Staying in Focus: Focus On: Family and Friends

What a pleasant weekend I had! On Saturday, I attended a birthday celebration for my friend, Linda. Although Linda’s birthday was in June, several of us were traveling during that time, and this was the first date that worked for most everybody.  Most of the gals in our group were workmates at Sylvan Learning Center at one time – Debra, Julie. Karen, Linda and me. Diane, a friend of Julie, joined the group early on, followed by Debbi and most recently Denise, two of my friends formerly of Poughkeepsie, NY. Two of our original members, Michele and Susan, have moved away.

The group began as a monthly book club in 1997 and over the years as some of us pursued new jobs, retired, faced illnesses, or became caretakers for aging parents, we became more of a support group for one another. Life becomes more complicated sometimes and getting everyone together each month was tough, but we continued to get together for coffee and catching up here and there,  kept in touch through emails, and  at a gathering at my house each Christmas.

We have seen one another through good times – new jobs, new homes, the arrival of grandchildren, and tough times – the loss of parents and spouses, and facing illness. We have had members move away and have welcomed newcomers. We have seen our children grow, begin their careers, leave the nest, get married, start families, and defend our country in military service.

It matters not how frequently we manage to get the group together, for when we do we have good times, filled with good conversation sprinkled with laughter. To quote Proust, “Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

Our Selfie:


Following the party, I returned home to find my grandchildren had arrived to spend the night with us and their father, who celebrated his 37th birthday this weekend.  We took him out for pizza, and returned home for an ice cream treat.  On Sunday we had a scrambled egg and pancake breakfast and we went outside for a while to enjoy a non-humid, non-nineties day. Bill and I came in from helping their mother get the kids and their stuff in the car, around 4 PM and promptly fell asleep watching the ballgame!

It was a busy weekend but one filled with family and friends. Who could ask for more?IMG_3807


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.

Daily Prompt: Staying in Focus: I Am Still Me

Daily Prompt:  I am a Rock. Is it easy for you to ask for help when you need it, or do you prefer to rely only on yourself? Why?

I tend to rely on myself and really avoid asking for help.  One of the things I was most afraid of in telling people that I had Parkinson’s disease, was that it would change the way they were with me. I didn’t want them to see the disease and not see me anymore. I didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for me, or assuming I couldn’t do certain things while I still can.

Aside from taking my pills and exercise I tend not to think about the PD much at all. The day may very well come along when I no longer can ignore it, but no sense dwelling on that now. It’s a waste of the present to worry about the future.

I’ve never wanted to be the center of attention for any reason, preferring to work on the sidelines, stand in the shadows and plow my way through whatever awaits beyond the curve up ahead. Instead of focusing on what I can’t do, I focus on what I can do, and let the rest unfold as it will. One way that I help myself is by supporting the researchers working to find a cure for all people dealing with chronic and degenerative diseases. Supporting this research can give friends and family a direction for getting involved, and dispels the awkward, “I’m so sorry, what can I do?” moments.

My husband and I did a5K ‘on deck for the cure’ walk aboard the Caribbean Princess while on a cruise. This walk I did in honor of my mom and friend, Debbi, both fighting breast cancer. There are walks and runs for just about every disease researchers are working on.

As most of you probably know, The Michael J. Fox Foundation has helped to fund researchers working for a PD cure. Michael is returning to TV this fall on NBC, September 26 at 9:00. He will portray a man with Parkinson’s disease, who is returning to work after 20 years. (A perfect example of art imitating life).The members of Team Fox are asking people to sign up and host premier parties to support Michael and spread the word about PD research. 1,855 people have already signed up to host the premier parties. If you are interested check out:

They provide ideas for your party and it will help spread the word about PD and the current research being conducted. So if you know someone who has PD and need a way to show your support here’s one idea you might find both fun and supportive.

Everyone needs compassion, sooner or later. The truth is that we must learn to handle the cards we are dealt, but that is not to say supportive people in our lives cannot walk beside us. Just keep in mind the disease is only a part of a person. It hasn’t changed his hopes and dreams or her need to continue living a life as normal as possible for as long as she can.  And don’t worry. The Simon and Garfunkel song may say “a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries.”  But people do. And you’ll know when to ease their pain and cry with them. Until then, just be their friend.

Staying in Focus: What Matters When You’re Ninety

IMG_0787Today we are celebrating Mom’s 90th birthday with an afternoon barbecue in Sanford at my sister’s house.  She has been through a lot the past month or so, barely surviving two failed chemo attempts which left her weak, sick and miserable. Both she and her doctor have agreed to suspend treatment.  He will give her a month or so to recover, and hopefully put on a few pounds before starting monthly shots to suppress the tumor in her lung.  She has chosen quality of life at this point, as many days as she can enjoy without being sick so much of the time.

