Tag Archives: Aging

October 26 – Memories and Ghosts

by Sara Etgen-Baker

In the two days since my arrival, Granddad and I exchanged only a few predictable, cursory words.

“Here’s your cereal; no milk, right?”

“Right, Granddad. Thanks.”

“You sleep okay?”

Although his silent house had kept me awake, I respectfully replied, “Yes sir. I did,” followed by, “How ‘bout you?”

Granddad Stainbrook

“I’m old: I never sleep well,” he grumbled.  “Just too many memories and ghosts.”The house became still as we struggled with what to say to one another. So we ate breakfast in silence; a silence so thick I could feel it drape around me like an old shawl. I pulled it against me as I plopped down into my grandmother’s chair suddenly aware of something else in the house, something different; a faint rustling, a soft presence of some sort. I didn’t know what it was.

Perhaps it was the lilt of Granny’s lavender perfume that lingered in the rich tapestry fabric, stirring memories of when I sat in her lap reading a book or sharing hot cocoa. Perhaps it was Granny herself. I closed my eyes and remembered that the house was full of noise and laughter when Granny was alive.

Now, though, the house seemed empty, lifeless, and unnervingly silent. I was young and impatient and needed to shatter the silence and to understand why Mother had sent me to visit my grandfather. I just couldn’t make any sense out of her cryptic parting words: “Remember, this visit isn’t about you.”

Granddad glanced up from reading his morning newspaper. “Your grandmother loved sitting in that chair and watching her grandchildren.”

“I loved sitting in Granny’s lap when she sat in this chair.” I watched his face. “It still smells like her.”

“Yes, it does.” He adjusted his glasses. “Her memory keeps me awake at night.”

“The silence at night frightens me and keeps me awake.” I choked back the tears.

He slowly raised one eyebrow and fumbled for words. “Why…uh…uh…why are you afraid of the silence?”

“Because the silence just makes me miss her more.”

Granny Helen Morain Stainbrook

“I miss her too.” He peered over his glasses. “In the silence, I hear her voice and feel her spirit rustling through the house. In that silence, I don’t miss her as much.” His chin trembled and his voice cracked. “I’m terribly afraid I’ll lose her forever if I don’t keep the house silent.” After another moment’s silence he mumbled, “Like memories and ghosts, she quietly lives in the silent shadows of both of our lives.”

“You’re right, Granddad,” were the only words I could muster.

We hugged one another; Granddad shuffled off to his bedroom. Nothing more need be said.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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October 23 – Mortality Check

by Ariela Zucker

Nine o’clock at night and all is quiet. I doze in my hospital bed when suddenly the monitor I am hooked to with many leads starts flashing an angry red.

Startled I look up at the heartbeat counter, it shows a big red 0. Before I manage to move, five people show in the room. They stand in front of my bed in a row, they look at the monitor then at me. I look back at them not sure what is going on but sensing that I play a key role in this bizarre scene I cannot resist the urgent need to say something meaningful.

“Zero heartbeats, does that mean that I am not alive? “this is the best that I can come up with being totally unprepared for playing the dying patient. No one smiles.

I feel a bit winded and light-headed like I did for the past week but my heart that for a few weeks now was beating and fluttering in my chest like a caged bird desperate to fly away feels strangely quiet. Maybe I am indeed dead.

I cast another look at my attentive audience. Two female nurses and three very young, attractive male nurses and I wonder if the abundance of male nurses in this hospital presents a subtle way to help female patients stay alive. It’s a funny thought, so I start to giggle while I toss in the bed in a try to get a better look at the alarming signs on the monitor. In that exact moment, the display flickers and my heartbeat start to climb up. I breathe in, breath out, smile an encouraging smile at the crowd in front of my bed.

“I guess I am still here,”

No one smiles back.

I nod my head to my unresponsive audience, rest it back on the pillow and close my eyes. I am tired. It’s been a long week and tomorrow they will fix whatever it is that does not work in my heart. The long words and explanations that were thrown at me had one thing in common; like a flawed machine my heart, the one I trusted until now has failed me, and someone needs to go in and fix it.

