life

Staying in Focus: Lessons from the Oldest and the Newest

The Oldest:

My 92 year old mom came up for the Labor Day Weekend, and we were having a great time until she took a fall in the bathroom . As she is on blood thinning meds we lost no time in taking her to the hospital. Fortunately, she did not break any bones, just deeply bruised a rib. She had been planning to go home the next day, but ended up staying a week. She was in a lot of pain, and the only place she could get any rest at all was on our couch.

But trooper that she is, she took this in stride, just as she had when fighting breast cancer, enduring two mastectomies and taking as much chemo as she could stand. She experiences a lot of fatigue, has an atrial fibrillation condition with her heart, and all the aches and pains that accompany old age – but she doesn’t let it stop her. I’m not saying she doesn’t have bad days or get depressed, but when she finds herself tending in that direction, she heads another way

A few days after she returned home, she called me up and said she was” turning over a new leaf” . My mom is an extraordinary housekeeper. She can still run rings around me when it comes to a clean, neat and tidy home. In her mind, she believes she should be able to keep the pace she had 40 years ago. She told me she decided from now on, she would do things in her home on her good days, and just take it easy on the off days, and not get upset if everything wasn’t perfect all the time.

Alleluia! She then proudly announced she had retrieved her fall decorations from the closet and was in the process of decorating her house for the fall season. My mother’s ability to find delight in decorating her house, and satisfaction in being able to keep up with most of her chores at 92 are what keep her connected to life. She still gets her hair done every Friday, has lunch out with friends often, and is currently cross stitching ornaments for Christmas. I hope I have inherited some of this strength.

The Newest:

On September 25th, my niece, Jeanette, gave birth to a  very premature baby. Arriving 15 weeks early, and weighing in at only 1 lb. 6 oz, little Ben Gerard came into this world with a host of obstacles to overcome. But it seems little Ben has inherited his great grandmother’s strength of character, as he fights to stay with us. He is 10 days old, has become strong enough to be weaned off the breathing machine and is breathing on his own with only an oxygen mask. His vital signs are good, the doctors have increased his feeding times and Jeanette and her husband, Jared, had a chance to hold him for the first time today.

This very tiny person has many hills to climb in the weeks ahead, but he has demonstrated to everyone that he’s got the strength and determination to try, just as his great grandmother has the strength and fortitude to deal with what ever comes her way. There is a connection between these two  people in my family, the very oldest and the very newest, one intent on enjoying what life can offer no matter her age, and the newest, fighting to stay in a world he has just entered, wanting to find out just what this life is all about. I hope I have a measure of the fortitude of little Ben when facing my obstacles.

We read books and watch videos about heroes and heroic acts on the grand scale, but must remember to pay attention to the heroic efforts of everyday people and the lessons to be learned from the oldest and the newest,

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Staying in Focus: Focus On: Thirty-nine and Counting

Thirty-nine years ago, Bill and I were standing at the altar in St. Francis of Assisi Church, where, in front of family and friends, we made our vows and began our life together. Thirty-nine years and counting. We never envisioned on that day, where the road we’d chosen to follow together would lead. And life, like a road, has its twists and turns, but if you navigate therm together, you find your way.

Our way included two babies (now grown men); two grand children, whom we love completely; many good friends; 5 different houses; a move from the northeast to the southeast; jobs in engineering, software and education; a published book; many trips to the  Poconos, where we honey-mooned all those years ago; cruises to Alaska, the British Isles, Germany and Scandinavia and many celebrations  with family and friends – birthdays, holidays, graduations, weddings and new babies.

We faced the bumps in the road together –  illness; changing jobs and guiding the boys through pitfalls in their lives. We’ve mourned loved ones who have died, and support our family and friends through their challenges as best we can. All of these, the agonies and the ecstasies, are part and parcel of life, but things we could not envision on this day thirty-nine years ago. I know I had no vision of myself, or Bill, at 62 and  63 years old and grandparents to boot.

I don’t know why some marriages last a lifetime, or why others fail completely, but I do know that from the moment we made our vows, we approached whatever life brought us, together. The decisions we made, the problems that arose, the changes we considered – we dealt with them  together. He is always there for me; I am always there for him.

Thanks, Bill, for being there, my rock and my inspiration, and the love of my life. Think we can make it 39 more?:)

Happy Anniversary #39!

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That was then
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This is now

This is now


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Staying in Focus: The Merry Month of May

I was away last week when the merry month of May began and so I am a bit late with my May poem and photographs. May is my favorite spring month. We celebrate Mother’s Day, and my mom and I have our birthdays this month. 61 years ago on May 16th, I was her birthday present.  On May 20th, she will be 91. We are blessed to still have her with us after her experiences last year, but the therapy the doctors are using seems to be holding the cancer in her lung from spreading as recent medical tests showed everything stable. She is looking forward to the year ahead. as her 18th great grandchild was born on May 2nd.

