Feeling the losses & the gratitude

This fall I am feeling my losses fully. My recent tumble in my garden surprised and confused me. My balance is so not what it used to be and I must accept this fact gracefully. In fact I am now realizing that I can no longer do more than one thing at once, and that includes breathing! I have always been one to take off in a rush to get things done. This has only gotten worse because I now feel I must do something before I forget what I’m doing! But this simply will not do for me anymore. My damaged brain (one TBI and three concussions) and my inability to breathe deeply now creates a situation where I MUST TAKE THINGS MORE SLOWLY.

I know. I’m not the first person to discover this limitation of injury and aging, but I see now I am taking things too far to my own detriment. I need to move slower and do less even when I’m anxious to do more. I get angry with this situation, but this is my reality now. As always I come back to my own truth:

Acceptance releases everything to be what it already is.

I have always pressured myself partially because I was taught to be more and contribute. I now also see the flaw in that way of thinking. I am merely another human trying to find some truth and meaning in this life of mine. I am not worse or better than the rest, because in the end most of what we do does not matter. That is why I now laugh when I see this:

So I am letting go like so many do as they age, and as strange as it may seem, I sometimes see the benefits of my present circumstances. My head injuries have caused me to slow down, something I needed to do so I can appreciate each moment more. For example, I have loved Stephen Levine’s “Meditation on Letting Go” for decades, ever since I met him back in the 1980s in Boulder. But it is only now that I can fully appreciate its meaning.

So this Thanksgiving I give thanks for the life I have right now and can finally slow down enough to fully appreciate.

Help & humor: Facing divorce later in life

No, this isn’t about me… A close friend of Mike’s is facing this now in his sixties, and that got me thinking. For many boomers, divorce has not been so uncommon. And now, in our 50s and 60s, it is still quite possible. You are NOT alone!

D-I-V-O-R-C-E

Among U.S. adults ages 50 and older, the divorce rate has roughly doubled since the 1990s, according to a Pew Research Center report. Statistically speaking we’re healthier and probably going to live longer — possibly thirty years longer than our parents or grandparents did. The surge in later-in-life or “gray divorce” is possibly an unintended consequence of how long we are living today.

When I think back to my first marriage, which ended in 2001, it was quite clear to me after seven years that this union had no chance of going the distance. One way I knew was that I could not possibly imagine my husband taking good care of me in sickness and old age. The genuine, abiding love and loyalty just wasn’t there. Yikes! It was time to try one more time to find that kind of enduring love before it was too late.

At that time I enjoyed the phrase: “DIVORCE IS EXPENSIVE, FREEDOM PRICELESS!

I was 46 then and still feeling vibrant enough to be willing to take on the risks and possible rewards of dating again, but only after a few years of contemplation and mourning. In fact, I started my own local dating service in 2004 and it was LOTS OF FUN! I named it “Intriguing Possibilities!” I figured after losing my last job and a divorce, I needed a job and a date! Long story short, that is how I met Mike, and I’m so glad I did.

What a lucky day that was! We lived only ten miles apart, but would not have met without Match.com. We knew very soon that this was no ordinary love connection, and fifteen years later we never speak of divorce. We know that we’re going out feet first & together! And so I now have a very tough time imagining being single in my sixties, although I do know that ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN AT ANY TIME.

But during my own unique version of a midlife crisis in my mid-40s (I lost my husband, my career and almost my home), I found that I had also lost my faith in love, completely! It was time to do some work on myself to change that situation.

For further explanation of what worked for me in my 40s, please check out my second book: How To Believe in Love Again: Opening to Forgiveness, Trust, and Your Own Inner Wisdom

I also know now that the older you are when you choose your next partner, the more likely you will be able to choose wisely. Without the distorted lens of sex appeal or surface stuff, finding an appropriate life partner becomes about how much you enjoy spending “quality” time with your new love. My advice: stay picky and hold out for a deep and abiding love this time. They’re still out there!

Postscript: In my twenties my Mom kept asking me, “What do you have against men with money???”

Accepting the sadness of aging

MY PARENTS IN BETTER DAYS….

In one week my parents will celebrate their 68th wedding anniversary. I rejoice in the fact that they are still with us and together. I celebrate that fact, and yet the most difficult emotions I experience lately are watching them struggle and slowly fade away from their previous levels of clarity and vitality. This is so hard for them. They are still clear enough to understand what is happening to them. They have both lived long, positive and productive lives. We all must accept our eventual demise, and yet I resist.

