Category Archives: Aging Parents

Can Wendy Whiner Change Her Ways?

 

I take great pride in my ability to worry. To dread events that have or have not (yet) happened. But unnamed others in my personal sphere have a different view:

As in their comments that I may occasionally resemble one of the following:

  • “Wendy Whiner” (SEE: the sketch character by that name on “Saturday Night Live” in the early 1980’s.)
  • “Debbie Downer” (SEE: due to my hyper-knowledge of every local, regional and world crisis or catastrophe, personal or public.)

At this particular moment in time – I have few active complaints. Everyone in my life is relatively o.k.

Which is in and of itself problematic.

Because of my profound skill in Anticipatory Worrying, I recognize the temporary nature of this present lull.  Soon enough the phone will ring or a text will ping and unpleasant, painful, and/or possibly horrific news will arrive.

Change is inevitable as we get older – a subject near and dear to my now-Medicare-aged heart.

But my position on how to handle sad news may be more malleable than I thought.

The Carolyn Hax advice column in today’s Washington Post contained a reader entry that made me reflect on the Wendy Whiner label.

(Pause here to note the path not taken. I should have become an advice columnist instead of a lawyer. I LOVE giving advice. Solicited or not.)

A reader of the Hax column, known as C., wrote in to give advice on “Losses and Dread” (two of my favorite subjects!) C. explained that she has had a wonderful, devoted friend for over 35 years who “truly understands how to sustain and nurture friendships.”  Because C.’s friend has many other close friends and family, C. felt that she couldn’t be as much of a source of comfort to her friend as her friend has always been to her.

This hit home to me. I, too, have a wonderful, devoted friend who also has a million (slight exaggeration only) other wonderful, devoted friends, all of whom jump up to help her whenever she is in need. I am part of the larger circle, always wishing I could be of more support.

It occurred to me that this kind of imbalance is probably quite common. Some of us are the center of the wheel of friendship and others are pinned to the outer spokes – and always will be.

C. goes on to suggest that one way to be a true friend is NOT to share your problems.

Imagine that.

C.’s tells us that her mother and her wonderful, devoted friend’s mother were the same age. Then C.’s mother died. But C. decided not to burden her friend with her sadness at the death of her mother. C. explains it better than I can.

So what I can do is NOT call her when I am sad – though I know she’d be there for me – and  I cannot dwell too heavily on the loss when we do talk. Instead I can ask her about her grandchildren and let her tell me about their antics, though I’m not a kid person. Time and circumstances will bring us to a common reference point on the loss of a beloved mother…The chance to spare my friend from going to this sad place any earlier and more frequently than absolutely necessary is a blessing.”

Kind of a friendship gift, don’t you think? To NOT bring all our woes to our close friends even when we really, really, really want to.

And the part that got me the most? From C. again:

“Sometimes our losses – or health or parents or jobs – scare our friends, and they just want to live their regular lives and not think about it – or catch it.”

O.K., so C. and I differ in several important aspects. I’m a grandmother and very much a kid person. Not all my friends have achieved this most wonderful phase of life so I try (honest I do) not to overshare adorable photos and tales of their toddler brilliance.

I am also not as selfless as C. I haven’t (yet?) reached the point where I can regularly keep my mouth closed and not burden my friends with my woes. I am too dependent on having friends to listen and offer support.

Perhaps the next stage of getting older is to recognize, as C. does, that grief shared may multiply it unnecessarily.

I always want to be there for my friends when they reach out  – and I think I am. But maybe I don’t need to add my sorrows to ones they have not (yet?) experienced. Losses are inevitable. Keeping afloat above them is not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aging Parents, Communications, Female Friends, friendship, Relationships, Women, Women's Health

Bad Timing Birthday Brings Bonus

 Having a birthday in early June is a matter of bad timing.

I don’t blame my parents (it’s a tad late for that), but for those of you who may now be considering an attempt to conceive a child this coming September for a planned early June arrival, I have these words of advice: “Don’t do it.”

June 2 is the date of my birth. It has not been an optimal one, unfortunately coinciding over the years with many seemingly more important life cycle events belonging to other people.