In May, the lilacs bloom in New Jersey. My grandma would give me a big bunch of them for my birthday.  Here in the south, the leaves on the trees are still a bright spring green, and people are planting colorful annuals in gardens and around their landscape bushes, at the entrance to subdivisions, in pots and planters on decks and porches and patios. Some adventuresome houseplants move to the porch for a breath of fresh air. May is a month when life flourishes and the focus of our days is on being outside – walking and jogging, playing ball, swimming in pools and lakes and in the salt water of the sea. Barbecue grills fire up, picnics are planned, and boats of all sizes and shapes emerge from under their canvas blankets to return to the water for a day of fishing, sailing or cruising. May is, indeed,  a merry month!

MAY

Mothers and flowers and birds on the wing,

the sun warms the earth, the earth starts to sing

of sunny mornings kissed with droplets of dew,

while fluffy white clouds drift in skies of deep blue…                          Continue reading

Staying in Focus: Daily Prompt: Worst Case Scenario: My Last Day

Daily Prompt: Of all the awful possibilities, what’s the worst possible thing that could happen to you today? Now, what about the best?

The worst thing that could happen to me today would be to find out this was the last day of my life. As I grow older, every day is a precious one, to be lived and enjoyed and celebrated, no matter if the sun shines or the rain falls or the cold winds blow. What would I do if I knew this was the last day to see the sunrise, or the ocean waves roll to shore, to listen to the song of the birds outside my window, or see the smiles on the faces of my grandchildren when they come to visit? My last day to hear the sound of my husband’s voice as we share conversation,  feel his gentle touch and taste his soft kisses?

Well, I would focus on the best thing to happen to me today, which would be to find out this was the last day of my life. For if it was, I would not squander a second. I would fill it, sunrise to sunset with as much life as I could squeeze into 24 hours. I would bask in the sunlight or dance in the rain. I’d play with my grandchildren at the edge of the sea. I’d walk with my husband, hand in hand, leaving footprints in the sand, which last for a mere moment before being washed away by time and tide.  As with those fading footprints, so, too, are the days of our lives. I’d finish my last day sitting on a mountain peak, watching the sun set in a swirl of lovely colors before the light fades away.

Sometimes, I think, because we do not know when our last day will be, we regard them carelessly, and treat them like they will last forever.  However, since  we do not know which day will be our last, we must live each one as if it were. Celebrate the sun’s rise each day, take time to hear the birdsong. Show family and friends we love them, with a phone call or a visit, take time to travel and expand our point of view.  We get so overwhelmed with the business of making a living, we forget to live. We focus on the negative and forget that every cloud has a silver lining. Looking for it takes some effort, but it enriches our lives to acknowledge the good things and disregard the bad.

Take Parkinson’s disease as an example. It was certainly a cloud on my horizon, but because of my early retirement, I’ve had time to do more writing, improve my photography, take courses over the Internet.  I know my mobility will continue to diminish, so we have taken a few cruises to places I never thought I would see in my lifetime, while I can still get around. We shouldn’t put off doing the things we enjoy; life is too short and unpredictable. We need to fill our days with as much joy as we can for as long as we can, because we have only so much time to  live and we must remember to live it well and make it last.

 

Staying in Focus : Spring and its Color Display

I love spring, planting flowers in beds and in pots, their beautiful colors combining to sing a song of life renewing itself with a flair we try to capture wi.th the lens of the camera. Here are my feeble attempts to convey their beauty from flowers received for Easter and those in pots and beds in my yard:

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flowers from my thoughtful nephew, Gary and his gal. Robin.

   flowers from my thoughtful nephew, Gary and his gal. Robin.

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pink geranium from my sister, Mary and brother-in-law, John

 

 

Staying In Focus: Love is All We Need

Although 2014 has not started out as auspiciously as I had hoped, there is a certain balance to the universe that can bring us some measure of peace. One of the people I wrote about earlier, my friend’s husband, who fought a valiant fight against cancer, passed away on December 27th.  I now have four friends, who are widows far sooner than they ever expected, but their strength and courage in care giving and in facing the death of their partner in life, is a true testament to the power of love – to love them enough to let them go.

But hiding in the shadow of death and loss, is the promise of new life.  For even as my friend and her family were dealing with the loss of their beloved husband and father, their good friend received news of the birth of her new grandson.  One soul departs this world, and another soul enters it. Life goes on, renewing itself, generation after generation.  And what fuels it is love. As the Buddha said, “In the end these things matter most:  How well did you love? How fully did you love? How deeply did you learn to let go?”

