Random Thoughts on Aging

As I have spent time daily with my elderly mother over the past couple of months while she has been in skilled nursing to recover from her bad fall back in January, I have had the opportunity to really observe where she is at this point in her life at age 92, almost 93.  It is been very eye-opening for me, and I have given thought to several related topics as we have gone through this time of recovery together.

As the children of our parents, we learn from them throughout our lives, and in the case of my father, I actually learned many things after his death, too, including some that were quite a surprise to me.  We learn things we want to emulate in our lives, and we learn things that we want to avoid or change as well.  Certainly that is true of many people in our lives, but I think our parents have a tremendous influence on us because of who they are in our lives.

Right now, I am particularly aware of how my elderly mother is struggling emotionally with aging.  She has lived with much denial in her life and has for many years now in so many ways, especially since my father died almost fifteen years ago.  It is painful to watch her go through this personal struggle, but she is also very stubborn and resistant to any kind of help.

Watching my mother struggle in this area has convicted me in a big way to examine my own life and my own preparations for aging.  In many ways, I am quite opposite of my mother and very much like my father, who was the stable person in our family and took care of all the business matters.  But in his last few years, he also grew very fearful of aging, even to the point of having some paranoia about it at times.  This is a highly personal thing for all of us, and right now, I do not want to be like either of my parents in this respect, or at least as long as my mind is sound.  This realization has been on my mind for a few weeks now, and I’ve given a lot of thought and prayer to it.

One thing on my heart is just being strong in my faith, above all.  I am not judging my parents, as I believe each of them were/are faithful servants of the Lord.  I just have room for improvement in this area, for sure.  I want to be so strong in my faith that when the serious trials of aging arrive, my faith is as strong as possible, and I am going to start praying regularly now for strength and guidance in those days to come.  Such things as scripture memorization, daily bible study, making good notes in my study bible for future reference and better prayer habits have particularly been on my mind lately.  If I am ever laid up for weeks or months like my mother has been, or if I end up living alone without a good spiritual support system, how I would love (and need) to have my bible with pages and pages of good study notes to help give me comfort.

Bible and Cross
I have two bibles, the red-letter version pictured above that I never make notes in and my tabbed study bible where I keep extensive notes from bible studies

I also purchased my favorite study bible in e-book format, too.  As time permits, I transfer notes from my study bible to my e-bible.  I rely on my bible so much, and having a little redundancy where my beloved bible is concerned gives me some peace of mind.  I have the Kindle e-book version, so whenever I make notes or highlights in my bible on my Kindle, those highlights automatically show up on my phone version, too.  That great feature has already been very handy for me.

Another realization, unfortunately, is to not rely on family members for comfort or assistance.  While I have been there for my mother, sadly, many others that live here close by have not.  Her two grandsons, my sister’s boys that my mother practically raised, have not come by or called her at all since her fall two months ago.  My sister and her husband have only come to see her for lunch on Sundays, as long as I made sure that there were some free meals tickets for them to use.  This has been particularly troubling for my mother and has only added to her unease during this time, as this is almost the exact opposite of who she has been most of her life.  I do what I can for her and make sure that she is well cared for, but I cannot make others do the right thing where she is concerned.  I don’t guess any of us will know for sure how our family members will respond until such a time comes in our lives either.  For me, though, I think the important thing to realize is that I have no control over what others choose to do or not to do, now or in the future, including my own children.  I need to not grow old with unrealistic (or possibly even realistic) expectations of others.  I need to also access my own personal situation later on to see if I need to look at other people or ways to help provide for my care, too.  That is a sad reality, but unfortunately, it is very real today.  I will save my rant on how narcissistic and selfish our society is becoming and pray earnestly that I resist that temptation each and every day myself.