I have attended many special events on June 2. Instead of having the sole focus on that auspicious date be on ME and MY birthday (“ME” and “MY” are two current favorite words, in high rotation in the vocabulary of my three-year-old grandson),  I have frequently pretended to be happy at someone else’s celebration.

High School graduations, College graduations, anniversary parties, weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, end-of-school-year dinners,  baby showers, engagement events.  All held on the popular early summer date of June 2.

And fyi, if you are a guest at a friend’s big event, it is not considered polite to remark in the middle of their festivities  – “Oh, by the way, it’s my birthday today.” 

No one will care. Instead you have to suck it up and act as if it is their special day alone.

Besides having had to share my birthday more times than I would like, I also have not had good luck with the date itself.

Early June is a busy time. The school year is ending. The summer is starting. Everyone is preoccupied with their own concerns. One year when I was in high school, the only birthday card I received in the mail was from my grandmother. And she spelled my name incorrectly.

(This is true, not because she had dementia at that point in her life, but because I am one of seven grand-daughters all closely clustered in age. So if I received a small, but welcome, birthday check in the mail from my mother’s mother, I was told to endorse it, even it was made out to another of my first cousins.)

At least my grandmother remembered. Unlike some of my other here-unnamed friends and family members who are pretty sure that my birthday falls in early June, even if they cannot quite remember the exact date.

Here it is for you:  June 2. And it is going to be a BIG one this year  —> 65.

A/K/A:

  • The Medicare Year.
  • The Year Your Mail is Flooded With Annuity Retirement Fund Brochures.
  • The Year You Can No Longer Pretend You are Still Middle-Aged.
  • The Year You Have to Stop Saying – “Oh, I’m  in my early sixties.” Because You Are Not. You are now half-way to 70.

Which is fine with me. Because as my Dad likes to say (especially now in his still-early-90’s), better to have a birthday than not.

Earlier this week my Dad’s best friend died. His friend was a brilliant, caring man, a highly respected doctor in my hometown.  He was 91 and sure you can say that he lived to a “ripe old age”, but for him and likely for my Dad, his death came too soon. My Dad, who is far better with words of legal origin than of emotional weight,  cannot bring himself to express his sadness. But he did tell me that with this recent death all of his male pals are now gone. He is the only one left.

All the more reason to celebrate birthdays while you still have them to celebrate. Not to let people forget how important it is to remember that you are still alive, that you still appreciate a carefully-selected card, perhaps a slice of cheese cake with a single candle and a clever email greeting or two.

(Let me state here for the record my firmly held belief that posting a breezy “Happy Birthday” on Facebook after you have been reminded it is a friend’s birthday does not count.  Full credit is awarded ONLY if you remember the person’s birthday of your own accord without a social media prompt.)

And if you are close enough to me that you are considering the purchase of a gift this year, please know that I  already have a drawer full of highly-effective, collagen-building, “youth-preserving” skin moisturizers. Do try to be a bit more imaginative in the present department. Not every 65-year-old woman will gracefully accept the subtle reminder of yet another new anti-aging cream.

But we will gracefully accept being remembered on our birthdays.

On the exact date, if possible. Thank you in advance.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aging, Aging Parents, Family, Female Friends, friendship, Holidays, Women

9 Rows to Oar If You Want to Reach 94

November yale467x490

(*happily updating my original post from February, 2015 when my Dad had his 92nd birthday. Now it is nearly February 1, 2017 – his 94th!)

Better to have a birthday than not, says my Dad very matter-of-factly. Consider the alternative, he often tells me.  He will celebrate his 94th birthday this Wednesday, February 1.

His pragmatic approach to life – serious when he needs to be, humorous when not, and some great luck in the health department – has gotten him to this milestone.

But exactly how has he managed to reach it?

I thought about this and wondered. For this is a man whose idea of exercise is to lift the remote ever so slightly to aim it at the TV. He eats salami, drinks beer and sees his friend, the doctor, quite frequently – but for lunch, rather than for a check-up.  As a well-regarded-in-his-community lawyer who still goes to the office every day to the firm he founded in 1951, he strongly prefers to give  – rather than take advice.