As I prepare for her birthday, I ask myself, what matters most when you’re ninety? For my Mom, no question about it, it is her family and friends. There comes a time in our life when material goods no longer matter. It’s all just stuff in the end, stuff you leave behind, unless you are planning  a King Tut kind of send-off. complete with a tomb filled with your stuff arrayed around you for thousands of years. But it is still just stuff.It doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things.

Time spent with family and friends is worth much more than stuff, and it becomes  more precious, more of a priority, as we grow older. Our lives are short and as we age, we become more aware that at some point we will simply run out of time. That is why we need to make  a special effort to spend this time wisely, getting together and sharing laughter and memories, celebrations and milestones, playing with the young ones and listening to the stories our elders tell of their lives and all they have seen or done during them. My mother has experienced so much in her ninety years, and has accumulated a great deal of wisdom along the way.

So with that in mind, I created a time line of her life so far (see post 5/02//2013). Then I had the idea to make a collage of all her children, from my brother John to her latest great, great-grandchild. I placed her picture in the middle of the collage, cutting it in  a heart shape, as  she is the heart of our family. As I worked , the words of the governor in the movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus, came to mind, so I added this quote at the bottom:

We are your symphony. We are the melodies and notes in your opus. We are the music of your life.

Family has always come first with Mom. The warm, loving home she created for us, the support and encouragement she has always given us, her pride in our accomplishments, these gifts she has freely given and the children she has nurtured, are her opus. They are a legacy far more worthwhile than an accumulation of stuff. Perhaps we should all realize this sooner rather than later and make the most of the time we have, just being together.

So today, my mother’s family and friends will gather round her to celebrate 90 years of  a life well lived.She’ll glow in the warmth of their love and delight in their laughter. The sounds of their voices will surround her like a symphony, and the music will fill her heart with joy for this is what she lives for. This is what matters when you’re ninety. It’s what  matters most of all.IMG_0789_1IMG_0792_1

Staying in Focus: Finding Time for Friendship

Why do we let so much time pass without getting together with our friends? Last night I had  a group of special ladies over for our annual Christmas gathering.   I have known these gals for many years.IMG_1165 crop Several of them worked with me at the Sylvan Learning  Center, others came as friends of a group member and were drawn into the fold  .We formed a book group,  meeting once a month to discuss the book we’d chosen to read, but mostly we used the time to catch up with one another. New members joined, others left when they moved out of the area, but a core group of us  persisted.  After a while, though, we all became so busy that meeting once a month became difficult.  But we always make an effort to gather together every Christmas when we pledge to get together soon, and the next thing we know, it’s December again.

We had a good time last night, sharing the ups and downs of the past year.  There were, sadly, the loss of parents and divorces among our grown children to report.  We discussed everything from  dealing with illness, and questions about retirement, to the challenges of figuring out our smart phones!  And, of course, pictures of the grandchildren to pass around.

So many changes and adjustments to make or contemplate accrue in our lives over the course of a year and there is nothing like having a group of supportive, sympathetic friends to lend and ear or give you a hug when you need one.  It sends a message we all need to hear, an assurance that we are not alone. But the reality is, our lives are very complicated and the demands on our time and energy are many.  No wonder the days pass like an express train racing through our lives.

They call us the sandwich generation, an apt description.  Sandwiched between the needs of aging parents and our children, many of whom fail to be fledged, returning to the nest, sometimes with fledglings of their own in tow. Today we have our parents living longer, which is a blessing,  although medical problems can make it difficult for them to handle things on their own.  We want to keep them with us  as long as possible but caring for them can become a full-time job. Then there are our children, dealing with job loss or failed marriages, needing financial assistance, or even a roof over their heads and someone to watch the little ones while they work. Sandwiched indeed!  But at a time when we are feeling the effects of aging, too, with illnesses and fatigue of our own to handle. We see retirement slipping further and further away. We get discouraged and often depressed

But every now and then, we need to slip away and seek comfort and a sense of renewal. Caregivers must never forget to care for themselves  And what better way than an evening spent in the company of supportive friends, willing to share the joys and sorrows, the hopes and the fears, the challenges and the changes we face everyday?  I think we all need more of this . We’re not looking for answers, just for someone to listen.

This quote by Benjamin Franklin comes to mind: “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time for that is the stuff life is made of.”   So look out ladies.  I’ll be  calling. Maybe in the spring, a trip to Fearrington or Duke Gardens will be in our future.

This year is going to be different.  This year we are getting together again before t the Christmas decorations go up. ( Unless, of course, I don’t get a chance to take them down till next December!)

Focus On: The Gift of Friendship

                                  It takes a long time to make an old friend

I came across the above quote while searching my scrapbook supplies for some materials to make a  card for a friend’s upcoming birthday.