On a related note, this article came across my Facebook feed recently, and it is a great read.  I will also say that this is also a good read for grandparents concerning their grandchildren.  If I am ever so blessed as to have grandchildren, may God help me to keep this in mind.  9 Things We Should Get Rid of to Help Our Kids

I am slowly collecting a large library of e-books for future reading, too.  I love to read, and I hope to continue reading all of my life.  Reading brings much joy to my life, and I love to read several different genres.  That is making a bet, of sorts, that e-readers will be around for a while, but I think that is a fairly safe bet at this time.  I follow some sites that share free and discounted books, and I am truly amazed at how many books I now have that I would dearly love to read, as well as how little money I have spent on them overall.  Many have been totally free, and others have been discounted to just $2 – $4 in many instances.

One other thing to think about is when to move into a group living facility.  In hindsight, I can say for sure that my mother moved out of her home too early.  She was in good health and still drove her car for several years afterward, but moving out of her beloved home to a place with no kitchen was a mistake at that time.  She had unrealistic expectations of moving into a luxury apartment where she would eat gourmet food for every meal and have people wait on her hand and foot.  It was not to be.  Her house sold right away, so there was no place for her to move back to.  She gets extremely frustrated with frequent management changes, as she thinks unrealistically of them as “family.”  She feels abandoned when people move on to other places.  Group living also has its own set of concerns, such as the frequent spread of diseases which is not discussed nearly enough in my opinion.  It is much like moving onto a cruise ship, but the cruise ships we have been on had much more concern for the prevention of the spread of diseases than either of the group homes where my mother has lived.  She got extremely sick from a norovirus at her previous group home and spent over a week in the hospital because of it.  The cost of group living also increases every single year, too, and despite my warnings of this fact, she did not fully grasp this reality going into it.  So, for me, delaying a move to a group home and preparing to live in my own home a little longer is something to definitely think about and plan for.

I recently read a quote from Max Lucado that helped me to know that this is a good topic to ponder in many respects, at least for me at this time.

“Growing old can be dangerous.  The trail is treacherous and the pitfalls are many.  One is wise to be prepared.  You know it’s coming.  It’s not like God kept the process a secret.  It’s not like you are blazing a trail as you grow older.  It’s not as if no one has ever done it before.  Look around you.  You have ample opportunity to prepare and ample case studies to consider.  If growing old catches you by surprise, don’t blame God.  He gave you plenty of warning.  He also gave you plenty of advice.”
— “Abundant Life” – Lucado Devotional Bible, NCV – Max Lucado

None of us can predict the future, for sure, but we are wise to prayerfully and thoughtfully consider what it may hold for us.  One thing I know is that I want to try my best to fight the good fight all the way to the end.  With God’s help, may it be so.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” — 2 Timothy 4:7

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Just Keep Swimming

 The most recent “storm” of life has seemingly subsided just a bit, at least for now.  At one point early on in the drama of the past three weeks, however, I actually chuckled to myself while sitting with my poor mother in the ER right after her devastating fall.  I chuckled because I once again started thinking to myself about Dory in the wonderful animated movie “Finding Nemo” and her hilarious “just keep swimming” scene.  I love this movie, and I have identified so many times with Dory’s motto.  Just thinking about it has often brought a little sunshine to some pretty gloomy situations, and this was a very gloomy situation indeed.

There was nothing funny at all about my mother’s plight that night, as she learned that one of her worst fears had finally come true with the news that she had fractured her pelvis in three places.  I don’t think she really realized how long it would take her to recover from this either, and even now, we still don’t really have clue.  I probably had a better idea than she had at the time, though, and I knew it was going to be very, very hard on her.  She was living almost independently a few hours earlier, and now she would not even be able to stand up on her own for weeks, or possibly months.

I wanted to just break down in tears as I thought about it all, both from feeling so sorry for her and feeling frustrated by her at the same time.  She could have avoided the fall by just using her walker, but she chose to not do that.  I had done my part to consistently remind my 92 year-old mother to use her walker, but my comments were always met with her fiercely independent attitude that she didn’t really need it and that we were all just trying to “make an old woman out of her.”  Was she paddling down the river of “Denial?”  Absolutely.  Was there anything I could do to change it?  Nope.  Now, the damage was done, and it was time for her to deal with her new reality.

