Tag Archives: Wisdom

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.

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March 4 – How to Stay Married for Thirty-Four Years

by Cheryl Suchors
Actions that may have been unrelated at the time paved the way for my ongoing commitment. Here they are, in case you care to try some and avoid the others.

1.      Get a pet. Nearing thirty and single, I got a cat. I named the cat Escuela because I figured that kitty would school me in commitment.
2.      Beware big risk. I met a guy and moved to Washington, DC to be with him. We bought a house. He changed the kitty litter. After three weeks in our new home, he moved out. Enter one of the worst periods of my life.
3.      Find a good therapist. Have I mentioned therapy? I recommend it.
4.      Give up on passive men, no matter how enticing. After the above debacle, a man sat next to me on a train. We didn’t stop talking until the ride ended hours later. But in the cab line, he still hadn’t asked for my number. I decided if he didn’t pursue the surprising opportunity of “us,” he was too passive. I waited. He asked.
5.      Have a full life before marriage. I was thirty-two when I met the guy on the train. Thirty-four when we married. I had a career, travel adventures, a condo, pet companions, and good friends. I’d had a number of heartbreaks and each one taught me a lesson I tried not to repeat. (See 2, 3, 4 above.)
6.      Allow for ambivalence. We dated for a year before I moved to Boston for a job. He’d follow in a year. Meantime, we discussed the M-word. I was utterly ready. Until he proposed, and I panicked. I told him I needed some time. Apparently, I’d squelched my ambivalence. So I took the time to be terrified, to sit with my fear.
7.      Find a partner as smart as you. Maybe smarter. His mind entertains and engages me still. This is important because bodies, well, they age.
8.      Listen when you know he’s right even if you don’t like what he says. When we brought our infant daughter home, he offered to give her a bath. She looked so tiny in his hands. I hovered, making suggestions, worried he’d break her. He told me either I could act like I always knew better and be solely responsible for our child or I could let him do his best, learning as he went. I went off to bite my knuckles in another room. He’s been a really good father.
9.      Tell him what you’re afraid to bring up. Like that time I found myself way too attracted to a co-worker. My husband and I discussed it pretty thoroughly. That put a boundary around the co-worker, one I couldn’t cross.
10.     Re-up. Each anniversary, we pull out the wedding ceremony we wrote. We laugh at our naiveté. But the vows never fail to move us. We sign up, not for forever because that freaks me out, but for fifty years. My brain can encompass fifty years.

Cheryl Suchors is the author of 48 PEAKS: Hiking and Healing in the White Mountains, an inspiring memoir of adventure, endurance, and heartache published in September 2018 by She Writes Press. Suchors lives in Massachusetts with her husband and a plethora of plants. Their grown daughter, to come full-circle, lives in Washington, DC. Cheryl blogs at http://cherylsuchors.com.

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.

February 1 – Me and My Shadow

by Sara Etgen-Baker

It was just before dawn as I ran along the wooded trails adjacent to my home. I was making slow and painful headway against a stiff winter wind when dense fog settled all around me. Suddenly, I felt as if something was coming up behind me. My heartbeat quickened as did my pace. Who or what was following me in the silent darkness?

Was it a small animal searching for food? Was it another lone runner seeking refuge and contemplation in the predawn stillness? I turned around and looked behind me and thought I saw the black, shadowy figure of a woman following me. She trailed me, hushed as the night, dancing between the trees as the sunlight flickered. So I moved aside to avoid her presence, but I couldn’t escape her. She was the immaculate outline of my shape, an echo of my movements, and my lifetime companion. She was my shadow swirling in the mists, brought into being by the little flashlight I carried with me.

But she’s more than my silhouette that disappears at night. She’s also my shadowy little self who, day in and day out, dogs me at every step adding her loud voice to every thought I think, every word I say, and every word I write. She cares too much about what others think of her. She’s an intolerant perfectionist; prideful, strong-willed, and compulsive often holding me captive to my own fears, doubts, anger, and worries. She’s also weak and, therefore, feels she must control a situation or others. She shields herself from vulnerability, infiltrates my relationships, and occasionally keeps me awake at night. She sometimes ignores the truth and lives in denial. She overshadows my spiriting and obscures my creativity. Unlike my daytime shadowy silhouette, she lives in darkness knowing that the light I carry in my heart steals her very life. She is my ego.

Although the light I’m carrying with me is small in comparison to the darkness surrounding me, I turn and confront her. “Not everything is about you,” I say.

“Possibly,” she replies, “but you do have to admit that the majority of things are.”

“From your perspective, yes. But you’re an ugly part of me and a burden; I’ve tolerated you way too long. I need to let you go and contemplate the deeper significance of life.”

“You disappointment me,” she says. “Enlightenment and transformation are highly overrated. You need me. Just you wait and see. You’ll come crawling back to me.”

“No! You’re wrong! I won’t need you. Just YOU  wait and see!”

