Aging, Grief, Reflections

Life Itself Is Grace

It has been a season of losses for me at work and personally as each month has brought news of the death of a family member or a member of my library/work family.

August was marked by the memorial service for my Aunt Lydia, who died in May.  September saw the death of a former Library Trustee.  In October we lost my cousin as well as a longtime library volunteer.  The month before that a former Library Trustee.  .

This past weekend we lost one of our long-time library volunteers, someone who celebrated her 80th birthday in August but was still vibrant, engaged, and working at a part-time job that she loved until felled by illness just a few short weeks ago.   Someone I considered a friend.

None of these people have been “young” and in that sense their deaths are simply part of life, but the steady drumbeat of loss after loss has been hard.  It’s also made me more aware of impending losses as I witness the aging and/or illnesses of family members and friends, and recognize the losses (of relationships, community and professional stature, and of the structure that has governed my days) that will come with my retirement next year.

Against the backdrop of so much loss I have been working on living more in the present and less in the future, and on letting go of my perfectionism and need for order in favor of accepting the people and situations in my life with love and gratitude even when they do not meet my “standards.”  It is a journey for sure, and some days I am more successful than others.

A couple of weeks ago Michael Wade posted the following quote from Frederik Buechner on his Execupundit blog, and the final sentence has lived with me since I read it –

If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

“…in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”  

I am holding these words close as I reflect on the lives that have been lost, and the losses that are certain to come.

Reflections, travel

Greek Magic

We are 2/3 of the way through our Greek vacation, and despite my intent to post every couple of days there has not been time.

We were surprisingly unjetlagged in the wee small hours of Wednesday morning despite travelling more than 20 hours thanks in no small part to the nearly lie flat business class seats that we were able to get with points.  No such luck on the way home, though  – we’ll be back to our usual economy class.

We walked about 10 miles on Wednesday seeing the sites of Athens, did a two day tour to Delphi and the Meteora monasteries, came back to Athens for another day of sightseeing, and are now relaxing at the end of our 2nd day on Mykonos.  Tomorrow we head off for a couple of days on Santorini and then start the long trek home via another night in Athens.

Don has been a trouper, walking all over the uneven stones and climbing endless stairs despite achilles tendinitis and the challenges of an ever-shortening gait and blurred vision in one eye that affects his depth perception.  (The shortened gait is one of a constellation of symptoms that we will be seeing a neurologist about, but that is a story for another time.)

In between we’ve had some of the most honest conversations we’ve had in years, including one about his age and health issues and how they might affect future travel,  seen incredible sites and scenery, eaten amazing food in some very romantic locations, and just enjoyed the time together.

Now we need to figure out how to bring some of the magic back to our ordinary lives as we face the stresses and challenges ahead.

Aging, Reflections

Perspectives

We returned Tuesday evening from a short trip to Vancouver Island for our niece’s wedding.  The outdoor wedding was lovely if a bit chilly, we really like our new nephew-in-law, and we got to spend quality time with family, including extended family members that we rarely see…all in one of the world’s most beautiful places.

For me the trip was also a bit of a wake up call, starting with my airplane reading on the flight from LA to Seattle – a book called Keeping Love Alive as Memories Fade.  Our therapist recommended that we revisit the ideas in a book called The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, which  has really helped me understand some long-standing dynamics in our relationship, so I was excited to see a book that applies the love languages concept to relationships where one person suffers from cognitive impairment.

I was glad I read Keeping Love Alive, and am sure I will go back and re-read it more than once, but it was also a sobering look at the reality we face if Don’s currently mild cognitive impairment progresses.  It contains some beautiful stories about couples facing this challenge, and more than once I had to turn away from Don to hide the tears streaming down my cheeks.  I read the entire book in one gulp on the 2 1/2 hour plane trip, and by the time I finished I was both scared and hopeful about what the future might hold.  Scared because I had an insight of this future from the perspectives of what the book calls  “care partners” (as opposed to care givers), and hopeful because I could see how love persists even in this most difficult and challenging situation.

With all of this fresh in my mind I was given another dose of reality and another perspective when, without them saying a word, it became obvious that family members were seeing more of a decline in Don’s abilities than I have been seeing.  Nobody said anything directly, but there were veiled comments to me, and a solicitousness towards Don and towards me that was a new, even from family members that we had spent time with just last Christmas.

I am with Don every day, and I think that in that circumstance you adjust incrementally to incremental changes and don’t have a good sense of the cumulative effect where someone who only sees a person once in a while can see the changes much more clearly.  I had a similar experience when we visited our family in New Jersey in June and our niece commented on how much I now do for Don  – which is true, but something that has happened gradually and over a long period of time with the result that I have not really been aware of how much of the burden of managing our daily lives I have come to shoulder.  From this perspective, I think the “decline” our family sees when they are with Don only once or twice a year is accurate because they have a different benchmark than I do.

At the same time, because I am with Don every day I think I also see more of what he is still capable of  – things that people who only see him once or twice a year do not see – and it is a lot.  He is still a capable driver, participates in and enjoys his exercise classes at the gym, socializes with our friends, does all of the daily housecleaning and most of the laundry, cleans up after our meals, gets dinner started many evenings, participates in social media, programs the DVR to record his hockey games, remembers to take his medications….pretty much everything that goes into normal living.