Perhaps what keeps him going is his love for his family? – not that I have ever heard him say the word “love” aloud.

A tough guy, Mr. U.S. Marine Corps, WWII Vet, he shies away from emotion. But he shows it by his actions, always being there with wise counsel when my sister and I need it. Staying strong for us when our Mom died far too young. Taking great joy in his four grandchildren, his three-year-old and nearly one-year-old great-grandsons  – and bestowing tender care upon his wife, my stepmother, as her dementia sadly advances.

If I knew precisely what got him to this point of great age and great wisdom, I would bottle it and win a Nobel prize. But since that is extremely unlikely to happen, I decided, in the spirit of Dr. Seuss, a childhood favorite, to make an educated guess, and offer the following:

 

9 Rows To Oar If You Want to Reach 94

It is not easy to turn 94

You have to know how to soar.

First, you stay married for a very long time

And Second, be frugal and save every nickel and dime.


The Third thing to try is to go to the office every day

And on the weekends to watch Eli athletes at play.

For the Fourth, you must get the Sunday New York Times

 To do the puzzle speedily, in ink, no matter what the rhymes.


And the Fifth thing to be at your best?

Take regular naps, enjoy getting your rest.

Sixth? Call your “kids” every Sunday morning at 10:30. sharp

But keep the calls brief, you don’t want to carp.

 


Now we are at number Seven, which could keep heaven at bay

Find time for the spiritual, perhaps even pray.

And the Eighth, what could that possibly be?

Provide wise counsel for many without charging a fee.

 

But the Ninth thing, the one that we treasure the most?

It’s when you tell jokes, laugh loudly, even at your own roast.

For it is your humor, your sense of the absurd

That lets you stand out from the ordinary herd.


Repeat all of your stories, not one of them is new

And yet each time you tell them we get another view.

Of your fair-minded approach, your sense of what’s right

The battles to skip, and which ones to fight.

 

So there you have it, the Nine rows you must oar,

If you want to reach the wise old age of 94.

Take my advice if you want to become a sage like my Dad

And then what a glorious life you will have had.

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Filed under Aging, Aging Parents, Family, Lawyers, Moms, Relationships

2016: Your Year in Review

 

 

2016 review banner - text in vintage letterpress wood type block with a cup of coffee

If you are on Facebook, you recently received your unrequested, but they sent it anyway, FB-produced personalized “Year in Review. I watched my short video. Cute enough.

But, even though FB earnestly prompted me to do so, I resisted the urge to share my “Year in Review” for friends and family to watch on my FB page.

(And if you are not on FB, you are not alone. My husband, JP, has a FB page, but rarely checks it.  A very smart and technically-able man, as I’ve said in this blog before, he finds FB incomprehensible. “I just don’t get it.” he will say. What’s a page? What’s a news feed?  And most important – What if I don’t want to “friend” someone in return? Sadly, JP is far too kind not to “friend” someone back, even if that person is someone who he never talked to, but who may have had a locker near his in high school. That’s what happens when you are my husband, the still-popular-to-this-day president of his senior class. So not my problem.)

Which is one of the reasons why I did not share my “Year in Review” on my FB page.

One thing I’ve learned this year – in my own self-produced, virtual “Year in Review”  – is that no one is as interested in you as you are.

(grammatical correctness? Unsure. But feel free not to scold me. My 93-year-old Dad has that role covered.)

But you take my point. You care more about your quotidian details than your friends or family do.

For example: One day you leave the house thinking your hair looks hideous. No one cares. Next day you leave the house wearing extremely old yoga pants. And you’ve never taken a yoga class. No one notices. Once this fall I dressed very quickly and wore a casual shirt inside-out. (it happens.) Then someone did notice. A very nice younger woman sweetly and non-judgmentally pointed it out to me in a supermarket aisle as I was selecting among the apples. I slinked back to my car, slid down in the seat, reversed my shirt and went back inside to finish my food shop. Life went on.

