Tag Archives: Aging

October 21 – Walking Backward

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Backwards Clock

As a small child, I loved walking backward and did so every chance I got. One
day, I even challenged myself and walked backward almost the entire distance from my house to my elementary school. I’d walked forward along that route hundreds of times. But when I walked it backward, suddenly everyone and everything looked different somehow—a difference I didn’t understand or couldn’t quite explain.

Something shifted inside me, too,—something that made me different from the other kids. The following year I entered junior high and gave up on being different and on walking backward, quickly forgetting the perspective that moving backward gave me.

Sand FootprintsNow I’m 67 years old and find myself walking backward through my life. My friends call this walking backward my life review. Life review isn’t simply about assembling the details of my past. It’s about finding meaning in even some of the
ordinary events. Suddenly everyone I knew and everything I experienced looks different somehow. I re-experience the emotions—the joys and sorrows—that accompanied many of the events of my life. I face some of the people with whom I interacted and become acutely aware of the kind acts I committed as well as the pain I inflicted on others. I soon realize that every word, thought, and action—no matter how small—affected everyone and everything.

Sometimes I ponder, Would it make a difference in the way I lived life if I lived my life in reverse? Suppose I was Benjamin Button, old first and then young again. Would I enjoy the fact that I could do mundane, everyday chores because I knew what it was like to watch others sweep the floors from my own nursing home bed? Would I visit elderly family members and neighbors more
often, especially those who are housebound or in a nursing home? Or just send a card or letter?

Postage isn’t all that high when I realize how important mail is to a lonely person. Would I stop my morning walk long enough to talk with my neighbor, the mother of five boys, knowing she yearns for adult conversation? Would I resist the ugly urge to retaliate…insult for insult… after one of my husband’s cutting remarks? Would I look past my stepdaughter’s edginess and recognize the pain and fear behind it? Would I put myself in the other person’s shoes, especially when I have a complaint about a product that didn’t perform as I expected it to? Do I really have to be nasty to the person I am relaying my dissatisfaction to? Would I respect and honor somebody else’s truth as much as I do my own?

But I’m not Benjamin Button, and I can’t live life backward. Yet, the past is always there to look back upon, to remember the joys and the sorrows of my life, and to reflect upon how I lived my life. And I can mindfully live in the present, applying the lessons I’ve learned from walking backward.

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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April 15 – My Grave Concerns

by Ariela Zucker

This morning  I look at the old oak tree towering over the yard and realize that the snow is receding. At the bottom of the tree, I can see a small heap of stones. It is there that we buried, my cat, Sheleg (snow) last October.  She died before the snow came and the ground was still soft. My husband and I rushed her, in a shoebox all the way from the motel where we spend our summers, to our winter home, two and a half hours to the south and dug a small ditch under the tree.

Meir, my other cat, the one we shipped from Israel is buried on the other side of the same tree. He died several years before, in the dead of winter. The ground was frozen and for hours I tried to create a shallow ditch to bury him in.

I tried everything. I lighted a small fire on the exposed soil. I read somewhere that even if the first 4 inches from the surface are frozen solid underneath the ground becomes warmer and softer. When this didn’t work, I tried an assortment of digging instruments, I found in my husband’s toolbox, resorting from time to time to stamping on the ground in frustration. I even considered storing Meir in the freezer until the spring thaw, but the thought of having to face him every day gave me renewed strength to continue.

Do graves makes a person feel more connected to the land, I wonder.

Eighteen years since we left Israel, the long, gloomy winter brings back images of the house we left, clinging to the side of a cliff. The road, a narrow strip of black asphalt meandering until it gets lost in the desert. And the small cemetery, at the bottom of the hill, only a dozen of graves, marked by a few Salt Cedar bushes with their broad unruly crown, and low to the ground stature, engulfing the soft whispering desert wind or bending with resignation to its immense power.

My husband does not think that burial is an issue. He told me many times when we had these bizarre conversations that he wants to be cremated and his remains spread in several chosen locations. Cremation is against the Jewish religion I remind him. We Jews go back to the earth where we came from and preferably in Israel, so we will have a first-row spot when the promised resurrection of the dead will happen. And besides, I always had an unexplained affection for land.

The thoughts of my final destination trouble me. Will it be back to Jerusalem, next to my parents, on the hill looking over the city? Or perhaps in our small town in the desert, the one where we lived for twenty-five years? Or under a big oak tree in this land that I see now as my home, covered in winter with a blanket of snow.

