The Legacy of Dying

What a title!  “You think too much about dying, Martha,”  folks will say to me.  Well, I’m living in my 80th year. The certainty that I will DIE, the universal Master Teacher, returns my focus back to the fact that I still have time to LIVE.

A recent memorial service for a neighbor in my senior residence touched me deeply.  A small glimpse of a portion of the legacy this woman had left behind was inspiring.  Carla’s service reminded me to get busy with a few of the legacy tasks over which I still do have some control.

Her son referenced the wonderful memoir his mother wrote over her two year participation in our writing group.  Consequently her family is in proud possession of her life story…in her own words.   Three months before she died, she had shared part of that story about her life growing up in World War II Germany with fellow residents. And, the paintings she created in the art group are in demand by members of her family.  Her grandchildren related powerful stories about being with “Oma” which will live forever in their memories.  The beautiful music accompanying the service reminded more than one of my neighbors that they wish to carefully make their selections now and communicate their choices to their families.  Attendees were reminded that flowers were not requested.  Preferred was a donation in her name to the Legacy Fund of Providence Place where we all lived.

The way she exited the earth represented a powerful choice and potential option for members of her family.  After being in and out of the hospital several times, she finally said, “OK, this is it.  It’s time.  I am dying.”  She went on hospice and chose to stop eating. Her last years, her dying, and her celebration, thoughtfully ended a life well lived… and left some models for others.  

A legacy, indeed.

“I like to do many things”

“I like to do a lot of things” said David Neill, 65, organizer and trombone player in the Dixieland Stomp musical group whose packed house concert  I attended a few days ago in Huntington.   

No surprise to my readers, I’m always attracted to folks who do exactly what they love.  So, of course, I stayed after the concert to talk to this man. 

David is a retired insurance broker and business owner.  Ten years ago, at 55, he started thinking ahead.  His question was very focused:  “What am I going to do in my next chapter of life…in retirement?”  One of his answers was  apparently “ to double down on my music.” 

He started exploring his idea for a retirement gig well before retirement.  And such a gig it is. Over several years, he organized 10, YES,  TEN musical groups for hire.   Of course he and his trombone are members of each of them.   On the linked website, you can view the unique variety of groups, and the professional musicians involved, most of them semi-retired.

And, please treat yourself to  a 2 -minute break and some Dixieland Stomp music CLICK RIGHT HERE.  

An entrepreneur at heart, David says:  “I’ve created  fresh new dynamic music for weddings and concerts.

Yes he has.

What an inspiration to see someone having planned ahead so joyfully to do exactly what he loves in his third chapter of life. What fun to see some who likes to do a lot of things…and keeps experimenting with ways to do them.

And a question for you:  

What do YOU love to do?  And how can you do more of it?

At ANY age.



Another Epiphany: I Belong

Life’s a journey, folks. Today was one of those days of awakening.

As I returned home from swimming at the Y, my regular infusion of happiness and well being, , I found myself feeling, at a very visceral level, that I “belonged” at this Holyoke YMCA. With friends, family and neighbors dying, with my eagerness to get out and about diminishing, and my once sustaining professional work no longer filling my mind and heart, I really experienced the deep comfort derived from “belonging” at the Y.

When my favorite lap pool closed for two weeks, I was missing my freedom of movement and I said to myself, “Today, I’m going to give it a go anyway.”  With walker in tow I arrived as usual, and let my friends at the front desk know I needed help navigating myself to the less accessible small pool. I was welcomed and met at every turn by staffers who unlocked doors and guided me around the repairs.  After my freedom swim, they were ready to unlock the doors again and walk me back to the dressing room.  An additional bonus was a serendipitous chat with a woman who had lost 200 pounds and was working on her next 50.

When I left, I felt happy and inspired.  I noticed:  I “belong” here.

So, where did this come from?  

Since listening to Emily Esfahani Smith TED talk on The Four Pillars of Happiness, I am paying more attention to what makes me and my 75+ age peers fulfilled and happy, given that we experience no end of small and large losses as we grow older.

One of the four pillars in Ms. Smith’s research is “belonging.”  It’s true, the knowing that you share a bond with others is what really feels good. We might have that feeling with members of our families, our neighbors, in a support group, as part of a cause, a late-in-life mission, a faith tradition, with comrades,  intimates, at the Post Office, even at my local YMCA where likeminded folks gather to build health and stamina.

“Belonging” was never one of my goals when I was younger.  An independent soul, I was fully employed, active, married (twice), sure of my immortality, doing what I loved, living on the periphery of most groups to which I ostensibly “belonged.” I never acknowledged my neediness for others.  

Aging changes everything.  Now, a solo ager in my 80th year, I’m noticing that “belonging” is becoming a new essential to health, happiness and well being.    I suspect it’s so at any age.   But for those of us moving into a final phase of life where loneliness abounds, it’s something to which this late arrival to the human race needs to pay attention.

I thank the YMCA folks for prompting this morning’s conversation with myself and for the three questions which emerged:

  • “How can I contribute to the health of  the communities to which I already know I belong?” 
  • “How can I strengthen my bonds with people and groups that are nourishing to me?” 
  • “How can I improve my ability to give and take with those I care about?” (As in asking for what I need, receiving graciously, and offering my help appropriately… )

That’s it for today.   “I BELONG”… it’s a biggie!

Enjoy the referenced TED Talk.