Elephant Size Grief

Lisa, a beloved elephant at our local zoo, was euthanized yesterday

Photo by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash

It is with a heavy heart, the announcement from our zoo read, that Lisa elephant was humanely euthanized yesterday

She was getting older, had several ailments, and was declining in health.

How is it that even though I knew that this was coming, the shock still comes? How does one contain grief that is the size of an elephant?

I have volunteered at our local zoo for almost 10 years now. I am on the Behavior Observation Team for the elephants. I get the privilege of watching these wonderful animals for two hour shifts and recording their behavior. We use the data to keep learning about them as well as to make sure that they are ok and to try and give them the best life possible. 

I have come to know and love these majestic creatures. When I first started volunteering there, we had 4 elephants. Three females and one male. Three years ago we suddenly lost one of our females. A shock, a wave of grief, and so much sadness. I grieve her still. 

And yesterday, Lisa left us. 

The day before, the zookeepers and volunteers and others who loved her spent extra time being near her, feeding her all of her favorite treats. Loving her as much as possible.

 I am so grateful to have been invited and to have been among those who got to spend that extra time with her that day. I hadn’t realized, until I was there, how important it was to be with others during the shared grief and pain. We held each other, crying together. It is a pain that, although each of us bears alone, we also share with each other in deep understanding. Together in our grief, as well as witnessing and honoring each other’s solitary pain.

Standing in front of Lisa, I found myself trying to soak up her very presence, to memorize even more each detail of her being. Each breath of her spirit. She was already in my heart, as all the elephants have been and are. I wanted to take her in even more deeply if I could, to keep her spirit alive within my being. To keep her inside of me when she was gone. 

She was 46. She had been with us since she was 2. We all became home to each other. 

 Elephants live longer in the wild than they do in captivity. They can live up to 60 or longer in the wild. 

There is a movement going on these days to have elephants (that need to be rescued and that can no longer live in the wild) be taken to live in sanctuaries and not in zoos. I agree with this. To go where they will have more room and space to be who they are. To be able to walk as much as they need. To be among their herds. To live the best life possible.

Our zoo does the best that they can to provide all of our animals with a good life. They have more space for most of the animals than most zoos are able to provide. They are involved in education and conservation. They are connected with an elephant sanctuary in Africa that they raise funds for. I am glad for all of this, and also realize that it is still a zoo. Not a perfect environment for an elephant. 

These elephants are cared for with much love. Lisa had received many different treatments for her various ailments, including an innovative stem cell treatment in hopes that it could help her. But, it was not enough to stop the decline. Not enough to stop the pain of her body getting more and more tired.

 It was determined it was finally time. What an awful decision to have to make. 

I still struggle with the idea of euthanasia. I understand that we don’t want animals to suffer, and yet, it is so very hard to come to that final decision. To finally say it is time. I saw the struggles that the staff went through, the tears.

I love Lisa. I miss her so very much. I don’t know where to contain my deep grief. It gets caught in my chest, my throat, my gut. Tears come randomly and whenever and wherever they like. I let them flow. I want to honor how much she meant to me. I want to allow the grief its space to be. 

It makes me think of all the losses, grieving, and mortality of us all.

I approach my 70th birthday soon. I think about changes that happen in our bodies as we age. Treatments for what we can help. Acceptance for what we cannot. Realizing that I also will have my date to pass on. To leave this body that has been loaned to me. 

One of the gifts and curses of this aging journey is this awareness of our own mortality. It become more real with each passing year. With each new ache or stiff joint. With each new sign of aging that can be seen in the mirror. That can be felt in our bodies. 

I cry for Lisa. I hope that she can meet her friends and family and herd beyond. I am not sure what I believe anymore, but if there is something after, I wish her joy in the reunion. 

I cry for all the losses that I have had of pets, of family, of friends. The losses come faster and faster these days. The ever increasing companionship of grief that comes with aging.

I sometimes cry with the thought of my own eventual death. The thought of leaving this life that becomes more precious each day. To leave this beautiful earth and all that it contains. To no longer be part of this life that I come to appreciate more each year. Especially knowing that there are far fewer years ahead of me now than there are behind me. 

And so we go on, those of us who are still here. 

We grieve, we hurt, we cry. We miss those who have left us. We carry them inside of us. 

These elephants have taught me many lessons over the years. Lessons about being in the moment. Lessons about being who and what you are. And now, one final lesson comes from Lisa. How to live until we die. 

