Tag Archives: Aging

January 21 – What’s In A Name?

by Ariela Zucker

My sixth grandchild who was born last week brought back this question of naming I often contemplate. For nine months I tried to guess the name, somewhat hoping, for a name that will carry a meaningful family connection, yet troubled by that old conflict of naming newborns after dead relatives. I was relieved but with a tinge of disappointment when the name was revealed, and it had nothing to do with either dead family relatives or any obvious cultural references.

Am I putting too much emphasis on names, reading too much into their place and meaning? Is a name just a name and nothing more? The answer to this question is elusive.

When I was born, in the middle of a legendary winter snowstorm, in Jerusalem. My parents decided to name me after my grandmother, on my mother’s side – Levia (a lioness in Hebrew). I can almost see the discussion that went on, at the time, between my mother, insisting on preserving her dead mother’s name, and my father, arguing for a modern name to go along with their new life, in the young state of Israel.

The compromise, as is so often is, was two names instead of one, Ariela, Levia. Consequently, I was blessed with two names that are almost one. Ariela, the one I use, means; let God be her lion resembles my middle name.

This is a good story, I believed, as I kept repeating it, over and over again. I have no idea where I got it from as none of the facts except my actual name is true. I discovered it years after both my parents passed away and I had to put the puzzle together all by myself.

According to the Jewish tradition newborns were often named after a dead family member; to honor and keep the memory. Being born to a holocaust surviving family, there were many naming options, and so I was named after my great aunt who ‘did not make it.’ My grandmother, her sister, was alive at the time I was born. I find it ironic that two names, not one, were not sufficient to keep the memory from altering itself in such a capricious nature.

Perhaps this is the reason that I keep mulling over the naming issue, about weighting a newborn with a name that is heavy with emotions and old memories, on one side, and wondering about the importance of keeping memories alive on the other.

Repeating a well-known quote “…you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” (Banksy). I can see how when one grows old names start to feel like a symbol, a continuation. A person searches for this thin thread of immortality to obtain comfort. I can also see that without the memories attached, a name is just a name and nothing more.

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.

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January 7 – Bugs in My Belfry

by Carol Ziel

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / betoszig

“I’m finally having my psychotic break,” I thought as I watched bugs dance over the oriental rug and cozy up to me on the couch. They were trailing webs behind them. Just when those began to fade, shadows swooped in: Edgar Alan Poe style, Rod Sterling style, classic devil style.

I had finally lost my mind.

I was used to losing things: keys, socks, words to a song, my way to Minnesota. But losing my mind was never an option. Psychosis would have been completely appropriate at so many other times of life, like when I was working twelve-hour overnight shifts at IHOP during bar rush. But for this to happen so early in my retirement…not fair!

Fortunately, my good angel was vigilant and kicked me in my drama queen behind. My vision cleared for a few minutes before a spider web began to weave itself over my eye. That’s when I understood that the problem was my vision, not my mental health. The real problem was that I was in all probability going blind. The dilemma was clear: Would I rather be psychotic with good vision, or blind with good mental health?

More to be revealed.

My ophthalmologist rose to the occasion. I have a vitreal detachment. Basically, the gel that supports the eye in its socket had begun to thin, causing it to detach. Once again I challenged the fates: if some part of my body had to spontaneously thin, why couldn’t it be my stomach, hips, or thighs? Or my double chin? They could have their pick of body parts, so why choose my left eye?! The fates are fickle.

Fortunately, the problem will self-correct. The gel will thicken, as I assume my thighs, hips, and stomach will. My vision will clear, banishing bugs and webs back to nature. I’ll still lose keys, socks, words to songs, and occasional directions.  However, there is an immediate silver lining. I have been forbidden to exercise for four days! That gifts me an extra four hours of reading, writing, and Netflix!

Maybe the fates know what they’re doing after all.

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.

November 26 – Even When You Call Me Mother

by Dede MontgomeryWoman at the Lake

It was the moment she called me “mother.” I was upset and blurted out, “Mom, I’m your daughter.”

She hesitated, and then answered slowly. “Oh, yes.”

Too quickly I butted in. “Mom, you know I’m your daughter.”

I commanded, rather than asked, selfishly realizing, at 56, I still needed a mother.

“Yes, of course,” she answered. “But a daughter shouldn’t have to take care of her mother,” she added, carefully.

Mom hasn’t addressed me this way again. And yet, the exchange generated new fears for my brain to tease through. I thought I had reached all the milestones associated with my parents aging. But now, it is different.

I share time with Mom. She sometimes asks me about my day, but less often offers advice. I rarely tell her my problems. I read my blogs to her, and sometimes she helps me choose the right word. We sit together by our special rivers and at our favorite parks. I play music for her on my iPhone. We don’t talk politics much. I am thankful for what we have.

I used to think I was like my mother. Then, later, I realized how much I was like my dad. Now, I see bits of myself from each of them and wonder who I may be like as I age? Will I die quickly like Dad; with my mind clear, but my heart exhausted? Or will I outlive my cognition? And what might that bring to my daughters? But really, what does it matter today?

The sun is shining. I have a new book to write. We have problems in our world that we need to solve. I will get old someday, or not. I may die like my dad or like my mom or not like either of them. What I do know, is, for today, I will be there for Mom. And for this moment, none of the rest of it matters.

What gifts do we share, late in life? The gift to sit, in silence to the chirp of birds or whistling of the wind. The gift of story, those that happened, new ones that might have been. I sit with Mom, who taught me how to be strong and independent. Surreptitiously, I pick a sprig of lavender one day. She laughs when I hand it to her, as I learn I don’t have to always follow all the rules. I’m learning from her the time to leave behind regrets and accept what you bring to this world is sooner rather than later. To know that change is constant, and not all of it comfortable or happy. To look to a parent as a teacher, still, even if they call you Mom.

And what I will say when she asks again, is, “No, Mom. I’m your daughter and helper. You are my teacher no matter what we pass through together. And you will always be my mother.”

Dede Montgomery is a sixth-generation Oregonian who writes about past and present Oregon in her blog, Musings on Life in Oregon, and her 2017 memoir, My Music Man. Dede’s first novel, Beyond the Ripples, will be released by her publisher, Bedazzled Ink, in 2019. Dede also works in research outreach and education at OHSU.

A longer version of this post appears on Dede’s blog and you can read it HERE.

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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.

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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.