I also know that resistance is futile. I know in my mind that acceptance of the realities of life and death are so fundamental, and make it all easier in the long run. But how can my mother die? How can my Dad, who has always been the wise teacher to so many, be at the end of his life? When I speak to him about this he says that as a botanist, he sees himself as an old Oak tree and he knows that old trees must die to make way for new seedlings. So philosophical and yet so sad.

My sister Diane Carter recently received recognition from Long-Term Living Magazine as one of the ten most influential people in the past 40 years in the field of long-term care. She gives her all every day to help my parents negotiate the American medical establishment and protect them from its many shortcomings. She understands what is happening to our parents and explains it to me. I know it is all real and true and yet I still hate it. This is the toughest reality I have ever faced, but face it I must.

Just about every person I know now is dealing with some version of this sadness. Perhaps the best we can do is to be there for each other as we face the end of an amazingly vibrant and caring generation, our parents.

Here’s another way to look at death:

”To fear death, my friends, is only to think ourselves wise, without being wise, for it is to think that we know what we do not know. As far as we can tell, death may be the greatest good that can happen to us, but we fear it as if we knew quite well that it was the greatest of evils. What is this but the shameful ignorance of thinking that we know what we do not know?”   – Socrates

My Own Experience With WildFires and Snow Storms

Imagine if this were your town…

My heart goes out to those who lost loved ones in the California Paradise Fire last November. I hope you were able to see Frontline last night, Fire in Paradise. I think it is important that the rest of us understand what some Americans have gone through and what they lost. In less than 4 hours a small fire that started 8 miles from Paradise engulfed the entire town from all directions. Many of the 40,000 residents simply did not believe the speed of this fire. Others tried to get out, but the roads were too jammed up to escape. Eighty-five Americans, most over age 65, died in this wildfire.

I felt a strong need to watch this episode of Frontline because we had our own wildfire here last July, and if not for our wonderful and amazing local firefighters, that town could have easily been La Veta, population 8-900.

The Spring Fire on the evening of June 28th 2018

The night that fire started, I sat in my bed and watched the fire jump from mountaintop to mountaintop across a couple valleys behind us. I could also see our local firefighters out there giving their all to contain that fire. The next day the National Guard was called in along with the Hot Shots and firefighters from around our nation. We were evacuated the next day for a week, as the fire jumped Highway 160 and came towards our new home. Our fire burned a total of 108,045 acres, and was the third-largest wildfire in Colorado history.

The residents of Paradise where not so lucky. They basically had no warning. The fire came flying into their town so fast and only half were warned properly by Code Red. But even then their roads were inadequate to evacuate the entire town in less than an hour. Imagine the fear and anguish.

The weather outside may be frightful, but not like a firestorm!

Like most disasters, news reporters flash on a big story for a day or two and then we all forget, but not me. Every report from California and every single day of our latest series of three snowstorms here in southern Colorado remind me of how lucky we are to still be receiving large amounts of moisture. Yep. Fifteen inches of snow is fine with me!

Do Stereotypes About Aging Influence You?

Now that I’m in my 60s, I find adjusting to how others see me can be pretty tough at times. I still feel like the same 40 or 50-year-old inside, but looking in the mirror is sometimes shocking.

The first time a waiter at a restaurant turned to Mike and I and said, “Would you two like the senior discount?” I thought, “Is he talking to me?”

The way these internalized attitudes about aging affect us physically is a focus within a growing field in social psychology called “mind-body studies.” In the next few months, the World Health Organization will publish the results of a global investigation of ageism — discrimination toward elders, similar to racism and sexism. This report will address how we might fight ageist discrimination and prejudice. The report will also outline the myriad ways that ageist attitudes can and do affect the health and well-being of us and our elders.

I find research in this area fascinating! For example, researchers have found that “words used to describe older people, found in a database of historical American English, have become increasingly negative in the past 200 years, possibly because aging has come to be seen as a medical condition.” Positive words like wise, sage, accomplished, learned, creative, insightful have increasingly been replaced with declining, dependent, senile, dying, decrepit and incompetent.

When these negative age stereotypes are used against an elder population, subjects show a decline in performance in memory tests and other areas. Those exposed to positive age stereotypes showed improvements. On so many different tests, findings suggest a strong correlation between exposure to positive stereotypes and an improved view of Self as we age.

This reminds me of one of my favorite lifelong sayings:

“Language is practical consciousness.” -Karl Marx

Carefully analyze the words we use to describe ourselves and others! The way we honestly see ourselves and others has meaning. How do others refer to you? Does that impact how you see yourself?