Maybe we can remind ourselves to keep living as much as we can until it is our time. Lisa did not know when her last day would be. She kept living and enjoying all the treats that she could until the last moment. Maybe we can learn to do the same. 

Thank you, Lisa, for having allowed me to be in your life. To be in your presence. For gracing me with your spirited essence.For teaching me about not being shy to let it be known how you felt. 

You would throw sticks toward someone who, for some reason, may have been irritating you. You drenched one of the zookeepers years ago with a trunkful of water when you were displeased with his blowing bubbles at an event that was being held. Such laughter and giggles all around from everyone who saw this, including the very drenched keeper himself. 

I want to learn that more, setting limits and boundaries where needed. Expressing displeasure and irritation when needed. Symbolically hosing someone down when needed! Being myself. Thank you again, Lisa, for showing me this. 

And thank you, life. For allowing me to experience you. For each moment. I will try not to waste any of them. To remember and to honor Lisa. To honor myself. 

Embracing Our Inner Elder

Learning to see our inner elder with courage, compassion, and openness

Photo by Centre for Ageing Better on Unsplash

We have been taught to look back and look within so as to speak to and have compassion for the child that we once were. The inner child. This is a good thing to do, in my opinion. To understand why we learned how to cope as we did, how we learned to survive. How we got to where we are. To see who we have been in order to be able to better understand who we are now.

It occurs to me that it is also important to look forward and learn to embrace our inner elder. Our inner, much older version of ourselves that, if we are lucky enough to live that long, we will become. 

 Perhaps we can begin to visualize that older version of ourselves now. To picture them sitting in front of us, talking with us. To help us see what may lie ahead. To help us to begin to listen to what that future version of ourselves may have to tell us, to teach us. Teach us right here. Right now. 

What would that inner elder have to say to us? What would they point to as important? What would they gently (or perhaps more forcefully, depending on your particular version of what your older self is like) tell us to disregard? 

What will they tell us that we will we want to remember as we look back in our lives? What will we wish we had paid more attention to? Less attention?

 Who will we wish were still part of our lives, if possible? 

What will we wish we had said, done? 

Where will we wish that we had traveled to? 

What conversations will we wish that we had? And others that we may wish we had not? 

What will we wish we had been able to forgive? Especially to forgive in ourselves? 

What laughter will we have delighted in? What pleasures will we remember and perhaps wish we had allowed ourselves a bit more of? 

What silliness will we wish we had participated in more so that we can have that laughter and delightful memory later? Memories to help bring smiles during some of the darker days to come?

What other memories will we wish that we created? 

What dances will we wish that we allowed ourselves to participate in? Risking awkwardness to embrace the utter delightful joy of dance. 

What adventures will we wish that we had taken, while we still had the strength and ability to do so? 

What regrets will we wish that we had dealt with? 

What will we want written in the book of our life? Will each chapter be as full as it can be? Will there be room for both light and dark, each lived fully in the moment?

Will we have loved as completely as we could? Will we have allowed ourselves to be loved? 

Will we have risked looking foolish and making mistakes so as to live passionately? 

Will we have inhabited our precious lives as fully as possible?

Looking in the mirror at our elder selves, will we wish that we had embraced the way that we look right now, in this ever changing reflection?

Will we regret the harsh judgments of these bodies that we have been loaned? Not having appreciated their flawed, but wonderful, imperfections? Their delightful sensuality, touch, feel?

Perhaps we can be brave and venture looking into the mirror and visualizing our older selves. 

And rather than lamenting each new line, wrinkle or sign of aging, maybe we can try and see that older face and learn from it. Talk to it. Talk to who we want to become more and more as we age. Have the courage to face what is coming so that we can have some voice in who that will be. 

I have worked on getting to know my inner child. And I am grateful for that. 

I have learned to embrace my inner bitch, the parts of me that have been angry and never allowed myself to fully express righteous rage and own my power that way.

And now, I will take the step to befriend my inner elder. I think she, like these other parts of me have taught me, has a lot to say.

I am beginning to listen. 

The Strength to Own Increasing Fragility

Accepting and learning to deal with changes of aging so as to remain as vital and as healthy as possible

Photo by alpay tonga on Unsplash

I become more aware these days of changes in my body that come with aging. 

I recently had an experience, while traveling, of injuring a finger. I hardly would have paid attention to what seemed like such a minor injury in my younger days, and did not initially pay attention to this one at the time. Until my body let me know that I needed to pay attention. Until the doctor that I saw talked to me about the fragility of our fingertips. Until this doctor, whose first question was how old I was, let me know that it was good that I had contacted him, as I had a severe infection that would have continued to spread had I not addressed it. He lanced it and prescribed two antiobiotics. For an injury that I can’t even remember the details about as to how it happened. 