So on the point of your own “Year in Review”, the only person who really cares how your year went is you. Your husband/spouse/partner/child/best friend – trust me – they really don’t want the details.

And you may not remember the details.

More and more as I get older, I find the details, not only mine, but those of others slipping away. Like when a good friend who lives on another coast calls to update you on a significant event in her life and you listen to her very closely, but you cannot for the life of you remember anything about her significant event.  Was it her brother-in-law who suddenly got very ill a few weeks ago  – or her sister-in-law? Once the conversation has begun, it’s too embarrassing to ask your friend for a refresher. So you listen harder and hope that you will pick up the thread as she continues to talk. Thankfully, she seems not to notice. She probably experiences the same problem.

My self-produced “Year in Review?” I was hoping you would ask. One way to measure it is by the number of times I had to visit a hospital in 2016. Three times total. 2x for sad reasons. 1x for a very happy reason (our second grandchild is now nearly ten months old.)

I think the ratio of 2 sad-purpose visits to 1 happy-purpose hospital visit reasons per year is probably about right for someone who is nearly – not quite but counting the months – inching up to Medicare.

More of my 2016 numbers:

  • One brave new venture (applied to, accepted by a grad school M.A. in Writing program. love going to class, doing the homework and learning to write fiction.)
  • Two grandchildren thriving.
  • Three vacations taken.
  • Four times we thought about selling our old house – and didn’t.
  • Five weddings of the adult children of friends.

You, too, can personalize and self-produce your own ” Year in Review.” But my advice is not to dwell too much on 2016.  Look ahead to 2017 – because 2017 promises to be a rather eventful year for everyone. Politically, if not personally.

What was that famous quote from the wonderful old movie “All About Eve” – ironically starring the aging Bette Davis as an aging actress dealing with the take-over efforts of her younger, competitive actress rival?

Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Bumpy 2017, here we come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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December 12, 2016 · 8:59 pm

On Being a Mom Without a Mom on Mother’s Day

Red knitwork, horizontal

“Yes, Mom, what do you want?” I said quietly into the phone. “My boss is sitting right here, I can’t talk now.”

My Mom had been calling me every day at the office for six months. She had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the spring of my 3rd year of law school.

As a newly-minted lawyer at a government agency in downtown DC, my first job, with a boss and my own office (albeit very small and without a window), I was learning to deal with her daily calls.

No, I can’t tell you that,” I told her.

She persisted.

Please, just tell me what your bra size is,” she asked again.

Mom, c’mon, I’m at work, I’m in my office,” I pleaded. “My boss, he’s a man, he is in my office, too.”

She pleaded right back.

I’m at the yarn store in Westport. I’m knitting you a sweater. Just give me the number.”

I gave up.

36B,” I whispered into the phone, as my boss rolled his eyes upward, squelching a laugh.

Exactly one year later my Mom died of cancer. (well, actually she died because of malpractice related to her cancer but that is a tale for another time.) She was 54 years old, I was 28.

I still have the beautiful red, V-neck cotton sweater with the just-below-the-elbow length sleeves she made me, although it no longer fits. It was as stylish then as it is now. She was a woman of both good taste and great kindness.

Some women complain that their elderly moms call them too often.

Every night, can you believe it, she calls me every single night, and then she worries if I am not home by 9 p.m. She tells me to eat my vegetables, have I gotten an eye check up lately, she bugs me about the kids or my job or my husband. When are we going to visit her? Who’s going to drive her to her doctor appointments? Or run to the store to get her a new light bulb or better reading glasses. I’m tired of hearing her complaints about who did or who didn’t sit with her at dinner. Honestly, my mom is driving me crazy. Doesn’t she know what a busy life I have?

I bet she does know you have a life. Hers is shrinking in scope, yours isn’t and she wants to be a part of it.

My Mom called me at the office for over a year when she was ill. Then one day she stopped calling. Three weeks later, on a sunny spring afternoon in May as my Dad and I sat by her bed, holding her hand, in the ICU of a cancer hospital in New York City, hearing the beeps from the machines that had kept her alive ebb away, she died. It was mid-afternoon, on the Tuesday after Mother’s Day. Thoughtful as ever, she chose, I felt, to wait and not ruin the holiday for us.

