Time for a break

I began this blog in December 2017. Our move from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Tsawwassen, B.C. had heightened in me the sense I was entering a new stage of life. My way to explore this was by writing about it. I wanted to embrace my identity as an Older while noticing its many aspects, from celebration to challenges.

Sixty-eight posts later, I feel it’s time to take a break. I haven’t been writing here as faithfully as I did at first.There seems less “new” in Old. I think I’m beginning to repeat myself. Maybe I’ve settled into the experience of it. It’s not that I’ve talked about every area of oldness that affects me, of course. Columns might have been written on hearing loss, for instance, which I was reminded of when my six-year-old granddaughter easily supplied a remark in a video I’d listened to several times without being able to “separate” the sounds enough to decipher. Or on leakages of various kinds. Or catching myself complaining about the lines on my neck. (I really don’t care, do I?) Or MAID, which I want to think about more deeply.

But for now, a break, and a big thank you to those who have followed my chronicles, perhaps added comments and stories. The blog will stay up; I may put in a note, or even resume, at some point. In the meanwhile, I invite you to my main site, Borrowing Bones, which I’ve maintained since 2009, where I share my writing life, what I’m reading, or whatever.

The sun has just risen and the sky is pink with happiness and hope. I wish you all a good measure of both, and a safe and blessed Christmas.

 

Don’t be trusting!

This morning at our monthly North of 60 meeting a local police constable talked to us about several topics of particular relevance to seniors: elder abuse and scams.

It was grim and cautionary stuff and a reminder that getting older is not for the faint of heart. Why are seniors targeted? Some reasons: we’re too trusting; easy marks; often relatively wealthy (savings for the final stage etc.); too polite; often lonely and isolated; can be easily intimidated. The officer told us that we don’t need to answer the door, for example, and that the revenue agency or police will never phone and threaten or ask for money. Those emails that say we’ve won something or have some distant relative who left us in their will? Scams. “If something is too good to be true, it probably is.” Simply hang up on those calls, or don’t answer a number you don’t recognize. The so-called grandchild stranded at roadside and needing money? Say you’ll call back in five minutes and hang up. “Slow down — take the emotion out of it — analyze — check.”

Scammer are very clever and keep changing tactics. “Don’t be trusting!” the officer declared.

Right now this all seems obvious and easy enough. Some day it may not be. So of course I  will need to do some trusting. I’m thinking it’s important to figure out who to trust ahead of time, to foster a community of integrity around oneself. Wills and power of attorney documents need to be in place. In our case, we trust our children, but we need to keep letting them into our lives — all of them in various ways, as checks and balance — so they know what’s going on with us. We must also stay informed about safety issues and local help-resources.

 

Pajamas day

After a week like the last — with our Toronto children and grandchildren here, and thus the entire family together (the others are local) — I felt the need for a pajamas day, or half of one at least. By which I mean more or less doing nothing. On a pajamas day, I may or may not actually be in my pajamas — it’s more a state of mind and body: rest mode and absolutely not beginning Next Tasks. I was tired. Surprisingly tired. Realizing again I’m older than I used to be. My husband was tired too. Even though it was our anniversary when the week ended, we told ourselves we’d celebrated all week and could easily stay home and be quietly happy that we’d managed 45 years. We sank into that satisfying tiredness that follows days of steady going and going and giving and getting. The energy had been there, adequate for all the week’s occasions, but once done, only pleasant ache remained.

I needed time too to sit a while in gratitude. It was such a good week.

I noticed something in this gathering. The adult children were in charge. We two olders had been slotted into their care as well. Sure, we did some meals and hosting and planning, but these were moves in a larger game others were running. It wasn’t uncomfortable either, but I felt the shift: being sort of central still as “heads” of this particular family but practically speaking, de-centralized and free to not be responsible. Free to submit to their competence. I remember this transition happening in my own family of origin, as my siblings and I matter-of-factly took over from Mom and Dad. Now it’s our turn in that position, and unexpectedly, it’s fine.

Layers of friendship

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View of Georgia Strait from Fred Gringell Park, Tsawwassen. Photo by Eunice Sloan (eunicesloan.ca). Used by permission.