I have been used to taking my body and its healing powers for granted. Minor injuries not even noted as I continued along with my day or activity.

Not so much anymore, I am learning.

My skin is thinner, more prone to injuries and deep bruises. 

The other morning I began to hop out of bed, only to find that the room began spinning around and I had to lie back down until it stopped, about 30 seconds later or so. What was this, I wondered. 

Staying well hydrated has never been one of my strengths. And my body has been fairly forgiving of me, as far as I know, up until now. It turns out being dehydrated and getting up quickly can cause some dizziness (orthostatic hypotension). I am lucky to have a friend who is a nurse.

Another lesson in paying closer attention to self care these days.

Balance can be an issue these days. I seem to be able to trip more easily (I remember removing all the small rugs in my mother’s home as she began to fall more). I need to slow down, pay more attention. 

I am learning that I need to pay closer attention to each activity, each movement, each bump and bruise. Things that I am used to never giving a second thought to. Healing powers of youth that I took for granted are no longer with me. 

I have lost some hearing, more in my left ear than in my right. I now wear a hearing aid in my left ear. And, even with that, I find that I can struggle in rooms with certain acoustics and distracting sounds. I need to speak up about this, to ask for any modifications that might be made. Asking if the speaker at an event can possibly use a microphone. I see others of my age nodding their heads in silent agreement to my request. 

Not only do I need to acknowledge the changes occurring, I find that I now need to get better at speaking up about needs that I may not have had before. This has not always been a strength of mine. Time to practice this one more. 

My body gets stiffer and less flexible these days, and realize that not only do I need to keep exercising, but I also need to work on flexibility and stretching. Something else that I have taken for granted. 

And if I name and own these new changes, I can better prepare and deal with them, possibly avoiding further injury or damage. It’s harder to heal what you cannot name. 

In addition to the physical changes, there is the increase in my emotional sensitivity. I have always been a sensitive person. Something that I have been criticized for in my life that I now realize is one of my strengths. One of the gifts that I can give to others. One of the gifts that helps me connect with the earth around me as well as all of its creatures.

And, as I am lucky enough to still be alive and aging, I notice that my sensitivity is also growing. More sensitive to pain around me. More sensitive to the suffering and violence of the world. More sensitive to nuances in others (human and other) that tell of pain or suffering that I may not have noticed before. More awareness of my own grief at increasing losses that come along with aging. More awareness of the ever increasing companionship of grief. More awareness of mortality. Death. Endings. 

This increased sensitivity can be challenging. It can also be a gift. A gift that helps me appreciate, on a much deeper level, all that is around and within me. Appreciate each moment of life. 

I can deny all these changes, and risk serious injury. Or I can, reluctantly I admit, own them. Own them and learn to deal with them and make changes to adapt to them. So that I can keep living my fullest, healthiest life while I am still blessed enough to be alive. 

How I live my life daily may need to change, in order that I can keep embracing what life that I can. Doing all that I can, with perhaps new limitations and conditions. And with a new speed. Slow. 

Slow down. Pay attention. To myself. To my environment. To others around me. To my life these days as it presents itself. To the changes in me. And to the life that is still mine to live, perhaps more slowly. With more awareness and gratitude. Gently, tenderly, slowly. One step and one breath at a time. 

The Storm Before the Calm

Breathing through the storms of emotions and letting them flow

Photo by Marcus Woodbridge on Unsplash

We usually talk about the calm before the storm. Today I am aware of the opposite within me. The storm before the calm.

I recently returned from a wondrous trip to Baja to be among the grey whales there. It was magical, being among these incredible magical creatures. Being graced with their presence right beside us, having the calves even come close to our small boats to allow touch. 

And now I am home and have been so very unsettled. Restless. Difficulty focussing. Unable to complete tasks or begin the never ending projects that seem to be part of being home.

Perhaps it is partly because I was in such a magical place. Re-entry from vacation has always been challenging for me. Even now, I find that to be true, when I don’t have to go back to work, given that I am retired. 

It can be hard to go back to whatever “normal” is after such a wonderful experience. It can be hard to go back to having to figure everything out each day for yourself. One can get spoiled having your day planned for you, your meals prepared, your adventures planned and taken care of. Being able to shed the responsibilities of self care for a brief time. Having someone else take care of life’s details for you for a moment. 

