Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Way We Were (Are)

Sometimes life is going so relatively smoothly that I want to take a snapshot of it and keep it unchanged.  I guess Thanksgiving has helped me concentrate on the blessings rather than the frustrations, but our lives are going well at this time.  Everyone in the family has a job, son Matt is putting the finishing touches on his software creation that will be offered for sale soon, Matt and wife Sarah just ran a 5K for the first time (pushing Joshua in a stroller), the grandkids are all healthy, Mom is doing great (her cholesterol level is actually better than mine....grrr...don’t go there!), Mom’s dog Jenny still hasn’t killed or maimed our new puppy, my older niece was elected president of her sorority, my other niece has been inducted into the National Honor Society, Caroline and Charlotte had an amazing violin recital and are doing well in school, my sister after years of hard work finally got our mom’s house on the market.... and you know, the list goes on and on.
But, of course, change does come.  On a description of this blog, I mention that my journey focuses on my response to aging, roadblocks to simplicity, grandparenting, acceptance and celebration of the past, etc., but basically here it is in a nutshell:  “’s changing roles.”  Change is everywhere, from my living situation to my aging body to all my family and friends.  Things cannot stay stagnant.  Even the seasons remind of that.  (Ed told me it is time for our annual call to our local newspaper to ask them to stop delivery until the spring thaw, as the carrier can’t get to the newspaper box because the snow plow drops it all in front, since we got our first real snow of the winter this week.)  Holiday commercials are everywhere, and Rachel calls us every day to remind us that her blender is being held together with duct tape and she really, really, REALLY wants a new top-of-the-line blender for Christmas.  
But can’t we keep things the same right now?  Mom is still with us, my aunt and uncle and Mom’s best friend, all in their 80s, are still with us.  I don’t want any more losses, any more deaths.  Everyone is healthy and happy and I want it to go on forever.
Change is scary because of the unknown factor, but just when I wish for the power to stop time just as it is now, then I wake to reality:  Joshua is a cuter-than-ever 16-month-old toddler, but I am curious to see what it will feel like to have him tell me about what he is doing in kindergarten a few years from now.  I wonder how Caroline will be excelling in violin as she grows and fine tunes her already incredible talent.  And Charlotte - now there’s a firecracker in training - I can hardly wait to see how she matures and changes!  What will the grandkids look like as they grow?  What will they be interested in?  What things can I help them with and teach them?
The cycle of life is so poignant.  Charlotte’s violin is very small, the size that Caroline started with, but awhile back Caroline upgraded to a bigger violin because she had grown.  When Joshua comes to visit, we pull out the plastic spoons and bibs that we used for the girls when they were little - and even a toy dog that I used when I was a baby!  Each object just shouts “CHANGE!”
Tomorrow our family will celebrate Thanksgiving here (after the kids go to their in-laws today).  Since Mom is here, we will have 4 generations together for the first time ever on Thanksgiving, so that will be a blessing.  We will gather in the living room to take our annual family Christmas photo, this year having Mom in the picture.  That photo freezes us in time, at our current ages, interests, skill levels, physical health - the snapshot of what our family looked like on November 25, 2011.  Nanoseconds after the photo is taken, though, things will be changing.  Cells in our body dying and replenishing, more life experiences to enter in our brains’ computers, more conversation, more learning - and yes, more pain, more sorrow, more anxiety.  
But for today, I close my eyes and picture our family as we are this second - healthy and content - and we all have warm houses, enough food, clothes, and money to live, friends who care about us, but most important, we have what you can’t see in the photo - oodles and oodles of love.  And that’s the thing that will support us through all the inevitable changes life will throw at us in the years to come.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 11, 2011

I-Witness to History

Maybe it's partly my career, but I have always been fascinated by medical things in the news.  One story that intrigued me the most was that of Jill Bolte Taylor, who wrote the book My Stroke of Insight:  A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey.  Amazon's description of her book reads in part:
Jill Taylor was a 37-year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist when a blood vessel exploded in her brain. Through the eyes of a curious scientist, she watched her mind deteriorate whereby she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life. Because of her understanding of the brain, her respect for the cells in her body, and an amazing mother, Jill completely recovered. In My Stroke of Insight, she shares her recommendations for recovery and the insight she gained into the unique functions of the two halves of her brain.

Basically, she watched herself have a stroke, and, being the curious brain scientist she was, she remembered details as it was unfolding and during the aftermath, almost as a third person observing an outside incident.

Thankfully, I have never had a stroke, but as I grow older, it still intrigues me to see my body change.  It's an eyewitness account of the history of me. Certainly, having my 88-year-old mom living with me has strengthened the observation, because, of course, we don't exist in a vacuum, and as I am watching myself age, I have watched her age as well.   I have been in her life 57 of those 88 years and I have watched her deal with changes in life situations as well as changes in her body - now as a daily occurrence.

I've been sick with a bad cold this week which has now congested my chest.  I've had three nights of lack of sleep, missed half a day of work, used up two boxes of Puffs, and have sat here berating myself for not having the energy or desire to do things I need to do on my weekend.  I recalled the weekends where I still did not accomplish anything, but had no illness excuse, and how I wished I had those weekends back to be productive!  You forget to appreciate everyday health until you lose it - either temporarily or permanently.