I also think that he is “better” at home with our daily routines and familiar surroundings, and without the stress and drama that being with family brings…especially family that is as loud, opinionated, and intense as mine can be.  Even people with no cognitive or other issues who didn’t grow up in that environment get that “deer in the headlights” look when our family gets going, and Don’s hearing impairment doesn’t help the situation.

The end of our trip was marked by the Route 91 mass shooting.  One of my key staff members was at the concert and narrowly escaped with her life, bringing this tragedy very close to home.  She is safe, but the whole situation reminded me that to a large extent life is a crap shoot.  It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself because your partner is demonstrating the frailty of aging when you see so many beautiful lives cut short, and so many people wounded both physically and emotionally, by a random act of violence.

The reality of Don’s condition is probably somewhere between what our family seemed to see and what I experience every day – it doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that we are both still here, still loving each other even after 30 years of marriage, and still able to enjoy doing many things together.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

Uncategorized

Getting help

One of the reasons I started this blog was to help me process all of the changes that I am navigating right now – my husband’s retirement last year and its impact on our lives, my upcoming retirement, and the challenges of having an older, and aging, spouse.

My husband, Don, is physically healthy and active, but last year started to show some signs of mild cognitive impairment – not major, and seemingly pretty stable over at least the past year – but enough to worry both of us.  The cause is unknown, although we suspect a concussion that he got at work in early 2016 has played a role.  He’s also long-struggled with anxiety, so there is a bit of a vicious cycle at play as the more anxious he is the worse his short-term memory and the more disorganized his thinking, which in turn makes him more anxious.

We’ve been working on creating systems and building habits to help overcome the memory glitches, but there is no doubt this has added a level of added responsibility, stress, and complexity to my life.

This stress is on top of the fact that my job is demanding and stressful with hours that are frequently long, and I carry pretty much all of the “planning” load at home – from short term, simple things like making appointments, creating our weekly schedules,  meal planning, and making shopping lists to longer term, more complex things like managing every aspect of our personal finances, planning every aspect of our travels, and keeping track of home maintenance needs.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I am stressed and weary most of the time, which in turn makes me cranky, short-tempered, and worse.  I can hide this part of me while I am at work or with friends, but my worst self comes out at home.   I find myself nagging, pointing out every little mistake Don makes, getting upset when something is not done the way I would have done it or to my standards, and having frequent meltdowns.  The more stressed I am the more I crave order, but my behavior increases his anxiety so he gets even more disorganized….another vicious cycle.

I’ve also come to realize that I have been experiencing a kind of mourning – for the professional work life that I am ready to leave but that has been a huge part of my identity, for the things that Don used to do easily but now struggles with,  for the things he has always struggled with (depression, anxiety, disorganization, difficulty demonstrating his love in the ways that I crave) that may not get better or may even get worse, for his diminished ability to support and nurture me while I try to support and nurture him, and for long-dreamed-of retirement activities and adventures that may not be possible as he ages.  All of this creates both sadness and fear.

We need help!  After dancing around this realization for several months I finally made an appointment with a therapist.  I met with her yesterday by myself, and Don and I will be seeing her together tomorrow.

For me that is a really big deal.  I grew up in a family that was reluctant to accept the reality of mental health issues and to get help from mental health professionals.  I was raised to tough it out and power through stress and anxiety even though our family dealt with major stresses and issues and even though (with hindsight) I showed clear signs of mental health distress in my childhood and adolescence.

The first session was hard. I struggled to articulate my thoughts and feelings, we pretty quickly touched on some raw nerves, and I know that I am still scared to reveal the darkest parts of me.  I also worry about the expense given our retirement budgets – a worry that is not helped by my familial legacy belief that therapy is self-indulgent and unnecessary.

At the same time it is a relief to have someone independent to give perspective, and the therapist gave me some homework that is providing a framework for processing some of what is going on and led to one of the most open and meaningful conversations Don and I have had in a long time.

I keep reminding myself that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.  I do know that we can’t keep going on this way, and am cautiously hopeful that I’ve found a way to get it…but we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

Welcome to Redondo Reflections

Let me introduce myself.  I am a middle-aged woman who lives in Redondo Beach, California.  My husband of 30 years retired a year ago, and has been struggling to find a new sense of purpose and activities to fill his days.  He is more than 20 years older than I am, and is also facing some of the challenges of aging,  so the past year has been quite a journey.

I still work at a high-level, busy and stressful job, but am in the process of transitioning to early retirement next year.  I’ve crunched the numbers every way I can think of, and have made a concerted effort to make non-work friends and find activities that I can take with me into retirement, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I am anxious.

My goal for this blog is to chronicle our journey through the next stage of life and reflect on my own experiences and learning along the way.  I expect to touch on matters of aging, personal finance, relationships, transitions, and probably much more.

I also hope to capture some of the joys of living in this beautiful part of the world and to capture the travels and adventures we are planning.

In other words, its mostly for me…but if someone finds it and gets some value too all the better.

Welcome!