I have been so unsettled since coming home. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Being settled can be overrated, I think. 

And yet, it has been so uncomfortable living with the feelings that this brings. 

And, I find, I have added to the discomfort by trying to pressure myself to just get on with it, get back into the routine and structure, get back to life as it is when I am , once again, home alone. 

Pressuring myself to get over whatever was going on. Get past it. Pull up my bootstraps and deal with it.

That simply did not work. 

So yesterday, I let of of the expectation of getting anything done on the never ending list. Just let go. Sat there. Talked with a friend, which helped ease some of the angst of some issues that have been coming up more for me lately. I let myself share a bit. And I was heard. I am grateful. 

So then I let myself hear me as well. And just took the pressure away of needing to do anything yesterday. Gave myself permission to simply be wherever it was that I needed to be. Even if I didn’t really know what that was.

And this morning, I woke up calmer. I seem to keep re-learning the lesson of listening to whatever is going on inside and simply letting it be. Letting the storm pass through. Being still in the center of the discomfort. Realizing that simply riding out the storm is all that I can do in that moment. 

I think that this is part of what aging is teaching me more and more. To allow whatever is going on inside me to simply be. To allow space for internal emotions and feelings, even if I am not able to name them immediately. To allow space for my spirit to express some of the storms inside , storms that have passed through me all of my life. Storms that may have lessons that will not be named for a bit. Storms that are part of my journey in this life.

During the whale trip, I asked the guides if they ever cancel the whale watching for a day because of the weather. Oh yes, they responded, when the wind reaches a certain strength, the lagoon is shut down for the day

Maybe we can learn from that. Maybe we can learn to shut down all the other parts of life, as much as we can, and simply watch the storm and be with ourselves until it passes. 

Storms are part of weather. Storms are part of life. Storms are part of us. I can appreciate grey skies as much as the beautiful blue skies. They actually help me appreciate the blue skies even more. 

Grey skies help me go within and get quiet to hear and listen to whatever the current storm may be about.

I have more to explore, as I continue this aging process.

Some of my current storms are beginning to get names. 

Turning 70 next month. This one really stirs me up inside.

The fact that I lived out of a duffel bag for a week while on vacation. And that was all that I needed. Then coming home to a house full of stuff, much of which I do not really need. The urge to purge is real. More and more as I age. Time to let go of what is unnecessary. So I can appreciate more what is right in front of me, so I can travel light on this final path before me.

Having an experience on my trip of getting an infection that I knew needed to be treated soon. Having been able to see a local doctor who came to the hotel to treat me and prescribe much needed antibiotics. The kindness of strangers. The importance of being paid attention. The ability to take care of myself enough to know when I needed a doctor right then and there,

The experience of having fairly significant periods of pain from this infection, of having to wait for a few days (and having judged that this would be ok to wait for a few days, also with the help of a fellow guest on the trip who happened to be a nurse). We were a 6 hour drive away from the town we flew into, and 6 hours away from a local doctor. The challenges of how to live with some pain and still enjoy each day to the fullest. To not miss one whale trip out on the boats.

 Perhaps this is a lesson in living with the changes and challenges that aging can bring. And keep on enjoying what we can. While we can. 

To acknowledge the pain and struggles that are real. And keep on living as fully as we can. Ride out the storms until they pass. Be still, be quiet, and keep breathing. Keep living. Keep enjoying this exquisitely beautiful life, storms and all. 

The Wonder of Whales

Back from a trip to see the whales of Baja. Still in pure awe.

Photo by Thomas Lipke on Unsplash

I was lucky enough to take a trip to see the whales of Baja, Mexico. Up close and personal. 

I had been on whale watching trips before, and loved them. But those trips were to see whales from more of a distance.

This trip was something else all together.

Traveling alone, and being older, I feel more comfortable going with a group where we are taken care of and guided the whole way. I traveled with Natural Habitat Adventures. They are wonderful, and I also feel good that they are connected to the World Wildlife Fund, which I support. 

The older that I get, the more connected to the earth that I feel. And the more that I want to do my small part in trying to help heal and conserve her beauty. 

So there we were . A group of 15 of us, most of us being older folks able to travel now and enjoy some of the things that we didn’t perhaps have the opportunities to enjoy while younger and working full time, raising families, tending to responsibilities. People, in this particular group, from all over the US and Canada. Couples and singles as well.

Off we went to the Whale Camp. Staying in cabanas where each cabin had one light that they requested be turned off at 10pm. Most everything was solar powered and power was conserved wherever possible. We were able to recharge our various devices in the main cabana, where we would all gather to eat, listen to educational talks about the whales and about the area. WE became a temporary family for that week in time. 

