Fresh Pages

I don’t know about anyone else’s house, but in mine, there is one “master” calendar that hangs on the wall in the kitchen and is the repository for everything and anything that happens under this roof—planned and unplanned but noted once it happened.

At the end of each year, somewhere between Christmas and New Year’s, I take it down from it’s hallowed space on the cork board and with a brand-new calendar in tow, I make myself comfortable in a corner of the house and begin the obligatory transfer of family and friends’ birthdays, anniversaries, and any other milestone moments.

I typically start with a quick scan of the month copying events I already know by rote, but I check anyway to make sure I got the correct date. Then, I take a second, closer look at any days that had comments written inside. In any given month, I find my way around the maze of oil changes, dentist appointments, and miscellaneous call-backs that needed to be made. Sometimes there are stretches for months, where there is something written in each day with appointments and activities, that by the time I get to August, I need to sit back and take a few minutes’ break and stretch from the intense inch by inch scrutiny.

As I decipher my shorthand and scribbles, the memories of each event come rushing back: That emergency mechanic appointment I had to squeeze in before our vacation (“but it’s a new car, darnnit!”); the phone call we received when we found out our granddaughter was born; the reminder that we need to order wood again for the winter (and scratching our heads swearing we just did that); my 30 year high school reunion (!!); classes starting, classes ending; a retreat one weekend and a weekend in Upstate the next; and it goes on.

Transferring those dates on the calendar is like reading a diary of my family’s life from the year, which is what a calendar can be I suppose. It’s this recording of the daily and monthly minutiae of our life that is the fabric of memories, some good, some bad, and some bittersweet.

A few years ago, the big build-up was my husband’s health. Looking over that calendar year as I transferred dates, I relived the memory of his chemotherapy treatments whenever I came across his oncologist’s name every few weeks with the appointment time scrawled underneath. We then began to add the countdown to his last treatment, until finally, happily, added to the calendar in block letters: “Cancer Free”.

This year’s focus, as I looked back, was my mother and her health and I could see the intensity of the changes reflected about mid-year when the doctor appointments increased. I began to make notes on the calendar of her falls and hospital visits; then came the closing date of her apartment she lived in for the past 15 years followed by scrawled names of appointments with facilities, social workers, and nurses. And then, finally, the date she entered Hospice and a mere three days later, the day she passed.

Every year, every month, has its own story. Some have a theme that runs through the year and others are just pinpoints of hours or days of unrelated events. As the years have passed, I’ve become more selective over which milestones I carry over to the blank spaces of the new calendar. Of course not every event gets transferred but I think this year has been an especially bittersweet reflection as we added the joyful event of the birth of our first granddaughter, and then the sad, but inevitable date of the passing of my mother.

January is already beginning to fill up, and that’s okay. It’s even good. Because isn’t that what it’s about? It’s those moments in between that keeps us smiling, keeps us loving, and keeps us moving on…..to fresh pages.

#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—Examining Humility

Autumn is my favorite time of the year and I think a part of that is because I’ve always felt September and October were more like a new year than the actual January 1 New Year’s Day. To me, September is the month of beginnings. Even though I’ve been out of school for many years, I still think of September as the beginning of a new school year and with it new opportunities and adventures. Then there’s the changing of the seasons and temperatures and of course, moving into October, the gorgeous transformation and front row seat to nature’s fashion show.

For the first time though, this year feels different to me. I’ve noticed a deeper awareness of events and an acuteness to the days’ wanderings that feel more heightened than ever before. Maybe it has something to do with how much faster time seems to be going.  So many people I know have said the same thing and how, especially this year, time feels as though it’s speeding up and almost out of control.

No one can avoid growing older and the growing pains and warts that come along with it, but how we view this parade of changes is what can make a world of difference in our experiences of them. One way to do that is through our humility, which can lead to a deeper and richer level of wisdom and acceptance. Humility has its own quiet power in its ability to provide strength in the awareness that each one of us is a part of something else. Contrary to what many believe, the universe doesn’t revolve around us or is holding its breath waiting to make its next move based on our decision. It doesn’t work that way no matter who you are, who you know, how much money you have, or businesses you own. The Earth will still turn and the sun will rise and set in accordance to its own laws, without any help from us.