Tomorrow another piece of machinery, a pacemaker will assume the responsibility. The pacemaker will do an excellent job they assure me.
“You will be as good as new,” these words are like a mantra that supposed to make me feel good.

A specific model, a series number, battery life, all this detailed information is shared orally and in written documents. My signed consent is requested, and still, I feel that my presence in the process is not, I am not a heart mechanic I am only the carrier of this damaged piece of equipment. Only the carrier.

It’s a somber thought that I need to come to terms with. It makes me feel that in some ways the process of separating from my body had already begun.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

August 7 – GLOW

by Carol Ziel

The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling – GLOW – showing now on NETFLIX

I want to be a Gorgeous Lady of Wrestling, to show up for work in a spangly sequined leotard, full of feathers, glitter, and bangles. I want to have a name like Spanish Red, Mathilda the Hun, Thunderbolt, Beastie, or Lightning. I want to be part of the drama between good and evil played out each night in the ring. I want to belong to a group of women who use the full strength of their bodies to enact that struggle—- to know the complete abandon of leaping and tumbling, flipping, bouncing, and to feel the trust each woman has in the other.

I grew up Catholic. Female wrestling was not an option. Getting married or becoming a nun was. I joined the convent. But what if the bishop, instead of requesting vocations had said: “Be strong, be wild and adventurous for the spirit. Test your physical and creative muscles to the limit because that is your true vocation.”

Of course, now that I’m 70, it’s a little late to change professions. I’m seriously overweight, have had 3 knee surgeries, and am getting ready to retire. I became a social worker instead of a wrestler, frequently fighting for justice and healing from a cubicle. For many years I was wired to a headset. My uniform was frequently navy blue, instead of feathers and glitter. The evil I most frequently battled was the bureaucracy that hired me, but then created obstacles to actually doing the job. Still, I think I did some good.

How I would have loved to tussle with a corporate figurehead in the ring: suit and tie against myself in that sequined, spangled unitard. I’d start with a Leg Drop, followed with a Knee Shot to the Ring Post. I’d use the Arm Wringer, Gorilla Press, and Glam Slam. Then the Keister Bounce, Spike Pile Driver, and Monkey Flip. I’d flip him from rope to rope and toss him like a pizza until he begged for mercy. But he’d get no mercy until I’d get his pledge, a pledge to give us the time, space and staff to be truly compassionate and effective. The grace to be more focused on the soul of our work, and not the financial gain, the imperative to put the client first, the clarity that corporate rules were to serve the well-being of the client, and not primarily the company.

That can only happen in my dreams, and now it’s time to retire. I am grateful for the trust that clients had in me when they revealed their pain, confusion, and loss. It was a privilege to be part of their lives, and I frequently believe that they have gifted me more than I have gifted them.

I will never know how I would have made it as a gorgeous lady of wrestling, but I do know that I had a splendid career as a social worker!

Carol has been an SCN member for six years and is grateful to be nurtured by such wonderful women writers. She is also a gardener, grandmother, social worker, Quaker and Goddess-centered woman who primarily writes poetry but is branching out into more essay types of writing. More to be revealed.

March 9 – Want to Think Young? Mentor!

by Kali’ Rourke

canstockphoto28358255I am sure I echo many members of my generation who express the feeling, “I don’t feel as old as I am!” 

We look in the mirror and see the inevitable downward slide of gravity and the toll it takes, the wrinkles or fine lines that our frolics in the sun have left us as souvenirs, and sometimes we see the fatigue that lingers in eyes that have seen pain, sadness, and struggle. But when we look away from that mirror and assess ourselves, we are often shocked by the mismatch between the image we have seen and the way we feel inside. I don’t know about you, but I am enjoying that immensely!

I have found the secret to the fountain of youth and it may be available to you wherever you are and whatever you are doing. It is thinking young.

How do we think young? We stay open, flexible to new things and new thoughts, and we move our bodies and our minds as much as we can. But the very easiest thing you can do to keep thinking young is to keep communicating with young people. That’s the secret!