Some of us reach a ripe old age and others are lost far too young.  We don’t know how much time we have and so we mustn’t waste it.  We must love with all our  heart for as long as we live and the universe will find its balance – a man who loved his family; a new baby surrounded by the love of family. As crazy and cruel as the world  is, I prefer to stay an optomist. Lorraine Hansberry sums it up nicely. “I wish to live because life has with it that which is good, that which is beautiful and that which is love. “  And, as those of us who grew up in the 60’s know, love is all we  need.

Staying in Focus: Daily Prompt: Anticipation

Daily Prompt : When you’re giddy with excitement, does time speed up? Slow down? Tell us about the experience of anticipation.

For me, anticipation varies with the type of event it precedes. Take Christmas, for example.  I find the anticipation more enjoyable than the celebration itself. I enjoy finding that perfect gift for someone, keeping secrets, hiding gifts, wrapping, decorating, trimming the tree and writing my annual Christmas poem.  These all combine to make the event itself almost anticlimactic.  Time begins to speed up as the holiday grows closer, and by Christmas Day, the presents are given and received, and anticipation lies discarded, along with the torn wrappings left in a pile on the floor.

Then there is vacation. I love anticipating vacation. When I was younger, my family would load up the station wagon and head out cross-country for two weeks. We traveled the country coast to coast, from sea to shining sea. We also visited Canada and Mexico. Sometime in February, when snow-covered the ground, we would decide where to travel and I would send for travel brochures from the states we would be visiting. While the winds howled outside, I would happily schedule our trips, planning each day’s itinerary. Then in June we would go shopping to buy our clothes for the trip – new bathing suits, shorts and tops, shoes and sandals. Unlike Christmas, however, time would slow down as vacation approached. There was school to finish – projects, papers, final exams. But finally the day would arrive and off we would go.

I still enjoy anticipating vacations, but now that I am older, I find that time in general seems to accelerate its speed constantly. This year my husband and I spent two weeks on a cruise of the British Isles/tour of London, and at times I cannot believe we were really there.  Our first cruise seemed to go by so quickly, I promised myself I would take the time to pay attention on this one, try to slow time down and not let the days pass by so quickly – no luck. It went by in a flash.

Then there are the events I prefer not to anticipate like dental visits, colonoscopies, and mammograms. And somehow, these events roll around even faster than I could anticipate if I wanted to.

But, all in all, I find having something good to anticipate is important to my mental health. Whether it makes me giddy with excitement like Christmas or a cruise, or something simpler but equally important like an outing with friends or a visit from family, having something to look forward to gets us through the tough times, adds sunshine to a rainy day, keeps our spirits up when the cold winds are howling.. Life is what we make it, and anticipation keeps us engaged in life.

I can’t wait for Christmas.

Hey, Bill, have you booked that next cruise?

Staying in Focus:Weekly Writing Challenge: My Rocky Road

Weekly Writing Challenge: Fit to Write

The Rocky Road

I was cruising right along
when this rocky path appeared
and now I have been walking it
for many trying years
and yet it leads me onward
there’ve been obstacles, I fear
but despite the looming shadows
I have no time for tears
each day I have, I celebrate
this precious gift I’m given
and I for one have vowed to make
each one a day worth living
so moment by moment, mindfully
I take a step most carefully
along this steep and rocky road
trying not to stumble
I strive to end each day
with hope in a new tomorrow
my heart assured, my spirit free
safe within the circle
of my  friends and family,
I choose to dwell on happiness
and not waste time on sorrow.
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One day I am living my life, happy in my home, surrounded by friends and family and the next day I receive a diagnosis that changes my picture perfect life forever. Life can be like that, and we must learn to roll with the punches.

I had noticed changes in my body a few years before diagnosis, but caught in a difficult passage through menopause, I attributed some of it – the anxiety especially, to that.  And then, in 2007, a routine colonoscopy found a polyp that we did not know was cancer until after surgery.  The anesthesiologist I had for that procedure suggested I see a neurologist for the tremor I was experiencing. I followed through once I had recovered from the colon cancer operation, already certain of the answer –Parkinson ’s disease.