Practicing humility is not about lowering yourself and having feelings of inadequacy. On the contrary, humility is a quiet power that lies in the sublime modesty of one’s own potential and view of oneself. Some people see humility as a weakness, with feelings of unworthiness and lack of pride, but I prefer to think of it is a strength of being able to see ourselves in context and in right perspective with others, and finding that we are not lesser or better than anyone else.

By embracing humility we can we move into life’s moments with wisdom and grace by giving up the need for vanity and self-righteousness. This Autumn has become a season of deeper reds, more vibrant oranges, and fiery yellows of a changing landscape that is within me as well as around me reflected in nature, and I hope that today’s Focus will deepen your own personal Autumn and be a season of change within and without as we learn more about and practice humility.

#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—When Not Asking Is Louder Than Asking

Admit it—we don’t want to believe it but it’s true: The squeaky wheel gets the grease. I feel pretty confident to say that we’ve all seen this whether it’s with our coworkers or our own families. Sometimes the squeaks from these people are so loud that we tend to overlook those who seem content and quietly go along, not asking anyone for anything as they cruise through their days. BUT. What if they’re not as content as they seem to be? Not everyone asks for help when they need it or when they should. The reasons are as many as the colors in a 64 color Crayola box:

Not wanting to appear weak or helpless;
Not wanting pity;
Shame of not doing something perhaps they used to do;
Fear of ridicule;
A still-held belief in their own strength and abilities;
Feelings of unworthiness;
Fear of being judged.

And these are just the colors in the first row. Whatever an individual’s reason may be, it’s just as important to pay attention to what’s not being said and what’s not being asked as to what is actually articulated. Silence should not be an assumption that all is right with this person’s world. If offering the assistance is still met with hesitance, don’t give up at the first rebuff.

Some people are reticent about asking for help regarding their own needs and you may very well be one of them. If so, think about the reasons why you may not ask. Look back at the list above—do any of those reasons apply to you? If so, learn to be comfortable in your own discomfort and don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help, whether it’s with a personal problem or with a ride to the grocery store. No one is perfect and believe it or not, no one expects us to be except for the pressure we put on ourselves.

Sometimes people don’t realize that they need help because they’re so used to having to do things by themselves and so oftentimes it becomes more evident to family and friends when help is needed before it does to the individual. Today’s Friday Focus is really something that is an everyday Focus: Become aware of those around you and notice how actions can speak louder than words; how sometimes not asking for help is the same as if they shouted it from the rooftops.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main….
—John Donne, No Man Is An Island
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#takingitdeeper

Friday’s Focus—Our Teachers, Ourselves

Whether we recognize it or not, we have teachers all around us. They are our friends, our enemies, strangers, and our families. Every person we meet is a mirror to something inside of us and how we react to the person is an indicator of something that has a teaching moment. If there’s someone who particularly raises your hackles, that’s a hint that it’s a relationship you need to take a closer look at. Until you do, you will always come across someone with that same personality and issues. I promise.

So what do you do when it’s your own family member? What do you do when it’s your own parent? The relationship between mothers and daughters alone, is the subject of countless social studies and psychology books, and even being in it first-hand, sometimes can lead to more questions than answers on how to best navigate in that relationship!

This past week has been a flurry of phone calls and scheduling appointments looking for alternative care and living arrangements for my mother, who has been suffering from increasing confusion and cognitive impairment. The situation has escalated to a new level of alert and awareness for me and my family and we are beginning our travels down the next road. Just as sometimes it is challenging to see the changes in our own children as they grow up into their individual personalities, I think it is just as difficult for a child to watch their parent become a different person due to disease and illness. It’s the established personality of the elder being broken down into the child again, and which oftentimes is a new personality peppered with confusion, sensitivity, vulnerability, and a lot of frustration.