“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…” played on in my head.

It has always been very hard for me to deal with family members and their serious health issues, and I can honestly describe it as a feeling of terror on many occasions, even though the terror was usually raging on the inside, not outside for others to see.  Between my children, my husband, my mother, my father, my sister and my brother, who died back in 2007 after many years of complex health issues, I have lost count of how many times I’ve sat in the ER and the hospital with them as they were suffering.  I felt so very helpless, and even guilty at times because I have enjoyed good health all of my life and still do.  My loved ones have battled many things, and you can see how many instances are even plural, having occurred more than once in the same or different relatives.  Their ailments have included cancer, diabetes, amputations, heart failure, heart-bypasses, severe alcohol withdrawal syndromes and subsequent rehabs, bi-polar disorder, severe depression, emergency life-threatening surgeries, attempted suicides, broken bones and chronic asthma attacks.  I don’t mean to take away from their issues at all because they have all truly suffered in tremendous ways, and I think that list pretty much speaks to that as well.  I just confess that this is something that has never been easy for me to deal with.  At all.

(BTW – If you are not already aware, severe alcohol withdrawal syndrome can actually kill a person.  My relative came very close to dying – two different times.  Please never attempt to withdraw from alcohol addiction on your own or let a loved one give it a try.  Get medical help!)

Many of their issues also hit me at times in my own life when my stress level was already elevated.  One particularly devastating health situation with a family member happened a week prior to 9/11/01, and I remember thinking that I just might not survive it all at the time.  At one point, I felt like I was going to have a heart attack from all the stress, and I finally hit “rock bottom” with my fears. Thankfully, that was when things began to turn around for me personally, as I finally began to release my fears and worries to God in earnest with the continued help of some wonderful Christian friends whose own life examples showed me that it was possible to do that in reality, not to just talk about doing it.  They didn’t give up on me, and I will always be grateful for their help.

Since that time, I have been learning to trust God more and more to bring me to a place of peace where it does not literally terrorize me to deal with situations like this anymore.  It has not always been easy either.  But with his help, I can “keep calm and carry on” most of the time, which is what my family members need from me as they are suffering and which is what I need to stay sane.  And through it all, I’ve discovered that I can actually be a competent advocate for them in these situations when they cannot advocate for themselves.  Perhaps that has also come with experience through the years, but if my fears were not kept in check, I could not advocate for their care like I can now.  And these days, patients need all the advocates they can get, too.  That is a discussion for another time, but one I am yet again very aware of with my mother’s recent hospital and skilled nursing stay.

Below are some verses that help get me through tough situations when my old fears want to overtake me once again.  They are so precious to me because each one has a special meaning for me now, especially Psalm 34:4 because I truly lived that one in a memorable way after 9/11.

You came near when I called you, and you said, “Do not fear.”
– Lamentations 3:57

Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
– 1 Peter 5:7

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
– Hebrews 11:1

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
– Isaiah 41:10

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
– Psalms 56:3

I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
– Psalms 34:4

How I treasure each and every one of these words during the hard times, especially when dealing with family members and their issues.  But oddly enough, I often think about Dory at these times, too.  It may seem a bit odd how Dory’s little song reminds me of God’s promises at times like this, but for me, her simple little motto seems to just sum up, in a cute and funny way, everything that God has taught me about dealing with my fears.  I am never, ever alone, and he is able to take away my fears and anxieties to let me “just keep swimming” and properly care for myself and those I love when we all need it the most.

For me, this is quite possibly the greatest love story of my life.

“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…”

 I wish you a very Happy Valentine’s Day!  Thank you for allowing me to share a piece of my heart with you today.

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Am I Prepared for Thanksgiving?