SF-Mentoring-Pic-2017I have been mentoring for a long time with the Seedling Mentoring program in Austin, Texas, and after four years with my first mentee (her family eventually moved away), I am now mentoring a kindergartener and I have to tell you, every Wednesday with LC is a revelation. Her mind is like a little hamster wheel tossing off observations, creative ideas, and 6-year-old wisdom. This is a picture she recently drew of me with a Super Cape and “lots of bling” on my crown. Awesome, huh?

How can you ever feel old when you know someone sees you like this?

But you don’t have to mentor a six-year-old. Young people of all ages are thirsty for the attention, experience, and wisdom you can bring into their lives. Check around and see where you might be able to plug-in!

I have mentored two young women who are early in their very successful careers through a program called YWA Connect. It is a smart outreach of Austin’s Young Women’s Alliance, and I have made new friends and gained great perspective by getting involved. The secret? (Believe me, I still work on it!) is to listen far more than you speak and to hold space for these young people to process all of the input they are constantly bombarded by each and every day. You can perform a great service and benefit personally at the same time. It’s a true win-win situation.

Mentor On!

 

Kali’ Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, volunteer, philanthropist, and a proud Mentor. She is a finalist in the 2018 Austin Under 40 Mentor of the Year Awards. (the only award they give to nominees OVER 40!) She blogs at Kali’s Musings and A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome.

March 3 – Assembly Required

by Carol Ziel

Older Woman on Sofa

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I tried to brush the vanilla icing from my lip. It stuck. Or rather “they” stuck: a small colony of coarse white hairs had gathered at the corner. This burgeoning village of whiskers had joined the unicorn hair that sprung from between my eyebrows, and the straggly chinny-chin-chin hairs that could easily be braided into a ZZ TOP kind of look if left unattended. I used to hang on the sink watching my father shave. Never in my childhood fantasies did I contemplate having similar Gillette moments.

Now, even before I begin to shave, I must find my glasses. I have two pairs: not the cute little reading half glasses in funky colors from Walgreens, but serious nerd glasses–one for reading and the computer, and one for distance. Then there is my somewhat new hearing aid.

Finally, the “pad of the day.” I used to have a collection of shoes. My current collection is adult incontinence supplies. I used to buy one Victoria’s secret push up bra or matching panty each pay period. They came in glorious jewel tones. Now my undie drawer is packed with Fruit of the Loom and black sports bras. It would take more than the color black to make a sports bra sexy. And my breasts are no longer even in alignment.

The breast situation at least had an interesting story. I had to crawl my 70-year-old body through my locked truck’s back window to retrieve a key. While my breasts were wedged on the console, my butt was hanging out under a perfect blue sky, bent in an unflattering penitent position. Although I did retrieve the key, backing out was a problem of mythical proportions. Embarrassment gave me momentum. With a pop that was startlingly like a champagne cork, I flopped out. True, the key was in hand, but one breast hung further south than at the beginning of the adventure. Apparently, ligaments are not what they used to be either.

I long to jump out of bed, pulsing with the promise of the day. I miss the time when my breasts were perky and pristine, bladder snuggly in place, my eyes piercing and hearing sharp and when the only cane I owned belonged to a sexy Halloween tap dancing costume. I miss 4-inch heels and disco clubbing. I miss the time when my mail was more than AARP catalogues, Medicare supplement notices, and life insurance advertisements.

But most of all I miss a time when assembly was not required to start my day.

Carol has been an SCN member for six years and is grateful to be nurtured by such wonderful women writers. She is also a gardener, grandmother, social worker, Quaker and Goddess-centered woman who primarily writes poetry but is branching out into more essay types of writing. More to be revealed.

February 2 – Into Her World

by Letty Watt

Photo by Cristie Guevara courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net.

Photo by Cristie Guevara courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net.

My friends, whose loved ones have suffered before with the trembles of aging say to me, “Go to her world. Just listen. Don’t criticize. Don’t explain. Don’t tell her she’s wrong or confused.”