Windy and chilly at night, we learned to truly love the softest flannel sheets that I have ever experienced, and snuggle under layers of blankets. Stepping out at night to a sky completely filled with stars. Breathtaking.

Twice each day we would go out on the skiffs to see the whales. Huge grey whales. Mamas and their calves. Males and their magnificent breaching. 

And, as we would hold our breath, we would wait to see if any of the whales would want to come up to our boats to interact with us. Their choice. As it should be.

The calves were curious, coming closer to the boats with their mamas close by keeping an eye on everything. And they came, these calves. Right up to the boats. Raising their heads up enough to allow touch. Rubs and gentle scratches seemed to bring them pleasure. And the laughter and reactions from those of us of the human species on the boats was contagious and expressed a delight that really has no words adequate to describe it.

To experience touching and interacting with such a different species and to feel the connection in that moment is magical. To watch and feel a boat full of seniors suddenly become delighted children once again. To watch and feel and touch each other, these whales and us. To inhabit the same space in time together connecting in a way that has no words, needs no words. 

I am in awe of these magnificent creatures. Gliding close by us in our boats so gracefully as if in a water ballet. Spouting and spraying us. Diving under our boats to resurface on the other side. Most likely laughing at all of us quickly rushing from one side of the boat to the other in hopes of those precious moments of contact. 

Watching the breaching and magnificent displays. 

Watching as they raised their heads above the water and stayed there to get a look at all that was going on around them. 

Calves rubbing up against their mothers to reassure themselves that their mothers were still there and then coming back to us.

 These are very tactile creatures, we are told. Much touching of each other. And giving us such a gift of allowing touch between us. Two tactile species saying hello. A touch of love. 

There is much that I want to share and write about regarding this incredible trip. And I will. 

But for now, I am still floating in awe and wonder. 

I am amazed at how precious moments of such a sacred and magical nature can seem to erase all the surface differences between us. Can make age insignificant. Can make race and culture and state of being partnered or not…insignificant. Can make all those things that we have used to divide us…insignificant.

 These moments can make all the daily worries and stresses step aside for a while, as we become absorbed in the sacred moment of interspecies connection and relationship. To realize we are part of this sacred dance of life. All of us. There is no division. There is no us and them. No young and old. There is a sacred “we” as we are all in this one moment, touching each other, right here and right now. 

When Did Being Average Become Less Than Ok?

Competition, gold medals, grading, comparison. Endless messsages that we are not good enough.

Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

I am struck these days by how much competition is part of almost everything that we do.

Gold medalists. First prize. Best of the best. Blue ribbons. 

Not to say that all competion is bad. It can help motivate, create some fun and incentive, and be useful.

But not to an extreme. Not about everything, Not when we use it to further compare ourselves to others and come out feeling less than, feeling not good enough.

I remember the movie about Mozart years ago. Amadeus. The story was told by Antonio Scalieri, another composer of that time, who, not being a genius like Mozart, was continually tormented by comparing himself to Mozart. At one point, with a line that I will never forget, he lamentingly referred to himself as the “king of mediocrity.”

This comparison can be insidious. This validating only the champions can be destructive to our self esteem, if we let it. 

Don’t get me wrong. I love cheering on champions, will root and scream for the home team to win. I am, after all, a product of this society. And it can be fun.

However, there is a dark side that I believe needs to be named. The feeling that since we are not the best, we stop ourselves from even trying to do things that may bring us joy. And that joy should be reason enough for us to try things. 

Since retiring, I am delighted and grateful to be able to do some things that I love. Writing. Painting. 

And even there I find the constant internal comparisons going on. I am an amateur. I have not had formal education or training in art. I have not been in shows, have not won competitions. 

And yet, something comes through me when I paint, and I feel connected to a deeper part of me than I have before. I am allowing that part to express herself. Finally. And there are some who are touched by my paintings. I am grateful.

I love to write. I have not written a book. I have not taken formal writing courses. And yet, as with my painting, something comes through me that feels as if it taps into my very soul. I find that I must write to sort out all the intricacies, for me, of being human. I write to finally hear and express my voice. My Voice. And some respond to things that I write. I touch something in them that relates and resonated with what I write. Again, I am grateful. 

And now I see that this constant comparison can even apply to our process of aging.