Before I move on with today’s topic, I wanted to express my thanks to those that are coming to my site to read my various Thanksgiving related posts.  As I looked through the search terms yesterday, there is no doubt what is on the minds of so many right now, and that is Thanksgiving food preparations.

Search terms

I hope that my ideas have been helpful to those of you that have read them.  It seems that I will be taking my own advice this year, too, as we have decided to dine at home again instead of dining out, and I’m quite happy about that, too.

I started my own food preparations yesterday and baked a big pan of cornbread for the dressing last night so that it would have time to thoroughly dry out by Thursday morning.  As it baked, I decided to quickly check my Facebook page to see how my friends were faring with their own holiday preparations.

The first post that showed up, however, was anything but fun holiday happenings.  It was an update post from a friend’s page concerning her little grandson that is extremely ill and has recently been transferred to a large hospital in another city for more specialized treatment.  I think it is safe to say that while so many of us are supporting this precious little one with our prayers, he may not make it.  We’re going to keep bombarding God with our prayers anyway.  He is in very capable medical hands now as well.

What has struck me and literally brings tears to my eyes every time I read a new update from the family is how faithful they are and how willingly they are opening up and sharing their heart with hundreds of us each day.  Thanksgiving meal preparations are not on their agenda right now, but Thanksgiving has been in their hearts every single day from the very beginning.

Let me just say that one more time… mostly for my own benefit… because it hit me like a ton of bricks last night.

Thanksgiving has been in their hearts every single day from the very beginning.

God never ceases to amaze me how he speaks at times.  My friends are already prepared for Thanksgiving.  They are living it on a daily basis in the midst of a struggle that few of us can even imagine.  I am so humbled by their faith, and now I must ask myself if I am also prepared for Thanksgiving, not only this week but every single day in the future.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

“…give thanks *in* *all* *circumstances*…

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Tracking Gratitude

“Rejoice evermore.  Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

— 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Building an “Attitude of Gratitude” has been a practice that I have done for over ten years now, starting in late 2001.  It has been a life-changing thing for me and something that I highly recommend to anyone at anytime, but especially to anyone going through a time of turbulence and change in their life.  While I certainly learned this concept at church, I never really embraced it fully until that particular time in my life when things were really tough for awhile.  A dear friend introduced this concept to me, and I went “all-in” with this wonderful new journey.  I have never regretted it, and strive to work this exercise every day, both listing and meditating on an item of gratitude in the morning, afternoon and evening each and every day.

I won’t get into this concept in this post, except to share a new way that I have found to track my daily gratitude items.  Over the years, I have done everything from writing in a spiral notebook, using various note apps for my computer and phone, and taking photos.  Each method has worked just fine, too.  But a couple of weeks ago, I decided to branch out and try something new – logging my gratitude items right into my daily calendar.

I use my Google Calendar faithfully every day.  It saves me time and time again from forgetting appointments and chores.  When I try to go it alone without relying on my trusty calendar, I set myself up for failure.  That’s just the way it is after fifty, I guess.  Whatever device I use, I make sure that my trusty calendar is prominently there because I know I’m probably sunk if I don’t have it handy.  On my Android phone, I love CalenGoo, as it is just the best phone app I’ve found for Google Calendar.  My calendar has been on my gratitude list many times over the years.  You get the picture here now.

I have several sub-calendars within my Google Calendar, including my calendar, hubby’s calendar, mom’s calendar (she is 91), family birthdays, friends’ birthdays, and vacations which is shared with hubby.  A couple of weeks ago, I decided to “promote” my gratitude list to it’s own calendar in my Google Calendar.  I know that sounds pretty benign, but it was a really big deal to me.  I was getting a little lax on keeping up my written list, even though I was still practicing my gratitude exercises every day, and it was bothering me that I was letting myself take a pass on this.  So, I decided to give this a try.