My heart understands, but my mouth, too often, says the wrong things. At ninety-two my mother-in-law’s world is spinning out of control as her body bends, and her mind becomes entangled with what is real and what is imagined.

Sitting in the lobby at the assisted living center to watch people and chat with others is one of her favorite times of day. She needs people to interact with, and we are thankful that she’s still alert enough to get out of her room. Some days her reality is similar to ours, but more often than not her fears and recurring nightmares leave her nearly paralyzed with fear.

I watched my husband the other day, as he walked into his mother’s room. Her eyes were closed, and her head drifted to the side. Her hands, worn from decades of playing the guitar and piano, rested on her purse. Her walker stood in front of her knees and feet like a faithful dog, ready to assist her. My husband knelt on one knee and touched her hands. “Hi, Mom.”

Her head rose slowly and a gentle smile formed across her lips. The sparkle in her eyes seemed slow to shine. “Oh, Jack. I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve called you and called you.”

She looked up at me.

“I’ve called you both all day long. Please do something. Everyone is moving out fall today, and I need help. They’ve left me here alone. I don’t think I can drive myself.”

My heart raced upon hearing the fear and confusion in her voice. My husband calmly patted his mother’s hands, and remained on the floor eye-level with her.

“I’m sorry that’s happened Mom. I will take care of it. Remember that John and I will always find a way to keep you safe.”

She nodded and dropped her head slightly, “Can I go home now?”

“Mom, I’m here now. I won’t let anything happen to you. Oh, look out the window at the birds feeding.”

Her head lifted and turned to the sunshine in the window. “I like to watch out the window and see who is coming to visit. Yesterday, I saw John drive through the parking lot, but he didn’t stop to come see me. Why not?”

“I’m sure he drove by on his way to work and waved at you. He wanted you to know that you were safe. Do you have some pictures of the twins to show us?”
She shuffled through her purse, finding the present day in an envelope of pictures from her grandchildren.

Beaming with pride, she said, “They are so cute. Evelyn is walking now, and Eleora talks a lot. She’s just like me.” The sparkle returned to her eyes.

lettyWriting soothes Letty Watt’s soul and clears her mind. She began writing a weekly blog over five years ago, with the purpose of building a repertoire of stories for telling aloud, but things changed. Now she writes because stories hidden in the recesses of her mind are begging to get out into the world. Check out her blog, Literally Letty, at https://literallyletty.blogspot.com.
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July 17 – No Explanation

by Patricia Roop Hollinger

“I don’t believe this,” I exclaimed to my husband. “The caregiver at ARC informs me that Stephen needs a new wheelchair. The one just purchased last year is already missing a headrest and a foot rest.”

Stephen lives in a home for the disabled; as he was born with profound disabilities and was predicted to die within weeks, then months which now have become 50 years this August 17, 2015.

Oh, I made an attempt to keep him at home, until sleepless nights coupled with uncontrollable seizures gave me no choice but to relinquish his care in a setting where caregivers had 8 hour shifts; thus relieving them of the constancy of his care.

These caregivers are only paid a minimum wage. Thus, the constancy of his care is compromised by the frequency of staff leaving for a better paying job. And, yet, the legislature drags their feet regarding any increase in the minimum wage for workers caring for the ‘least of these among us.

Their primary concern is to halt all abortions. You know their spiel about the sanctity of life, blah, blah, blah. Does that include quality of life as well? Have any of them visited or cared for a child who is profoundly disabled in all facets of their bodies?

Stephen needs touch and a constant pair of eyes and ears. Vicky, a massage therapist, gives him a massage twice a month and then reports to me the state, or lack thereof, of his home and care. She has become my eyes and ears regarding his care.

Stephen, I pray that when you and I both are not bound by the limits of the physical realm we can have a conversation about all these years and the profound impact they have had on each of our lives.

Patricia Roop HollingerPatricia is a retired LCPC/Chaplain from a inpatient/outpatient psychiatric hospital as of 2010. She is a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and the daughter of a mother who will be 102 on July 12th, 2015. She is a voracious reader, musician, lover of cats, and is currently exploring her writing skills.