And now, 6 years later, I am still living my life, happy in my home, surrounded by friends and family, but living a life quite different from what I had expected. Now I must take 3 prescription drugs, 2 of them 3 times a day to facilitate walking, control the tremor, and slow down the progression of the disease. 3 additional medications address my blood pressure, anxiety and thyroid. For dessert I have folic acid, a multi-vitamin, vitamin D, 4 fish oil capsules, and a full size aspirin to complete my daily feast of meds. Then there is exercise. I have a small, powered stationary bike that I use every day, keeping the rotations above 80/per minute, aerobic walking using the Leslie Sansone Walk at Home programs on DVD, followed by yoga for flexibility or tai chi for balance. I also lift weights three times a week for strength training. It takes a big chunk out of my day but it beats the alternative. I complete my regime with a relaxing meditation

Fortunately, I am 5+ years out from the cancer surgery and so far so good. I have had a total of 7 colonoscopies to monitor things and I see an oncologist twice a year and take an aspirin daily. So far my regime has been successful in keeping me moving and slowing down the PD. This summer we took a cruise to the British Isles and I walked every day. We did an “On the Deck 5K Walk for the Cure” around the ship. So although I’ve  had to make major changes (retiring and giving up driving).  I have adjusted to life along this Rocky Road.  I take each day as it comes and try to treat it as the gift it is. I allow myself time to continue to grow and learn new things through online classes, visits to museums, and writing poetry, my memoir and currently, a middle grade children’s novel. Spending time with family and friends is paramount in keeping up the spirits and continuing to participate in life.

My mother endured months of bedrest to  avoid miscarrying me, so that I am here at all is a wonder; that I’ve lived 60 years and have had a marvelous life filled with love and support from my family and friends, and have been married for 37 years to my soul mate and best friend my husband, Bill, is simply miraculous.

Since I can’t know whether the road remains rocky the rest of the way, or smooths out for me for a time, I continue to walk along it (as best I can) try to keep healthy and fit to write and celebrate the gifts each new day brings.

Staying in Focus: Daily Prompt: Never Say Never

Daily Prompt: Never

If there is one thing I have learned in life, it is to never say never. Life has a way of surprising you at every turn.  You may judge others at one point in your life, believing that you would never do as they did, only to find yourself in the same situation years later, reacting in the same way and doing what you said you never would do. Usually statements beginning  with the words “I would never…” come from inexperience, the certainties of youth that life will temper as the years unfold. Many of these  certainties are uttered by those yet to become parents.   I will never let my child eat fast food, watch television before they are forty,  bribe them to get good grades.  My child will never get a tatoo,  wear clothes like that, use makeup before they are forty, get  D on a report card. Tread lightly when making such claims or in judging others from your place of perfection because you will soon learn that  nothing in life is certain. The best laid plans, the strongest philosophy, can be felled by a two-year old having a temper tantrum or an adolescent simply doing what adolescents do – challenge you at every turn. Your determination never to gain weight, never to interfere in your grown children’s lives, never to  become your mother, are all nevers I have seen fall by the wayside, discarded in a moment after years of certitude. I  have  seen acquaintances  and family members deal with things they never imagined, never saw coming, never expected to impact their lives. I’ve found that life has  a way of humbling us as we negotiate our way through it.  As the years pass, life erodes our sharp edges, softens our perspectives and opens our minds to possibilities never considered in our youth.  My humble advice is never say never…because you never know…

Staying in Focus: Good Times, Good Friends

We had  a wonderful time in Atlanta.  Whenever old friends get together to share new experiences,  memories are made. Despite Atlanta’s best effort to snarl us in its web of  traffic  jams, we managed to tour the Road to Tara Museum, take a bus tour of historic Jonesboro, visit the Atlanta Cyclorama,  attend  a superb Braves game (we won) at Turner Field,  tour the Georgia  Aquarium, master the art of riding the MARTA, learn a card game called Nertz, and visit the Margaret Mitchell house. Not a bad showing for two and  a half days.  Here ‘s the thumbnail photo tour:

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The important part was that we took the time to get together and share some special memories.  None of us know how much time we have to  spend with  those who have become important to us as we walk this earth.  Family and friends are really the stuff life is made of, everything else pales in comparison to sharing laughter, getting a hug, recognizing a familiar face in a crowd of strangers at the airport. Our family and friends are there to share our ups and downs, support us in time of need, celebrate our moments of joy, and forgive us our transgressions.

This weekend, immersed as we were in Gone  With the Wind, I recall a scene near the end of the book.  Scarlett is running , lost in the mists and fog when she finally realizes it is Rhett she is running to, that it was Rhett all along  who supported her,  loved her , forgave her. But sadly, for Scarlett , the realization came a bit too late.   The tour guide at the Margaret Mitchell house told us that question asked most often of Margaret Mitchell was whether or not Rhett returned to Scarlett.  Her answer was that if you’ve read the book, you knew as much as she did.  However, I believe Margaret imagined them together again.  In the eventual sequel, written by Alexandria Ripley, they do reunite.  Could she  have  written it any other way? No, because the world yearned for them to find their way back to each other. Because  we are all romantics , we all yearn for a happy ending and we know, in our heart of hearts, it is those we love who matter  most.