My friend Eunice visited last week. Three nights, three-and-a-half days. We’re friends from way back, probably since four or five. We went to the same church and school in Linden, Alberta. Her family moved to Drayton Valley when we were going into Grade Nine. We wrote letters. Over the years our lives overlapped at times, then opened to gaps — because of geography and life in general. In the last two decades, we’ve re-connected again.

Some months ago, circumstances brought us together for several hours. She noted later that we’d mostly talked about the past. The reason was probably my curiosity about our childhoods because I’m doing memoir writing. Plus, in any long acquaintance, the past remains the solid, continuous reference point.

This visit, with more hours at our disposal, we added new, current reference points to our repertoire. We picked strawberries. We viewed stained glass windows at Christ Church Cathedral and the coliseum-like public library in Vancouver. We lost and found (whew!) a cell phone. We wandered sites in Tsawwassen. We discovered treasure in the Thrift Store. She sat with us through the livestream of the funeral service of my husband’s niece in Paraguay. We talked. We talked about aging.

We agreed that we quite like this stage, not least because we’re freer to pursue things we really want to do. For Eunice, it’s the capture and expression of life via her camera.

I think her photo above encapsulates the visit. I’ve become fond of blue (what choice do I have, now living near water and mountains?) but it speaks to me of long friendship too — any friendship, for that matter — which is comprised of subtle and changing layers within a dynamic whole. 

 

Further to resilience

Curious how, when the mind fixes on something in particular, it suddenly seems “everywhere.” So it was with resilience after last week’s post. Friend and fellow writer Loretta Willems, who lives just across the border in Bellingham, and I continued the conversation via email. She forwarded a Washington Post article, “How my mother prepared us to live without her.”

Loretta wrote (and gave me permission to quote),

It articulates what I have hoped to communicate in what I’ve written—the critical importance of laughter and fun and truly enjoying one’s children, giving them as much stability as possible. I had never thought of that gift of enjoying one’s children in terms of the concept of ‘resiliency’. For me it was to help them believe that life contains real goodness in spite of all the terrible things that can happen, faith that life is worth living in spite all the hardship that comes to us in the course of our lives.

This seems eminently transferable to the aging life. Predictability (aka routine). Slowing down to notice. (Yesterday, for one example, I was discouraged. I took my daily walk. In this town, people of all ages smile or greet when passing. Several smiles in, my day had changed.)

But for situations where resiliency seems inadequate, there’s grace, Loretta also reminded. “Grace and prayer…going into the darkness, acknowledging it, giving it voice then giving it to God. This time of life is not easy, but I am convinced that grace is real.” Yes. And as if to nail home the point that resilience isn’t enough, life not a pull-up-the-boots-alone affair, “Resilience is not a DIY endeavour” in The Globe and Mail began just then to bounce about the internet. Yes, again.

Writing a mission statement

Last Saturday I found a quiet corner at the library and sat down with a pen and pad of paper to work on a personal mission statement.

I last did this 13 or 14 years ago while employed in editorial roles at our national denominational magazine. I taped the three phrases that I eventually distilled as a mission statement along the bottom of my computer. I often fell short of their ideals, of course, but they reminded me what I wanted to do and be in that place.

Although my core values haven’t really changed, my stage of life certainly has. I still write, but part-time, self-directed, and at home. My husband is retired and has health challenges. I have nine grandchildren. I’m 69.

Writing a mission statement is a process. There are helpful tools online — questions to ask about who I admire or might emulate, past successes, priorities and goals, contributions I can make. I recall that when I first did this exercise (probably after reading Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits), even before the one at my job, I was juggling writing projects with attention to the kids and household. Then I looked at women considerably older than me as models. Now I’m looking at women about my age or slightly older for examples of both positive aging and contribution. (For one, this shout-out to someone I know mainly through her blog: Sue Steiner. At 70, she began a blog to mark the year, planning 70, though well beyond that now, and each a gem that ends with questions for reflection.)