How serendipitous, I thought.  I am sitting here waiting for the arrival of my oldest friend and I come across this quote!  Kathi and I have been friends since around 1967, so that, qualifies, I think, for a long time.  Most marriages don’t last 45 years!  And though distances have separated us there is a connection made with old friends that transcends time and distance.. The more of a person’s life you share, the greater and stronger the bond.

Isn’t it amazing how you can be separated from old friends by time, distance and circumstance, and yet meet up and immediately recapture the feelings and ease of being together as if no time had passed at all?  Kathi and I hadn’t seen each other for probably close to ten years, but when we traveled to Alabama to see her three years ago, it was like a time warp. The bodies may have reflected the passage of time, but .other than that it could have been 1967 all over again!

Good friends see you through many changes and challenges and their support is unwavering  and strong.  The oldest friendships have weathered the passage through adolescence, marriage, the birth of our children, raising and supporting them and each other,as they negotiate their way through life.  Friends see us through the hard times –  divorce, medical challenges , facing the reality that we have somehow moved from adolescents to senior citizens. You don’t necessarily need a lot of them, but  a few good friends are worth more than gold.

I also met my future sister-in-law, Pat, in high school, so she ranks equal with Kathi in the old friend category.We really became closer friends in college and along with our buddy, Joanne, had a wonderful time going to concerts, taking trips to the shore, and helping each other plan our weddings. When I married Pat’s brother, we were assured of being able to maintain our friendship as we became family. We travel back to NJ at least twice a year and Pat and her family come to visit us every summer for our annual family reunion.

When I married, I moved to Poughkeepsie, NY where new friendships were forged as we raised our children. I made many good friends there. One couple in particular, Denise and Geoff, remain close friends despite our abandoning them when we moved to North Carolina..  They are joining us on the Alaska cruise as they are celebrating their 41st anniversary as we celebrate our 36th.  We try to get together several times a year, and when we do we always have a good time. Raising  a family fills the best years of our lives, and I will remember the friendships forged during those years always. ( Shirley, that includes you).

Friendships are also forged in work relationships.  While in Poughkeepsie, my husband met an interesting character named Dick, and I soon met his wife,Debbi, and we quickly became friends.  I was home raising my boys at the time, and Debbi was working, so when her little daughter came along, I took care of her while Deb worked until her second child was born.  Jenny filled the role of the baby girl I never had.  When we moved to North Carolina, they did, too and although we lost Dick several years ago, Deb remains a  friend I can always rely on..

I did not work at first when we relocated to North Carolina and so another group of neighborhood friends developed.  My friends, Lisa and Kathryn, along with Jolie, Salwa and Diane had so much fun during those years playing tennis, gathering at the community pool in the summer, volunteering at the schools, planning parties and outings.  There is nothing more reassuring then having a strong support group to rely on.

But, as they say, to everything there is a  season,  and time passed, the kids grew up. Some of us returned to work, some moved out of the neighborhood or out-of-state. And although we try to keep in  touch, at least with a card at Christmas, it’s those halcyon days when the children were little that I’ll always remember so fondly.

I returned to work as well when my youngest started school, and my circle of friends enlarged to include the wonderful teachers and staff at the Sylvan Leaning Center where I worked for 19 years.  Out of that experience came a group of friends, which included Linda, Julie, Debbie, Karen, Michelle, Susan and along with Julie’s friend, Diane, and my friend, Debbi, we formed a book club and met monthly to discuss the book (about 10% of the meeting) and just catch up with each other’s lives (90%).  This group included young gals still having children and us now older gals, and it was a great mix of personalities. Once again, though, time moved on. Some of the girls moved away, we grew busy with our lives, several of us caring for aging parents,and it became hard to get together on a regular basis.

One of my friends, I think it was Linda, said that once you are a friend of Pat’s,  you’re a friend forever, and so it is.  I value my friends, I welcome their support and their wisdom . Human beings are social animals and it is especially important to keep those relationships close when dealing with life’s challenges.  For it is then that the true value of friendship is realized.  And so I host a gathering at Christmas every year to draw us back together, to keep the circle intact.

Linda and I, both retired now, have returned to reading and discussing favorite books, taking field trips to museums and gardens, learning how to make jewelry ,going to a movie, and just enjoying our time together.  I look forward to these outings since i am no longer driving.

My circle of friends has grown and changed over the years.  Sometimes people drop out, sometimes they drop back in.  The important thing to remember is to keep the circle going and to keep the circle growing.  Relationships within it may shift and change, but as long as it’s there, you are never alone.  And in the end, that’s what matters most.  For in the end there’s nothing better than having friendships that last forever.  And although it may take a long time to make an old friend, believe me, it’s worth the effort!

To all my friends, past and present,
and to those yet to come,
I am grateful for your friendship

Pat and Kathi; 1971

and when all is said and done
my life is filled with memories
of all the laughter and the fun
we had in our time together –
Love you, everyone!

Pat and Kathi, 2012

Pat and Bill,Geoff and Denise

Pat and Pat, 1975