There is a good way to look when aging. The best way to age. The models are often still on the gorgeous end of the spectrum. Slim figures, faces still conforming to what are judged as beautiful. Referred to as aging well. It seems that we are even graded on how we age. How did she let herself go?

If we exercise, we should look good doing it. Or be a clown to be laughed at. Perfection or ridicule seem to be the choices offered.

 If we dance, it can be laughable, or cute.

I do not wish to be either. I have not ever, nor ever will aspire to, the label of cute. I am a woman of substance, both physically and in other ways. Not to be taken lightly. Not to be condescended or spoken down to. Not to be cast aside. 

And we are judged no matter which choices we make. If we color our hair, we should embrace going grey. If we get plastic surgery, we should allow ourselves to age naturally. If we don’t get plastic surgery, then the caption can read time has not been kind

If we look younger than our age, we are complimented on not looking our age. So what does that say if we look our age? And why is looking our age a bad thing? 

Aging is a competition that cannot be won. We will all age. We will all die.

 Life is a competition that cannot be won. We will all age. We will all die. We may be remembered for a while or not. So what? We will be gone. 

We are here now. In our glorious imperfection. In our amazing averageness. In our imperfect perfection. In our humanity.

For me, I am going to work to express who I am, what I love to do. Judgments be damned. It’s all ok, as long as I am not hurting anyone else. 

I want to embrace each moment of this precious life. And even more so, as the time grows shorter on the road left ahead. 

I have no gold medals, no blue ribbons. I am average. How very delightful. And, to have the company of so many others who are average. 

Others who are beautiful in their own ways. With their own unique talents and perspectives and voices. I am delighted to be among them, champions of life. Each and every one of us. 

Feeling Alone

Sometimes it’s hard to feel the aloneness

Photo by Diego San on Unsplash

I firmly believe that we need to feel all of our feelings. All of them. In order to live our fullest, most present life.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to feel some of those feelings.

I woke up feeling so very alone this morning. 

It’s not that I don’t have dear friends and a social network. I do, albeit small. I don’t do large groups well. A small network of more intimate friends works better for me.

And sometimes, a feeling of such deep aloneness (which feels very different than loneliness for me) floods over me and overwhelms me.

Like it did this morning.

I feel the vastness of the world around me. The busy movement of life around me. Young people going to work. My young neighbors tending to their sweet families. My older neighbor (as in my age) and her children and grandchildren and all of their partners. 

I am alone. I have, for some reason, seemed to work to achieve this in my life. Growing up had some challenges for me, as it does for us all. I craved a sense of peace and tranquility and acceptance of myself. Closeness to others meant feeling judged as less than, as not good enough. 

I’ve been married, and am grateful for that experience and for the sweet man who was my husband. He remarried and went on to have two sons. We, when married, had decided to not have children. Interesting. I’m glad he found someone to share his life with that perhaps matches him better than I could. 

I have always been blessed with dear friends along this path of my life. Some of them are gone now. I miss them very much. Sobering, this death thing.

I now, being retired for almost three years, have time to devote to things that I love. Writing. Painting. Being in nature more. Maybe even a bit of travel to look forward to. I am grateful.

And yet there are times when I find it hard to get satisfaction. From anything. When that dreaded question What’s the point? comes up.

Although I have found that I can validate myself more these days, there are still those times. Times when I doubt everything. Times when I feel lost. Times when I feel frozen.

 Times when I deeply feel my place moving up in that line of waiting to die. 

Times of wondering what the rest of my path will be. What age related changes will keep coming? What do I have to show for this precious life that is winding down? What difference have I made to anyone? To the earth?

I don’t have any answers. Yet I keep moving and keep going on. This feeling is with me, often. 

I know that there are other feelings that are within me as well.

Feeling connected to the earth and its creatures. Sometimes in a way that is deeper than any connection to people. 

Feeling like I am finally letting my soul speak when I write, when I paint. Grateful to still be alive and have time to do those things.

Grateful for dear friends who can hear and share some of these feelings with me. We help each other feel a bit less alone for a few moments. 

Grateful to be able to volunteer at our local zoo with the elephants. They teach me about being in the moment. They bring me comfort and quiet some of the noise in my head.

Grateful for friends who are drawn to some of my paintings. Who see a piece of me in those canvases.

Grateful for readers who comment that some of my writing has touched them in some way. 

Grateful to still be alive and on this earth. Feeling the preciousness of each moment that I am still granted. 

Grateful for all the feelings. 

Grateful for life. 

Validating Myself

Finally learning to look Within for approval

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

I have spent my entire life looking for validation and approval from others. And it has never felt like enough. I have never felt like enough.