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.

March 25 – Mortality Musings

by Kalí Rourke

Mom Rourke was declining at 92 years old. The scalpel sharp intellect and memory we had enjoyed for years was slowly but inevitably eroding, and for a while, Mom railed in anger and frustration at her loss of control.

We learned so much as my husband’s older sister cared for Mom during this hard and challenging time, and it changed our view of aging forever.

Traveling along her journey, we discovered this fascinating book that I highly recommend, no matter what stage of life you are in. “Being Mortal,” by Dr. Atul Gawande, opened my eyes and my mind to the realities of aging and dying in America.

Dr. Gawande tells a series of important stories that illustrate how mortality has changed in our country just as aging has. We rarely die “at home” any longer and more often our last moments of life are in the hands of professional medical personnel and in the grip of the “machinery of last resort;” treatments that can leave us feeling cold, isolated and perhaps a bit like a cyborg.

Consider reading the book and having conversations with your family that may be hard.

Don’t wait until death is in the next room, tying tongues with fear, guilt or sorrow. Open that door now so that it is more possible to open it again when the time arrives to put into action the preferences and directives you only talked about before.

There are critical questions that should be at the forefront of all aging or end of life conversations: “What is important to you? What is most important to try to keep in your life until the end? What is most important to try to include or avoid in your death?” We were grateful we were able to ask these questions of Mom Rourke before it was too late. They were not huge requests and were very achievable!

You may think you know how your loved ones would answer, but often we don’t unless we ask. They may surprise us! Listen to them and ask again as the terrain of aging changes them. Don’t wait until senility sets in and confusion or memory loss make it difficult to express what is most important to them. If you wait too long, you may miss your chance.

Dr. Gawande has changed how I look at aging, terminal illness, hospice care, and most importantly, death. It takes conversations to facilitate a “good death” for your loved ones rather than to say goodbye with regret or guilt over a “bad death.”

America doesn’t like to talk about mortality, and you and I are the only ones who can change that, so consider doing it. Think of it as the first step down a road we build together that leads to people who are as in control of their aging and deaths as possible.

My husband and I are both now thinking about how aging and death can be made better for everyone. Stay tuned.

Kalí Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, and active volunteer. She is a Seedling Mentor and a champion for children’s literacy with BookSpring. Kalí works in philanthropy and as a Mentor for the Young Women’s Alliance.

She blogs at Kalí’s Musings where a longer version of this post appears, and at A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome.

February 11 – Growing Pains of Grandparenthood

by Ariela Zucker

My daughter asks if my husband and I can babysit for her for a few hours while she and her husband participate in a class for parents who have behavioral issues with their toddlers.

In the past I would say;

“Why do you need a class, an outsider, to give you a piece of advice when here, in front of you stand two people who raised you and your three sisters with decent results.”

In the past, I would offer my opinion.  As a savvy educator, and a parent I would give a detailed lecture on what will work and what will not; accompanied by true-life examples;

“Remember how your youngest sister used to cry all the time?”

“And how your older sister never went to bed without resisting it for hours?”

“And how your gramma, my mother, got me to stay in bed on Saturday mornings by leaving sweet surprises?” this one she remembers but nods her head in disagreement.

Wiser with the years I know better. I just smile and say, “Sure, no problem, whatever you need.”

From the corner of my eye, I can see how my husband looks at me and winks. We finally got it, he says without words. If we want to stay part of our grandchildren lives it will not be in the role of a sage, but that of the sitter.

The readers may raise an eyebrow with surprise or perhaps disagreement. Grandparenthood so I learned on the know-it-all net is nothing but a bundle of joy. It is life fulfilling, it’s a unique, sweet connection, it is everything we were not as parents. In other words, it is a second chance to do it ‘right,’ now that we are older and wiser and have a lot of free time.

When I reflect on my frequent conversations with my friends most of whom grandparents themselves, I realize that here again, I am witnessing a marketing ploy of a product that is not real, a bit like the golden haze around the final stage of life – the golden years of our retirement.

I have no qualms about my years as a full-time parent. In fact, I am still a parent only now my children are adults who are themselves, parents. They matured into ‘know it all’ contemporary, Facebook-style parents. This change makes me almost overnight – a relic.

It took me some time to understand that what I once considered true and trusted ways of parenthood are looked upon as old and useless, even though the proof of their success is standing right in front of me holding their own children.

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.

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.

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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