My statement isn’t formulated yet, but I did my pages of notes and reflections. A number of words have floated out of them for further rumination.Scan

Death cleaning

I forget why I ordered The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning from the library. Why did I need Margareta Magnusson’s advice on de-cluttering when we already did our drastic clean-up, moving cross-country and into an apartment? But I suppose it’s like perusing reviews of books you’ve already read or plays and concerts you’ve already attended: was it the same for you as me? And there it was, arrived to the Holds shelf, and since it’s short, interesting, and funny, I read it immediately, in about an hour.

download (2)Magnusson, now “between eighty and one hundred,” moved often and cleaned up her parents’ place as well as the family home after her husband’s death. Her ideas resonate with current de-cluttering messages from tidy-gurus like Marie Kondo, but this isn’t about folding T-shirts as much as sparing the kids. (“Let me help make your loved ones’ memories of you nice — instead of awful.”) Well, yes, why not spare the kids? I don’t know if it’s certain personalities or my generation in particular, but we definitely don’t want to be a bother or a burden!

And it’s about getting started, since we’re older and slower and it all takes time. (Her place took a year.) So, clothing first, photos and letters and personal papers last, lest one get stuck in reminiscence and never clean up anything else. And drop expectations that that thing you really treasure will be wanted by children or grandchildren. Just find someone else for it.

“Aging is certainly not for weaklings,” Magnusson writes, but she makes it sound cheerful and a pleasure and she has some great ideas, so I’m glad I read her book, even if I can’t remember why I thought I should.

Inner dialogue on the skytrain

The skytrain into Vancouver wasn’t crowded Saturday, but there were no empty seats. I stood and held a handrail. Across from me were four occupied seats marked for disabled and senior riders. Two people sitting there qualified, two others were young women completely lost in their phones. One looked glum, one smiled at what she watched, but neither looked up. Not once.

Me (thinking): I want to tap the knee of the happily oblivious one, point to the sign, point to myself.

Me (countering): Are you having any trouble standing? Are you frail or unsteady or tired at the moment?

Me: No. But the principle of the thing, and well, sitting beats standing.

Me: Over and over again, people — including young people — offer me seats, hold doors, usher me ahead. So it’s not like this is a continuing pattern I need to crusade against today.

Me: True. Young people here are astonishingly nice. So why is this bothering me?

Me: Feels like my right…

The senior got off, so I sat down between Happy and Glum. I kept my eyes open at stops for another older person, still itching to tap a knee. No such person appeared for the benefit of this possible instruction. Happy and Glum got off. Next stop, I exited too. I felt energetic enough to run up the escalator. I was strangely pleased I hadn’t made a fuss. If I’d been shaky or whatever, a tap or”excuse me” would be appropriate, but really, do I want to barrel my way through the rest of life flashing my rights? No.

But why, I thought ruefully, had I indulged this long internal argument? I might be aging, but sometimes I’m still entirely too ungrown-up inside.

Much changes, much remains the same

I was walking along the sidewalk today when I passed an older woman pushing a walker. On the seat of the walker lay a bouquet of fresh flowers. This made me think of paintings and photos I’ve seen of girls on bicycles, carrying flowers in the baskets, images that to me represent the epitome of youthfulness. So much changes, I thought, yet much remains the same. In this case, flowers! For some reason, this made me very happy.

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Girl on Bike by Oana Befort

It’s two weeks since I posted here, and I’m that much older, and I’ve been busier than usual, but what I feel at the moment is gratitude. My husband’s cancer isn’t better but it’s not exactly worse either; it seems a manageable plateau for now and he’s back volunteering at Habitat for Humanity once a week, which he’d missed. And we had snow, our first of the winter, which was beautiful and our grandchildren were ecstatic and we didn’t have to drive in it or shovel, so what wasn’t to like? Plus there’s the good news from a publisher I hinted at the other day. I’m thrilled that Turnstone Press, who did such a wonderful job of my previous book (short story collection, What You Get At Home), will publish my current novel manuscript this fall. I’ll share more details as time goes on. Sometimes (usually evenings) I wonder if I’ll have the energy for what this involves, but as thy days, so thy strength, and besides, both bicycles and walkers carry flowers.

Smarties

Today at our “North of 60” gathering we played the Smarties game. Everyone picked one Smartie out of a bowl. A list of questions that corresponded to the colours was then posted on the wall. Questions like: What was your first job? How did you meet your spouse? What are the most difficult and most rewarding things about aging? How have you seen God at work this past year? What are your favourite things to do in winter? 

img_7205We were 27 women so there were lots of answers, lots of stories. Sadness appeared in some of them but we laughed a lot too. It was fun. And everyone seemed eager to participate. Why not? Past 60, there’s hardly a shortage of stories and sadness and laughter. And if others are willing to listen, well that’s a bonus.