Now, as an elder, I am finally able to see more clearly what I need. What I needed most of all. The whole time. 

I could go into childhood issues at this point to try and explain and better understand where this issue came from for me, and I have explored this in depth. It was helpful to begin to put the pieces together in the puzzle of who I am.

But childhood is long gone. So are adolescence, middle adulthood, and the feeling that there was so much more time to work on all of this.

I am older now. And I don’t want to spend any more time looking outside of myself for validation. 

Although I appreciate support and love from my friends, the deepest support and love that I need is from my own self, as well as my Higher Self, Spirit, God/Goddess Within and Without. 

So here I am. Faults, challenges, blind spots, triggers, fears, anxieties, depression, lumps and bumps, eternal comparison to others, and oh so many more challenges. 

These parts of me seem to be hard wired. They’re not going away, but their power has greatly diminished. Including the power of the external shaming, critical voices that I mistakenly adopted and internalized as parts of myself. Thank God I never finalized that adoption. 

I can embrace these parts of me and understand that they have served a purpose for me. I learned certain beliefs and behaviors to try and cope and to feel safer in the world. Now it’s time to let go. 

It’s time to softly and gently tell those parts of me that I understand why they are there. What they have tried to help me with. And that they can rest. I’ve got this now.

What a liberating feeling to realize that I can let go of attacking myself and trying to hide these flawed parts of me, even though I am not, nor ever will be, anything close to perfect. I am ever so human. Ever so flawed. 

I no longer have to berate myself with these flaws as proof of my unworthiness. I no longer have to beat myself up in hopes that I will be better. You cannot beat someone into perfection, because perfection does not exist. 

I claim all these parts of me. And I am doing my best to love myself, including these less than pretty parts.

These parts are what make me human, what help me to understand the humanity of all those around me. 

You’re too sensitive, I am told. My new response : You say that like it’s a bad thing. 

You’re too quiet. There is much power is in my quiet presence. 

You’re old and finished . I’m not dead yet and have much to offer, to those that can see.

You’re too emotional. I am so grateful for all my emotions. How sad it would be to not have those passionate, colorful, alive parts of me.

Your art is not good enough. You are an amateur. Yes, I am an amateur. And I still have the right to express myself and paint. 

Your writing is not good enough. Who do you think you are, writing about your feelings? I am a human being, traveling this life journey and path of aging, my feelings are valid and I have the right to express them. As a matter of fact, others may even be able to relate to some of them and find some comfort there, perhaps feel a bit less alone in their own travels.  

You’re out of shape and overweight. True. But that does not mean that I need to hide or hate myself. I can keep working on those things. And I still get to have my life right now. I get to like how I look right now. 

You don’t know how to keep a partner.I have had some wonderful relationships that I will always be grateful for. And I needed to let them go. I am open to new potential relationships, should that happen. But, the best partner that I now have is myself. Finally. That relationship has to come first. And it is enough. I am enough

You have hurt others in your life and have much to regret. Yes, I have hurt others, unintentionally. But yes, I did. And I am sorry for that. And I keep trying to do better each day. I get to forgive myself for my past. And I get to move on. Do better.Keep learning. Keep on living. Here and now. 

You shouldn’t submit this piece. Watch me. 

Do You Hear Me?

The deep hunger to be seen and really heard….at any age

Photo by Joel Danielson on Unsplash

I believe that there is a deep desire within us to be seen, heard, and truly understood. And I believe that this is one of the most genuine and deep forms of intimacy that can exist between two people. 

This desire does not go away with aging. In fact, I think that the hunger may become more real, since it can be more challenging to even be noticed in the first place, given some of the feeling of invisibility that can come with being older. 

We are not taught this skill of listening, although it, in my opinion, should be on every curriculum and in every lesson plan. 

There is a voice inside each of us, a voice that expresses who we are. Our spirit, our desires, our fears, our angers, our passions, our soul.

I am struck by how little listening that I really observe in the world. And I notice within myself how easily I can also get distracted and pay less attention that I would like. It’s humbling, this being human. 

Deep listening takes slowing down and stopping to focus on the other. 

It takes shutting up our own busy mind so that we can hear what is being said, what is being expressed, what is being put out there for us to hold in our hearts. It is someone saying, while holding out their hands, Here is a piece of me, of my heart. Please hold it gently and with tendernes

It takes a true presence with the other. 

It is more than hearing what is being said, although that is important as well. It takes more. 