I would give anything for one more phone call, nagging, annoying, insistent, critical, I’d take it.

And you know what, Mom, I’d say? You have two wonderful granddaughters and two terrific grandsons that you never got to meet. And in 2013 you became a great-grandparent, too.

What else would I tell her? Oh yes, my bra size has changed in the past 34 years. I don’t like the color red as much as I once did. But the sweater remains in my closet and it always will.

Miss you forever, Mom! Happy Mother’s Day.

 

 

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Filed under 1st Grandchild, 1st Job, Adult Kids, Aging, Aging Parents, Baby Boomers, daughters, Family, Female Friends, Holidays, Lawyers, Moms, Women, Working Women

9 Ways To Be If You Want to Turn 93

November yale467x490

(*happily updating this original post from February, 2015 when my Dad had his 92nd birthday. Now February, 2016 – his 93rd!)

Better to have a birthday than not, says my Dad very matter-of-factly. Consider the alternative, he often tells me.  He celebrated his 93rd birthday this Monday, February 1.

His pragmatic approach to life – serious when he needs to be, humorous when not, and some great luck in the health department – has gotten him to this milestone.

But exactly how has he managed to reach it?

I thought about this and wondered. For this is a man whose idea of exercise is to lift the remote ever so slightly to aim it at the TV. He eats salami, drinks beer and sees his friend, the doctor, for lunch, rather than for a check-up.  As a lawyer who still goes to the office every day to the firm he founded in 1951, he strongly prefers to give  – rather than take advice.

Perhaps what keeps him going is his love for his family? – not that I have ever heard him say the word “love” aloud.

A tough guy, Mr. U.S. Marine Corps, WWII Vet, he shies away from emotion. But he shows it by his actions, always being there with wise counsel when my sister and I need it. Staying strong for us when our Mom died young. Taking joy in his four grandchildren, his toddler great-grandson – and looking forward to the arrival of another great-grand child next month.  Bestowing tender care upon his wife, my stepmother, as her dementia sadly advances.

If I knew precisely what got him to this point of great age and great wisdom, I would bottle it and win a Nobel prize. But since that is extremely unlikely to happen, I decided, in the spirit of Dr. Seuss, a childhood favorite, to make an educated guess, and offer the following:

 

9 Ways To Be If You Want to Turn 93

It is not easy to turn 93

You have to know just how to be.

First, you stay married for a very long time

And Second, be frugal and save every nickel and dime.


The Third thing to try is to go to the office every day

And on the weekends to watch Eli athletes at play.

For the Fourth, you must get the Sunday New York Times

 To do the puzzle speedily, in ink, no matter what the rhymes.


And the Fifth thing to be at your best?

Take regular naps, enjoy getting your rest.

Sixth? Call your kids every Sunday at 10:30. sharp

But keep the calls brief, you don’t want to carp.

 


Now we are at number Seven, which could keep heaven at bay

Find time for the spiritual, perhaps even pray.

And the Eighth, what could that possibly be?

Provide wise counsel for many without charging a fee.

 

But the Ninth thing, the one that we treasure the most?

It’s when you tell jokes, laugh loudly, even at your own roast.

For it is your humor, your sense of the absurd

That lets you stand out from the ordinary herd.


Repeat all of your stories, not one of them is new

And yet each time you tell them we get another view.

Of your fair-minded approach, your sense of what’s right

The battles to skip, and which ones to fight.

 

So there you have it, the Nine things you must be.

If you want to reach the wise old age of 93

Take my advice if you want to become a sage like my Dad

And then what a glorious life you will have had.

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Filed under Aging, Aging Parents, Family, Lawyers, Moms, Relationships

When a Friend’s Mom Dies “Old” – and Yours Died “Young”

 

 

 

Mom at party

 

I was standing in my kitchen yesterday when my close friend Liz called. Her mother had died. She was 92-years-old and was in failing health.

