Family, Friendship, Reflections

Make new friends but keep the old…

Last night as we sat by the fire and enjoyed a quiet New Year’s Eve at home Don and I were talking about the year just ending and were struck by how many connections with family and friends were rekindled throughout the year…which was truly amazing in hindsight.

Early in the year Don’s childhood friend found him on Facebook, and we have since enjoyed a couple of get-togethers with Ted and his wife, who now live only an hour or so away from us.  Don and Ted had not seen each other since they were 11 years old!  Ted’s mother was an artist and we have long had a small photocopy of a painting that she made of Gould’s Landing, the family home in Maine, displayed in our home.  Ted gifted Don with the original painting, which now has pride of place in our living room and brings Don great joy.

Then, after a gap of several years, we reconnected with Don’s maternal cousin Chuck and his wife Michelle, and then caught up with several members of Don’s extended family at Chuck’s 80th birthday celebration in May.

In June we were in Maine and spent time with several friends from Don’s young adulthood and with extended family that we had not seen in many years.  It is amazing how you can pick up without losing a beat!

By total coincidence we also bumped into the son of Don’s favorite cousin, and long-deceased cousin) when we stopped by Gould’s Landing (now a public park) on the spur of the moment, and Don struck up a conversation with two guys pulling a boat out of the water…one of whom was Rob Gould, who Don used to babysit when he was a college student! Don and Rob have since connected on Facebook, and we look forward to spending some time with him when we are next in Maine.

July saw us hosting a “mini reunion” when the sons of another of Don’s cousins visited us.  We had connected with Josh and his wife Rita several years ago (again through the miracle of Facebook), but Don had not seen Scot in several decades and I had never met him.  We had a fun afternoon of visiting and reminiscing while Josh and Rita’s kids enjoyed the beach and the pool.

We also had a visit in July from our friend Logan from Australia, who we hadn’t seen for about 10 years.

In August the sad occasion of my Aunt Lydia’s memorial service also gave me a chance to reconnect with several cousins that I had not seen in years.

In November Australian friends that we had not seen in nearly 20 years spent several days with us, and we had fun remembering good times in Australia and catching up on each other’s lives.

And as the year drew to a close we were blessed to attend a gathering of my father’s extended family hosted by my great-uncle Jerry.  All of my father’s cousins were there (although my father was not), along with many of their kids and grand-kids.   I have such fond memories of these Segar family gatherings growing up, and it is so good to see everyone still connected after all these years.

These past few years we have been blessed with new friendships that we cherish, but 2017 was a reminder of the importance of people who have known you for many years and with whom you have a shared history.  In every case it was as if we had seen each other yesterday, not years or decades ago.

While we often curse social media for its fake news and the way it isolates us from people who don’t share our views, this year we were also really grateful for the way technology can bring us together.  If not for Facebook the rekindling of so many longstanding relationships would not have been possible, and our lives would have been so much less rich as a result.

At the same time, I am very aware that social media consumed way too much of my time in 2017 as I got sucked into scrolling obsessively through Facebook, posting pictures on Instagram, and letting the political noise distract me from what is most important.  This year my goal is to put technology in its rightful place – to use it to strengthen and maintain healthy relationships and to disregard all of the noise that it generates.  Wish me luck!

Christmas, Holidays, Reflections, swimming

The only time I’ve got

After succumbing to my inner Grinch last week, it feels like I am turning a corner.  While I can’t say I am really feeling the Christmas spirit, I am looking towards the next couple of weeks in a much better frame of mind.

My gifts are bought and mostly wrapped, I sent Don off to the post office this morning loaded down with packages for our East Coast family and friends, and after two really fun holiday parties this weekend we can now look forward to a couple of weeks of quiet evenings at home and a low-key Christmas with my nearby family.