As I already mentioned, I look at my Google Calendar often throughout the day, and this is now a de facto reminder to me to log my points of gratitude, even at the time it happened.  But the unexpected benefit is that I can now see my gratitude items in the context of my overall calendar, too.  In the midst of my everyday agenda now lies one of the most important things in my life – my blessings day by day and hour by hour.

I think I’ve really stumbled onto something here, even after ten years of working this exercise.  After only two weeks, the number of gratitude items already outnumbers everything else on my calendar each day, and it has really gotten my attention in the process.  Before now, my gratitude items seemed to be something more on the edges of my life.  Now, they are right there in the mainstream of it and usually dominate each day’s listings.

Life lesson?  Yes… a big one. 😀

Now, I’m off to take a look at that prayer list.  😉  Why, oh why did I not think of this before?

Here is a nice article by Michael Hyatt for a little more perspective on an “Attitude of Gratitude.”

Feeling very, very blessed today for the little revelations of life.

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Never Forget

Never Forget 2009

Never Forget 2009

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”

— Rudy Guiliani quotes Laurence Binyon (English Poet)
in a NYC ceremony honoring the victims of 9/11

Every year since 9/11/2001, our community has sponsored a large flag display on the grounds of a local elementary school.   Each year, I go with my camera in hand, and it never fails to touch me in a deep way.  I took the photos above last year, and they are still some of my favorites with the sun shining through the flag.  It symbolizes “hope” to me, and hope is something I desperately needed in the fall of 2001.

9/11 touches me deeply, not just because of what happened on that fateful day in our nation, but what was happening to me and my family at that same time.  It was as if bad news was just piling on and would not quit.  Fear almost completely overtook me, and I could not see a way out.  It was, without a doubt, the hardest time I have endured in my lifetime, but it was also a huge life lesson for me in my walk with God.  Our lives changed during that time.  It was a very hard autumn season, though, and one I will never, ever forget.  The words of John 16:33 gave me so much comfort and reassurance during that time, too.

God bless the families and friends of those that perished on this fateful day in 2001.  You are in my thoughts and prayers today, as always on this day of remembrance.  As bad as our issues were at that time, I did not lose a loved one.  My heart truly goes out to you all.

As odd as it may sound, I think this commercial by Budweiser a few years ago kind of hits the nail on the head as far as my feelings about this day.  It was a commercial that was done solely to pay tribute to the 9/11 victims and their families.  No words… just the utmost respect… I cannot watch it without getting teary even still.

Update, September 14:  This is an incredible story that just came out, and I wanted to share it here, too.

Never forget.

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“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
— Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)

I gave my life and my heart to God in high school, some 35 years ago now. Perhaps I will delve into that experience a bit more at a later date, but it still remains very personal and special to me, as do many other times that God has spoken to me over my 52 years of life.  This relationship defies words, or at least the words that I can give it. It hasn’t made my life perfect by any stretch, but it has helped me to savor the amazing times, bask in the peaceful times, summon courage in the difficult times, and simply endure the impossible times better and with more purpose than I ever could without my loving Heavenly Father at my side. I cannot imagine living life outside of this constant, abiding love that greets me every single day.

I am a wholly imperfect servant, but I remain a servant today, imperfections and all.  I am grateful every morning that I wake up to so many blessings in my life, and I strive to never take those blessings for granted… especially my Five F’s.

The verse that I listed above is one of the first verses that I committed to memory back in my high school days.  I actually had a poster on my wall with a beautiful nature scene and this verse overlaid on it. As a new Christian at that time, it was a concept that I struggled with.  Thirty-five years later, I still struggle with it at times, but I now have many instances of walking in faith to draw strength and hope from. I am grateful for each and every situation that God has both blessed me with and pulled me through, often using his angels disguised as family and friends along the way.

A moment of inspiration in Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove this summer, standing beneath trees that are almost 2000 years old; it just took my breath away

Sometimes faith is the only option.

But always… in everything… faith is the best option.

Been there… done that.  Need to keep doing that.

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