My immediate response was to announce to myself and to anyone who would listen, “I’m done doing for everyone else. I’m done living my life for my children, my parents, my husband, my friends, my animals, my job! It’s time for me!” Those who bothered to listen undoubtedly heard the panic in my voice, and heard what I was really saying, “I’m running out of time! I need to pick up the pace!”

It has been almost ten years since my “mid-life crisis”. I still battle some of the same false beliefs that had pre-programmed my life, but the battle is fought with a little more wisdom…and compassion. One of  my most important lessons can be summed up by the quote by Lyanla Vanzant. “The only way to get what you really want is to let go of what you don’t want”.  We cling tenaciously to so many things in life, many of which have no real meaning or purpose in the overall scheme of things. These “things” keep us trapped, bound, and unhappy, whether they are material possessions, jobs, ideas or concepts.

The “letting go” is not always simple, or easy, and it isn’t a once and done kind of thing. In order to find a life of joy and meaning we must let go, over and over again. It is the only way to keep moving forward toward the life we were meant to live. The minute we begin to cling to something that does not bring joy and meaning to our lives, we can be certain that we are going away from our true selves instead of toward them. What drives us then is not passion but fear or insecurity. As we cling tenaciously to what we are doing, we use up the emotional and practical space we need available for something better. Sometimes we heap another layer on top trying to kill the pain and discomfort of living our wrong choices, by dousing ourselves in alcohol, material things, vacations, a new romance and a myriad of other escape tools. By filling our days with placebos, from the hedonistic to quasi-spiritual, we simply muffle our fear and accomplish only temporary escape from a life of true joy and inner peace.

Gradually, day by day, we can let go, one by one of those things that do not make us happy and then fill the space with something that does.  If you do not know what to put in the empty space, consider embracing the silence. Sit with the discomfort until you discover the exciting possibilities that exist just beyond your current awareness, they are ready and waiting and will truly fill the void.

Wishing You Peace in the New Year

Wishing You Peace in the New Year

Most of us have items that we treasure, some we have carried with us for many years. One of mine is a copy of Desiderata. Some time back in the sixties when I was in college I discovered this poem and the words quickly found their way into my heart and soul. They speak melodically of some of life’s universal truths.  Offering direction and encouragement without dogma or judgment the author is able to circumvent most belief systems rendering his message relevant and digestible to almost everyone, regardless of where we are in our spiritual journey. Fifty years later they still speak to me and I would like to share them here for you to read again or for the very first time. May they speak to your heart and help usher in a peaceful New Year. Thanks for being a part of the Aging Abundantly community.

Poem by American writer Max Ehrmann (1872-1945)