My mom died in 1981 when I was 28 and she was 54. She died “young”. I guess you could say that Liz’s mom died “old.”

Does it make it easier on a daughter (or son) if your mom dies at a ripe old age?

Or does it make it harder to lose her since you had her in your life for many more years?

When I sat down earlier today to write Liz a sympathy note – yes, handwritten, yes on personal stationery, yes, very old-school, just the way my mom taught me to do – I wasn’t sure what to say.

In my head I think Liz was pretty lucky. Her mom lived to see grandchildren. Mine did not. Her mom was around to answer questions in Liz’s young mom days. Mine was not. Her mom was an honored guest at the weddings of two of her grandchildren. Mine never had that chance.

I’m not sure Liz saw it that way. The last few years for her mom were rough ones. No matter the number of calls or visits, and Liz was a most devoted caregiver, her mom was always lonely. Liz was busy, worked hard, had her own life; her mom’s life had narrowed.

Perhaps Liz doesn’t even remember what her mom was like in the prime years of her life.

Whereas that is the only way I can think of mine. Age 54. Active, vibrant, on the go. Back to school to get another master’s degree in education. Volunteering in good causes. Taking on leadership roles in non-profits. Hosting family holidays. Watching my sister and I move through our twenties into grad school, boyfriends, marriages, lives.

Then on a random Tuesday – poof – my mom was there one night and the next morning she was gone. I didn’t know she was dying. She didn’t either. (I hope) Am I jealous that Liz got to be with her mom to ease her through her later years as best she could? Or am I secretly jealous that I didn’t have to bear that burden of elderly care-giving?

Likely I would have had many less than admirable caregiver moments. I can be impatient. I might have thought it a personal imposition to give up my time to meet my aging mother’s needs, to take her to endless doctor’s appointments, to deal with insurance, hospitals and aides. I didn’t have to deal with any of that. As Liz ably did.

What do I write to Liz?

“Sorry for your loss.”

Ridiculously trite and also untrue because while I am sorry, and it is a loss, her mother is not going to ever be found. She is permanently gone. There is no death lost and found of which I am aware.

“Hoping your memories will be of comfort.”

This is a phrase I have trotted out before. It is marginally helpful because memories over time do provide some comfort. But then they start to fade. In the first few years after my mom died, she made regular appearances in my dreams. But now I must look at photos to recapture a sense of what she looked and can only guess at what she sounded like.

What I like to do when I write notes of sympathy is to share my own memories of the person who died.

Recalling how Liz’s mom would show up for a visit carrying packages of chicken in her suitcase because the chicken she could buy in New Jersey tasted better than anything you could buy in the DC area.

The time we took Liz’s mom to the beach for the weekend; she loved seeing the ocean again, told me it reminded her of living near the shore when she was raising her family.

When Liz’s mom was in the hospital, I visited her and brought her some chocolate truffles. Liz’s mom, like Liz, was a chocolate connoisseur. After eagerly accepting the candy, she promptly hid the box in the top drawer of the table next to her hospital bed. She did not want to share her chocolates with anyone. I liked that about Liz’s mom.

I happened to be in her hospital room that day when a doctor stopped by – and he stood by the door, barely inside her room. He didn’t even greet Liz’s mom, just started to bark out information and orders.

Not on my watch. I spoke right up and urged the doctor to come in, to stand right next to her bed, I told him that Liz’s mom had very poor eyesight and hearing. She couldn’t see or hear him. He needed to walk into the room, all the way, please, and stand by her bed.

The doctor asked me who I was. I admitted I was not a relative. He finally deigned to stroll into the room to stand next to his patient’s bed and talk directly to her – not at her. A small victory.

I didn’t do much for Liz’ s mom over the years. Not as much as I should have or could have. I listened to Liz when she called me, when she was worried about her mom and when she complained about her, too.

I don’t know that I would have done as much as I should or could have for my mom either. Had she lived. But she didn’t. Liz’s mom did. And Liz now has her memories which I hope will be of comfort.

 

 

 

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