After talking it over with Don, and with my sister (the only other person who understands the dynamics), I have bowed out of my stepmother’s family holiday party – something both Don and I face with dread each year.  While my step-brothers and their families are always very nice to us, it isn’t much fun spending hours with people you see once a year at best, who have a shared family history that excludes you, and with whom you have very little in common in terms of interests or beliefs.  For an introvert like me situations like this are really uncomfortable, and even extroverted Don struggled to make conversation with my foot-ball loving, politically right-leaning, evangelical Christian stepfamily.  Making the decision to bow out has lifted a  weight off my shoulders, and Don was so very grateful that I know it was the right decision for us.

Even better, the pool at our gym reopened three days early, so I will be able to get back to my lap swimming routine this afternoon.  I badly need the stress-alleviating feel of water on my skin and the meditative state induced by counting laps.

A quiet week at work this week will be followed by extended long weekends for both Christmas and New Years.  I’m looking forward to sleeping until after the sun comes up, taking care of a lot of year-end tasks, and spending time reflecting on 2017 and planning for 2018.

I’m also being mindful of this quote from Art Buchwald that I saw on the Execupundit blog recently –

“I don’t know if this is the best of times or the worst of times, but I assure you it’s the only time you’ve got.”

So true – and so wasteful to spend the only time I’ve got being the Grinch.

Wishing everyone peace and joy in the coming weeks, whether you celebrate these particular holidays or not.

Gratitude, Reflections, travel

Gliding into vacation

Don and I are getting ready to head off on a long-awaited trip to Greece this afternoon, celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary and his 75th birthday.  After 30 years of marriage we know that the lead-up to a big trip can be a bit rocky as my obsession with checklists and detailed plans kicks into high gear and his anxieties flare up, but we have (mostly) learned to manage,  Once we are on our way our better selves (usually) reappear and we thrive on the adventure of seeing new places and the relief of being away from our day-to-day routines, responsibilities, and stresses.

This time the lead up to our trip has been different, and much more pleasant.  My sister and her husband arrived from Canada on Friday evening.  They’ll be using our home as their vacation home for most of the time that we are away, and we’ve enjoyed spending time with them this “overlap weekend.”

For the first time that I can remember I am heading off on a big trip almost totally relaxed.  Usually our guest room is packing central and the bed is covered with suitcases and clothes until right before departure, but this time I had to get everything packed up before our visitors arrived so I could stash the closed up bags in our home office.  While I did do a little bit of shifting things from bag to bag over the past couple of days, having everything pretty much packed and ready to go meant I could really relax in the lead up to the trip.

And a relaxing few days it has been!

Friday night we tried out a new, very good Mexican restaurant after picking my sister and brother-in-law up from the airport.  Saturday afternoon my sister and I enjoyed a spa day and massages at a local day spa thanks to the gift cards I had been accumulating for many months, while my brother-in-law and Don checked out a classic car show and then had massages at the franchise place where we are members.  Then we walked down to the ocean and saw an amazing sunset before a nice dinner at home.

Yesterday morning, and again this morning, it was beach time.  We live only 3 1/2 blocks from the ocean and we walk the dog along the Esplanade above the beach every weekday morning and once or twice a week in the evening for sunset, but we don’t get down to the beach itself anywhere near as often as I would like.  I am a water baby, and being in the ocean truly washes all of my cares away.

The past couple of days have been spectacular beach days.  The air is a warm, and the water is a cool but refreshing 67 degrees.  Mornings are my favorite time at the beach because the winds are calm, with no wind chop on the ocean and little of the accompanying kelp and murkiness.  There has also been no surf, so the water was crystal clear.

Swimming is my go to exercise – I love the feel of the water, the way my body stretches as I move, and the opportunity to let my mind wander without distractions.  I swim laps in the pool at our gym several times a week, but my true joy is swimming in the ocean.

So it was a real blessing to be able to swim out to the buoy both of the last two mornings, clearing my head and getting my heart pumping.  Both days I saw plenty of fish, and this morning I also saw a school of about two dozen stingrays gliding along beside me – just awesome!

So I head off for our trip relaxed and refreshed…and thinking that I need to plan a “glide path” like this before every trip.

 

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.