Are You Talking?

Today Roberta died. At 93. She had been “ready” for at least two years. And I will never forget at least one of her legacies.

Given my interest in the paradox of living while dying, or, dying while living, I find myself drawn to those who are more consciously doing so. Roberta was one of those.

In one sense she had a good death in that it was uncomplicated by illness and extensive hospitalization, given that she was ready to die.  She came down to meals when she felt able, dependent on her walker, noticeably losing weight and energy, living more or less independently in our senior residence. She was found dead in her apartment on March 8, 2018.

In another sense,  she did not have a good dying. I am aware that for at least two years, she had been wanting to die. In snippets of conversations I learned how she struggled to remain “useful” when she could no longer sew, quilt, or paint. She reported that in family visits, her children wouldn’t let her do anything..not cook which she liked to do, or other tasks which were easy for her. Several times over the past two years, she had announced publicly in our remaining days conversation group, “I am so ready to die. But my children aren’t interested in listening to what I have to say about that.”

Now I wonder if she or her family ever achieved the closure of a good bye—a real goodbye with lots of time to talk about life and death — the good times and the bad, and the special memories that will never fade.

Living very much on the periphery of her life, I have no idea what occurred during her last months. Perhaps she girded her loins, exercised her courage, and told her family in no uncertain terms what she wanted to talk about.

If not, I can only hope that the family denial, combined with her unexpected demise,  did not lock out the possibility of a terrific send-off which Roberta might have had a part in planning.

I will never forget Roberta, who provided me the picture of one version of dying, which included unnecessary frustration and suffering. Alongside came the unexplored and unrealized possibilities for a very good dying.  Her death was a sad, albeit clarifying, event for me.

I’m left with the reminder of two questions which it’s never too soon to deal with:  Regarding intentions, hopes and dreams for remaining days, to whom do I/you need to listen? To whom do you/I need to talk?

Thank you, Roberta, and may you rest in peace.

The Conundrum of Legacy I

These days, “How will my life matter?” is one of those deeper queries that is coming to the surface.  Once daunting to contemplate, maybe it doesn’t need to be so tough.  While whatever legacy I leave will be the judgment of those who survive me, the very least I can do now is to freely express who I am as a unique being in the world.  And, let that be enough.  And, that’s a challenge in itself.

What I’m noticing is that, as I continue to relax and dare to just “be me” on this planet, I  find myself more regularly surprised at how my existence has seemed to matter to others.

Today, in the YMCA swimming pool, a man I hardly know told me how much he admired me coming to the gym to swim, given that I have a walker in tow. “You are my inspiration,” he said, “and have been for a while.” Given that he comes to the pool with crutches that replace one of his legs, he, also,  has long been one of my inspirations.

For the first time, today our exchange was more than a minimal greeting. He said he was turning 60. I asked: “What questions does that raise for you?” He shrugged: “Nothing much. I’m just here to live the rest of my life as well as I can.” Surprised at the ease of his answer, I persisted, “But so many I know reach 60 and are dumbfounded at the new concerns they face about how to manage the unknown terrain ahead.”

He explained: “I did that work already. As a young man, I nearly died of bone cancer and lost a leg in the process. I made peace with my mortality, and decided to have a great life.  Which I have done. My age and physical limitations are non-issues. I’m looking forward to the rest of what has already been a wonderful life.”

With my 78th birthday coming up, I will have lived 28,460 days. I’ll make a guess and consider that I may have 3,650 more to complete my tenure on the planet. Given my time remaining, how will I live these days? In what ways will I contribute?

Maybe one way to look at life legacy is really simple. Just do your life in the most vibrant and joyful way that you can, growing and changing and being with the adventures offered each and every day.

As my swim friend and I discovered, in ways previously unbeknownst to either of us, his way of showing up mattered to me… and my way of showing up mattered to him.

Our sharing was an extra special encouragement and an enjoyably serendipitous moment in time.

ANOTHER transition in process?

Yes, here we go again.  This is a time of change.

Autumn is behind us and winter is here..with beautiful snowfalls and temperatures plummeting, prompting the temptation to hibernate.  A whole year is ending as a new one begins, giving reflective souls an opportunity to review the past and re-envision the future. In addition, at the rate of 10,000 a day the Boomer generation arrives at a new age stage of 60, 65, or 70, surfacing the daunting questions about next chapter choices.

And then, there’s just what happens in a moment…

My 83-year-old friend, took a fall and injured his back. ‘Compression fracture,” the doctor said. “Three weeks of taking it VERY, VERY, easy.”

It’s clearly painful, and clearly temporary.

That being true, it’s still easy to ignore the surrounding emotional machinations around what might actually represent a deeper version of change from one expectation of aging to a more visceral experience of the reality of it.

–“I’ve never been really injured or sick, and now I really hurt. I’m perhaps now really an old man.”

–“I’ve always taken care of others, and now someone has to take care of me. I don’t like it, particularly as it potentially foretells my future.”

–“If I can’t take care of myself and can’t take care of others, am I now worthless and useless?”

And I, as his friend, who shouldered some of the care taking to a greater or lesser degree, have to also ask myself…”How am I set up to be taken care of in case of my own event? After all, at 78, I live gripping onto the very edge of physical independence with my condition of MS and scoliosis. Am I honoring the reality of my own decline with my life style choices?”   For those of us aging consciously, in the moment of loss, whether it be permanent or temporary , we enter a new stage of how we live our life and assess our living.  How do we deal with what may be a very significant transition in our lives?

–We find ourselves appropriately sad and angry about the impact of this event and what it suggests to us.
–We are newly aware of moving towards a real change in our life, with both the blessings and the distresses.
–And, it is becoming clear that our future “independence” once a source of great pride, is no longer realistic and has to shift to a cognizance of a community network in which “interdependence” is the hallmark.

Do we give ourselves permission to grieve our losses? Do we dare to accept our new reality, and love ourselves living it? What choices does it present to us? Where are the places we can talk about it?

I was laughing the other day having counted up my memberships in five supportive conversation groups for the over 55s. Today, I became deeply aware of why I have been inclined to both create these opportunities myself, and, join similarly enriching conversations led by others. In those circles, we get to engage in all of these important questions, and learn from each other while doing so. We attempt to explore the uncertainties of the terrain ahead and know we are not alone.


—-In this reflective and transitionary space between the end of the old year and the beginning of the new, what major and minor changes have you experienced over the past 12 months?
—-How have you invited, and honored, and told the truth about the emotional journey that accompanies them?
—-How will you now review your vision about what it looks like for you to live fully, age gracefully, and die well?
—-What are the new choices you’ll make in order to bring those wishes to pass?

We might as well get used to saying “hello” to change after change in our lives. And, we better get used to honoring the all kinds of emotions that naturally accompany each and every one of them.