I think, for most people, regardless of how estranged a relationship may be, there is still some level of a bond they feel with their parents. And as families grow older and the roles shift from parent and child to parenting the parent, there are new experiences that come from parenting parents that are completely different from being a parent to your own children.

As scary as it can be, I have been consciously working at using this opportunity of seeing this new personality, this person who almost seems like a stranger from the person I once knew, as being brought face to face with yet another teacher.

Aside from patience, I’ve asked myself, what could I possibly learn from this situation, except how much I want to change the clock back so that they are their familiar selves again? The focus I’m learning is that the question should not be why is this happening but rather what can I learn from this turn in the relationship? A new teacher has shown herself to me as a different personality disguised as my elderly parent. This may be the toughest mirror yet! My husband keeps telling me to be sure to learn my lessons from this because if I don’t, it will just show up again as someone else in my life and I believe it. I’ve seen it!

This week’s Friday’s Focus is about teachers and how they can come into your life in all shapes and sizes and sometimes from the most unlikeliest places. Take a look at the people around you who are loving and friendly. They are just as much teachers as those who aggravate you, annoy you, and bring up friction. Remember that as much as one person is a teacher to you, you are as much of a teacher to someone else.

#takingitdeeper

Blogging From A to Z: Welcome!

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Dear Renata,

The Universe here, dropping off a quick note. Yeah, THAT Universe, as in the big U. Just wanted to stop by and bring you a note to say WELCOME to your new life.

I know things have been difficult and challenging lately, but I’ve been sending some people and good books your way to help you keep your sanity and to brighten your day. I’ve also brought about some new situations that I see you’ve taken advantage of to showcase your writing and art. You’re welcome.

I’ve been noticing that you’re still having some trouble despite my help though, and so I thought it best to contact you directly and send you an official letter welcoming you to this next phase of your life. The neighborhoods are the same—job, health, home, family, friends, and I’m sure you’ve already noticed that some of them have been changing with new neighbors and others that have moved out. More changes are coming and you will be exploring those neighborhoods soon enough, but today I decided to use the “W” in Blogging A to Z to welcome you to the new neighborhood that deals with taking care of your mom.

As you are well aware, she’s been having some additional health issues lately, and I’m sorry dear, but I want to strongly suggest for you to stop fighting the change. She’s not as young as she used to be and definitely not the mother that is living in your memory. So, in a sense, you have an updated version of your mother—the latest model so to speak. She still dances to the beat of her own drummer but the station has changed and there’s a new song playing. You’re the only relative close by whom she can call so instead of fighting the truth and the inevitable and feeling like your drowning with these new responsibilities, give it up and do the backstroke instead. You’re a good swimmer and strong, and take it from me, drowning people struggle in their panic so much it does more harm then good.

I don’t believe in writing instruction manuals but there are a lot of people in the same boat as you and the world is a wonderful reference library. Since I would never leave you high and dry and alone in your new neighborhood, I want to remind you that you still have God, Karma, and some pretty fun guardian angels on your side ready to help you in a pinch.

That’s about it for now. I used to do Welcome Wagons a long time ago complete with a basket of muffins and coupons for local dry cleaning, but too many people have food allergies to the muffins and everyone is so conscious with the environment now that I tend to leave notes like this when creating situations and opportunities aren’t enough. Take care of yourself and take care of mom. She needs you and I need you and the world needs you to be another volume in its reference library for the next person moving into their new neighborhood.

Love always,

The Universe

Blogging From A to Z: Vulnerable

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A newly hatched bird;
A flower bud;
The first one to say I love you;
Asking your girlfriend to marry you;
Being told you have a disease and there’s nothing more that can be done;
A newborn baby;
An elderly person’s first night in a nursing home;
A bride on her wedding night;
A teenager who just found out she was pregnant;
Openely stating your sexual orientation for the first time;
Writing your first poem, story, post and hitting the “Publish” or “Send” button;
The first public exhibit of your paintings or photographs;
Being interviewed for a much needed job;
Being laid-off;
Burying your loved one;
The first day on your own at college after all the families have gone home;
The first night alone in new a apartment;
All of us in our deepest hour.

Being vulnerable is like standing on the threshold of what was and what will be.