I asked Mom last night if she remembers what it was like to just jump out of a chair and go on her way without bouncing up and down about 5 times to get some rebound, holding onto a walker, and every so slowly pushing herself up.  She has one useless hand now, permanently in a clawed position, and I wonder if she ever thinks about the time when she had two good hands.  I know she misses being able to do housework (washing dishes by hand was her favorite activity!).   She has told me all my life, "Your health is everything," and now I see what she means.  She is an eyewitness to what getting older (as well as sequelae of trauma) means.  Every movement, every attempt to do anything, makes her painfully aware of what time has done to her once young body.

As it has on me.  I'm not in that bad shape yet, but I look in the mirror with astonishment almost every day.  My face and body are records of my life, and I am, as Jill Bolte Taylor was, an ongoing eyewitness - or as I like to say, I-witness, to my life being lived on this physical earth.  Some of the changes are just natural changes of aging, some were avoidable but I made poor choices through the years, some are specifically hereditary in my family.  It is intriguing to watch this process.  One has to try to do it with an open mind, and an objective sense, a sense of watching another person age, because if one carries to the surface all the emotional baggage involved, the journey can be too traumatic.

It all reminds me of the saying, "Don't hate birthdays; consider the alternative," because my mom, even with her arthritis aches and pains and vision loss and neurological deficits and dental problems and everything else that an average 88-year-old woman has on her medical problem list, she has been, in a way, privileged to watch herself get old.  As a 30-year-old, maybe she wondered (probably she didn't) what it would be like to be old, to look old, to feel old.  Now she knows.  And it's still an ongoing process - her doctor said she'd live to be 100, the news of which, I think, made her rather pleased but exhausted just thinking about it.

And so the journey of life continues.  I am contained in this physical body for an unknown number of years, and I have been, yes, privileged to watch its changes as I age.  These changes sometimes anger me, frustrate me, and make me wish things were different.  On the other hand, I'm mostly in awe of the process.  The changes are natural, they are expected, and they still are miraculous to watch as they unfold.

I heard once that we start to die the day we are born, and I can understand that.  The researchers are learning every day more and more about DNA and cell death and cell turnover and the telomere lengths and all that other technical fascinating stuff about why and how our  bodies gradually just fall apart.  I enjoy reading all their latest findings.  But for me, it all comes down to me, doesn't it?  And the things I am honored to watch - to see - to actually experience - makes me kind of lucky in a way.  Many of my friends did not make it to the age of 57, so aging needs to be considered a gift as well as a curse.

I'm planning on splurging on an iPad next month.  I'm been researching apps I'd like to have, but there is one app I've already got - iWitness.  And what a remarkable, exciting, incredible app it is!!

Friday, November 04, 2011

In the Sweet Buy and Buy

There are many memories of the days following 9/11, for me, but one of the most memorable, oddly, is the president telling everyone to get back to business as usual:   "Get on board.  Do your business around the country.  Fly and enjoy America's great destination spots.  Get down to Disney World in Florida.  Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed."   I totally understand what he was trying to do and why, of course - to reassure the American people after fear had suddenly paralyzed everyone.  Even his brother, Jeb Bush, said, "We need to respond quickly so people regain confidence and consider it their patriotic duty to go shopping...."  The truth, though, sometimes hurts.  And what is the truth embedded in these quotes?  Our whole economy depends on consumerism.

It's that time of year again - Halloween is over and The Holidays are in full swing, with businesses flooding radio, TV, and other media with the message, "Go shopping!"  Of course, it's a catch-22:  Companies don't hire workers because there is not much demand for their products because people can't afford to buy; people can't afford to buy because they have lost their jobs because companies aren't hiring workers....and on and on.

Our local Lowe's, for instance, announced its closure last week, with many employees suddenly out of work.  It was apparently an "underperforming" store.  Now, Ed and I have shopped at Lowe's many times, but still there was the nagging guilt in my head:  Should we have shopped there more to save all those jobs?  Do I really have to spend beyond my means in order to be patriotic and help the economy?

In the next couple of months, consumerism will be paramount.  The messages are all similar:  Spending a lot on a gift shows you love someone.  Spending more than you can afford helps the economy and saves jobs.  Maxing out your credit card will enable you to have happy holidays when you don't have the cash; in fact, with some credit card offers, you even get a percentage of your expenditures back, so the more you spend, the more you "save."  It's much better to buy something you really don't need at half price for $50 than for full price at $100.  (The option of not buying it at all is never mentioned.)

We have to feel some sadness for the state of the world, our country, our economy, and our addiction to a lifestyle that is not sustainable in the long run.  Just as banks should not become too big to fail, an economy totally based on buying (and charging) more and more and more is doomed to falter.  Those who cannot afford to buy, or choose not to buy, or limit what they buy, should not be made to feel guilty for their lack of "appropriate participation" in bringing our economy back to life.

I'm so sorry for those folks at Lowe's and every other place whose jobs were lost or cut because I'm buying less than I used to, but for me, to live within my means and to live with personal integrity, that's the way it has to be.  We know in our hearts that "buy more stuff" is not the message of Christmas or Thanksgiving or Hanukkah or any of the other religious observances - but it comes through loud and clear anyway.  Sigh.  Happy Holidays.