As any wordsmith will tell you, WORDS DO MATTER.

As Psychologist Becca Levy put it:

“Stereotypes about aging are so pervasive. They can easily be assimilated from the surrounding culture, become a part of an individual’s self-definition, and ultimately affect how that person’s body operates — a process called “stereotype embodiment.”

Dr. Levy has linked negative aging attitudes to such measures as walking speed in elders, a greater likelihood to develop dementia, and even a reduction in life span. Want to learn more about this important area of research?

http://www.sciencenewsdigital.org/sciencenews/august_3__2019/MobilePagedArticle.action?articleId=1507169#articleId1507169

A LITTLE BUDDHIST HUMOR…

Libraries: The Key to Mine and America’s Success!

I hope some of you saw the great piece on CBS Sunday Morning today, called “Pete Hamill on Jimmy Breslin and the heralded world of beat reporters.” Pete Hamill is well worth listening to as a wise man. He is also very well-spoken. One of the first quotes from his interview hit me close to home:

Interviewer: “Did you grow up poor?”

Pete: “We grew up poor, but not impoverished.”

Interviewer: “What’s the difference?”

Pete: “The library.”

That is the perfect explanation for my choice of careers! Many of my fondest memories revolve around getting my first library card and beginning my search for knowledge and entertainment in the small public library in Emporia Kansas. From searching endlessly through the stacks, to getting an additional dip on my imaginary ice cream cone for every book I read in the summer, libraries have been a quintessential part of my life, my search for meaning and my identification as an American.

“Since this country’s founding, public libraries have received broad and consistent popular support for their democratic missions and services. The ability to access free information has become a core ideal of what it means to be an American citizen, despite periods of historic inequality. Libraries help make this access possible by placing public benefit at the center of their work and continually adapting their strategies to meet changing public needs over time.” — A History of U.S. Public Libraries

Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!

Granted librarians are rarely glorified in our culture. In fact, historically we’ve been made fun of constantly as nasty ugly old sour-faced women who wear sensible shoes, their hair in a bun and say “Shhhhhhh!” To quote Wikipedia: “Stereotypes of librarians in popular culture are frequently negative… portrayed as puritanical, punitive, unattractive, and introverted if female, or timid and effeminate if male. Such inaccurate stereotypes are likely to have a negative impact on the attractiveness of librarianship as a profession to young people.” But many of us were too smart for that!

Use your mind everyday! Become a librarian!

I believed so much in the connection between American freedom of information, critical thinking and citizenship that I worked for years as a Government Information Librarian. The reference question I enjoyed most was introducing people from other countries to the book on “How to become an American citizen.” I was also an United Nations and International Documents Librarian. My funniest exchange there was the man who came up to the desk and tried to convince me how horrible the UN was. I responded with, ” I didn’t become a United Nations Librarian because I hate the UN.”

I have no regrets about being a librarian for 25 years. It was a positive and flexible career, one which allowed me to enjoy many adventures worldwide, while providing job security and a great retirement. In addition, I was able to celebrate and support everything I love about being an American!

Finding Health in an Unhealthy World

In a world filled with glaring contradiction, unfairness and stress, where can we turn for comfort? Too many of us turn to food, pharmaceuticals and other forms of self-medication. The possible distractions are endless, but many are unhealthy or even self-destructive.

New research is showing another alternative:

Spending a minimum of 2 hours in the great outdoors (parks, green space, your own backyard) every week boosts both your physical and mental health.

What roles do nature and exposure to natural surroundings play in improving our health? We know that spending time in nature makes us feel good, but does it measurably affect our well-being? Study after study has shown the answer is yes.

In fact, social determinants of health—including where we’re born, live, work, play and age collectively have a far greater impact on our health outcomes than the healthcare delivery system. Healthcare services account for just 10% of longevity, while social and environmental factors account for twice that at 20%, your genetic makeup accounts for 30%, and lifestyle choices and behaviors a whopping 40%. 

Ever since I left suburbia and moved a lot closer to a natural setting, I have been changing. My mental health has improved with ever increasing mindful meditation and peace. My vigilance and fear have gradually diminished, and yet I struggle to explain how this move has changed me. I only know when I return to cities I notice a difference between me and those who struggle with traffic, congestion and overpopulation every day.

Now we have new research proving what I have learned on my own. Sure, this may all seem like a no-brainer, but if you are looking for a new form of tranquility, accept the obvious and find comfort in nature. It’s free and clean!