Some of us dance over it, some crawl, some step over it one toe at a time, and some eagerly jump over the threshold with both feet. Being exposed in vulnerability is actually a powerful place to be. Vulnerability is fragility wrapped in hopefulness, hopelessness, security, doubt, wonder, joy, and sadness, all at once.

Are you on the threshold with something that is making you feel vulnerable? Have you made the jump today? Take my hand and let’s walk over that threshold together taking vulnerability and what it means to us deeper.

 

 

Blogging From A to Z: Elderly

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The other day while I was waiting for my husband at the hospital to finish his tests, I realized that the entire waiting room was filled with elderly people. One by one or two by two they came through the doors as though a bus had just dropped them off. Their spouses accompanied some while others were alone. A couple appearing to be in their late 80s with matching walkers particularly fascinated me. He even had a mini-Velcroed cooler attached under the handle grips of his! Their pristine white sneakers shuffled along in unison as they searched for companion seats. I tried to picture what they were like when they were younger. My imagination ran wild with stories of what they must have seen and heard and experienced in their lifetime. These people lived through some of the most significant historical events in the twentieth century this world has ever seen. To me, they were living history right here waiting to be called in for their endoscopies and colonoscopies.

The elderly are our living ancestors. It seems we stopped paying real attention to and honoring our elders once businesses realized they could make more money by focusing on the new generation then on the old. The elderly have become something we tolerate and have to take care of, rather than endeared and welcomed into the family fold. They may have ceased to be productive members of our working society but they have not ceased to still be members of our society. Their worth should not be determined by how much they contribute but instead, be regarded with respect and how much they have already contributed.

These are the people that helped shape our nation into what it is. They weren’t always 70, 80, 90 years old. Once they were like you and me—they were actively employed, bought first-homes, raised families, fought for our nation, and had weekend summer barbecues. They were us and one day we will be them.

The baby-boomer generation has approached the Medicare age with a better understanding of how we grow older and the need to keep our bodies and minds more active, giving the stigma surrounding aging a much needed identity crisis and revamping. The changes are coming but not for the elders we have right now sitting with their son/daughter in the doctor’s office, caught in between business meetings, answering texts and emails from their Blackberry. They are still the lost ones in our society at the mercy of the “sandwich generation”, who splits their attention and focus conferring with caregivers in between office meetings and a quick drop off of the kids at soccer practice.

Just for today

They say that God only gives you what you can handle. I don’t know how true that is but with recent events, he must sure think I have some pretty big shoulders! I’m one of those people who will get done whatever needs to get done and then collapse afterward. Because of that, I was nicknamed “The Rock” by some friends a few years ago. These days, when someone calls me that, I say right back that even rocks get worn down over time.

While waiting with my elderly mother in the doctor’s office for her to be seen, I was struck by how frail and vulnerable she has become. When did this happen? There comes a time when the roles switch and the parent becomes the child and the child becomes the parent (aka caregiver). This change started for me a few years ago but is rapidly advancing to the point that there is a new problem/situation almost every time she calls. I try to be patient but when it’s the fourth and fifth and sixth time of repeating the same thing within a few minutes of each other, I find my voice rising in frustration and white-hot fear that this cannot be happening. Right here right now right here right now right here right now has become my version of counting to 10 as I shut my eyes against the conversation I don’t want to see, to hear, to have, but I must. Because I am the rock but like a river, my tears are wearing this rock down.

I always feared losing my self, my identity if I had children and I jokingly refer to my 80-year-old mother as my child. As I find myself in this not-asked for caregiver role, I realized that I have indeed lost my identity and my self as I knew me to be….but I am finding a new self and a new identity I never would have known if I wasn’t going through this.  To help speed up the process of roughing up this spiritual piece of coal to a diamond, I am also tending to my husband as he goes through chemotherapy. Off with one caregiver hat and on to another! So while I’m scared and I don’t know what I’m doing, I just repeat right here right now right here right now and am incorporating a write here write now write here write now to bring this diamond in the rough more out into the open and see where this will all bring me.