Pshah! was her response as she disappeared in the early morning sunlight.

I was transformed that morning, my ego shattered. Over time, many of the things that concerned me diminished. Many of the superficial, material things that mattered to me before, suddenly ceased to matter as much. I came into being that morning no longer caring what my ego or the world thought of me.

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.

December 18 – The Christmas Helicopter (When Santa Came to Town)

by Sara Etgen-Baker

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / kongvector

It was Christmas Eve morning at our house. The Christmas lights twinkled; the tinsel glistened; the ornaments sparkled, and the Christmas tree silently awaited Santa’s arrival. I peered out the window; newly fallen snow blanketed the neighborhood streets. Barren, frost-covered trees shivered like frail skeletons trembling in the blustery winds; and silent icicles hung from shimmering housetop roofs.

The temperature outside was well below freezing. Mother wrapped me in my heaviest coat and forced my hands into last year’s mittens. We stepped outside, the gentle snow crunching under our boots as we walked to the downtown plaza where Santa was appearing.

As I stood in the plaza with other children, Christmas waved its magic wand over me. I looked up in the sky certain I heard Santa’s sleigh bells jingling. I glanced above me and realized I wasn’t hearing sleigh bells; rather, I was hearing the pole-mounted Christmas bells swaying in the wind. I continued waiting in the bone-crunching cold until I heard an unfamiliar sound; a steady but rhythmic wop-wop, wop-wop sound.

Out of nowhere, a red helicopter emerged from the overcast, wintry sky and slowly descended toward us, landing just a few feet from me. I watched in disbelief as Santa turned off the helicopter’s engine and headed straight toward me and the other children shouting, “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!”

For some reason, Santa’s unconventional arrival just didn’t seem right. When I approached Santa, I blurted, “Where’s your sleigh, Santa? Why didn’t you ride it into town?”

“Well, little lady,” he chortled, stroking his white bear, “it’s at the North Pole being repaired.”

“What’s wrong with your sleigh?” I continued.

“Oh, just some minor repairs. Nothing for you to fret about.”

“Who’s fixing it?”

“Well, uh…the magical elves, of course.”

“But..but I thought elves made toys. Will they fix your sleigh in time to deliver presents to all the boys and girls? And what about Rudolph and the other reindeer? Where are they?”

My persistence rendered Santa speechless. He raised his right eyebrow, which was brown rather than white like his bear. I gasped; in that moment the Santa Claus illusion was gone forever.

I leaped off Santa’s lap. “You’re not real, Santa Claus!” I exclaimed, bursting into tears. Mother wiped away my tears and took me aside.

“You’ll be okay, Sweetie,” she said reassuringly. “I’m proud of you. You’re right; Santa Claus isn’t real; he’s made-up like the people in the stories you read. Those stories aren’t real, but you like them anyway, right?

“Yes,” I said, my eyes meeting hers.

“Writers make up stories to tell lessons or share something important. The Santa Claus story is like that. It’s made up to tell children about the spirit of kindness and giving. That’s what’s important. You understand, Sweetie?”

I nodded, taking comfort in Mother’s forthright explanation. Despite my disillusionment and disappointment, Mother gave me a timeless gift that Christmas Eve: An understanding that life is sometimes fictional, and reality isn’t always what it seems to be. So, don’t waller in it!

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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July 6 – China…Up Close and Personal

by Patricia Roop Hollinger

(c) Can Stock Photo / kentoh

Just a week ago my only encounters with someone born in China were dining out at a local Chinese restaurant or dining in Chinatown in San Francisco, California. As a child, I was admonished to clean my plate because there were starving children who lived in far-off China. Their bony ribs became an image that haunted me. A fourth-grade teacher taught us about many of the traditions of the Chinese. I was horrified when I learned that the feet of Chinese women were bound.

However, just last week I found myself sitting amongst folks from all ethnic and racial backgrounds as we listened to the stories of what life is like living at the Mexico/Arizona border or living in the midst of daily fighting and turmoil in Palestine. We were all seeking Common Ground in the midst of a political climate where policies divide us with the rhetoric of hatred and disdain for the different.

To my right sat a very vivacious young Chinese woman. We exchanged names. She became curious about my being a Quaker when this tradition was a topic of discussion.

“So, what brought you to the U.S.?” I asked. Pei Pei had met a young American man in China and they now live in his home state of Idaho. “Come and join us at Quaker Meeting,” I proposed. She accepted and our day was spent sharing our traditions from both cultures. Her feet were not bound and her ribs were not showing. I challenge all of us to seek Common Ground with those we perceive as being different from us.

“Pat” was raised on a farm, and thus developed an imagination pondering the nature of the universe. Words held the magic of stories. Other cultures intrigued her. She is a retired Chaplain/Pastoral Counselor/Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who lives in a retirement community with her husband and their cat “Spunky.”