It takes listening to not only the words, but the tone, the inflection, and the music of the voice. Hearing the volume, and seeing the expressions of the face and the eyes that accompany the words. Noticing any movements that can also add to the symphony of the message. 

It takes attending to the whole being in front of us. Hearing their plea for us to see who they are in this moment, in their vulnerability of sharing a piece of what is inside of them. 

Deep presence and listening can be one of the most intimate forms of connection that there is. And we need it more than ever as we get older. 

 I can show you my body, which is very vulnerable, especially as I continue to have age related changes happening. I have changed on the outside, and I am afraid that those changes will not let you see who I am on the inside. 

I can also show you my soul. I can put a piece of myself out there in front of you and be so very vulnerable. My thoughts, feelings, fears, desires, things that bring me to tears, things that make me angry, things that make me laugh, things that I am shy to tell you about myself for fear of judgment. Things that hurt me. When I share these things, I realize that I am giving you something that you may be able to hurt me with, and trusting that you won’t.

And I am afraid that my feelings about aging may scare you and may not be something that you can hear, because I am your future. A future that may be too frightening for you to see right now. 

And yet, this deep need and desire to be heard seem to only intensify with my getting older, as time grows shorter for me to express who I am, what I feel, what is inside of me and all that I have experienced for all of these years. 

So when you ask me How are you? , I want to know that you really mean what you are asking, that you really want to hear how I am. That you will take the time to stop and listen to my response. 

You don’ t have to do anything to fix any pain that you may hear. I simply need you to hear me. Really hear me. 

It is not a lifelong commitment. It is a deep commitment to this moment in time. 

If there are more moments, that’s great. If not, I will hold this moment inside me as a cherished gift. The gift of being witnessed deeply. Of being heard. Of having felt that sacred connection with another being. 

 Can you hear me in this piece that I have written?

 If I tell you that I will be 70 soon, will you hear this differently? Will you take a moment to see me? And know that you have given me a precious gift?

 And will you know that I, although older, can perhaps give you that gift in return? I want to hear what you have to say as well. Who you are. How you feel. 

We may have years that separate us, but our experoience on this journey of being human is one that we can share. 

So, will you hear how I am? And will you tell me how you are and who you are? Can we simply be side by side in that moment in time, acknowledging each other? Seeing each other? Really hearing each other? It will only take stopping for a moment in time. A moment that can feel like gift of eternity. 

The Seasons Of My Life

Entering the winter of my life

I hPhoto by Donnie Rosie on Unsplash

I am struck more and more these days, as I continue on this path of aging, with how the metaphor of the seasons really does feel like it applies to my life.

Spring and youth. Blooming flowers. The hope of everything new. Beginnings. Sparkly colors, beautiful pastels. All lies ahead to be enjoyed and experienced and delighted by. So very much to look forward to. So much hope and anticipation. Plans made. Dreams born. 

Summer. Entering the full colors drenched in the sun and the warmth of life. Summer fun, play, full life living. Laughter. Careers, family, friends. All reflect fullness on every front. 

Autumn. Leaves begin to change. Their most brilliant colors take my breath away. And I notice that they become the most brilliant before they drop to the ground, dry and brown. Ready to be reabsorbed into the earth and the cycle of life. 

Winter. Colder temperatures and more call to go inside by the hearth. Fires burn internally. Houses look warmly lit , when looking through the windows, in contrast to the colder outdoors. We elders, like these houses, also have warmth, if someone looks into our windows, our eyes. Days are shorter, nights longer. More darkness prevails. 

There is a call to focus internally, more inside myself, as well. Memories flood through me of seasons past. Thoughts of life and all that I have experienced. Decisions made. Paths taken and those not chosen. Awareness that this is the final season, however long it may last. Awareness that spring, summer and fall are gone. 

My body reflects the winter. Everything going south, I say, and laugh. Yet there is truth to that in more ways than simply various parts of my body dropping.

 My thoughts and feelings seem to go deeper as well. They include more darkness, which I am learning to become more comfortable with. The increasing presence of loss and grief. Loss of others. Loss of parts of myself. I work to not let it frighten me. Well, not as much. Sometimes.

And my looking and seeing is slowed. I notice more around me than I used to, not having had as much time for this in the earlier seasons of my life. I see nature in all of its awe and beauty. I see the miracle of life in all of its forms every day. I stop and look and take it in. It can, and often does, bring me to tears. Tears of joy and gratitude. 

My joy is deeper, my appreciation so much richer. Perhaps because I am aware of the temporary nature of it all, aware of the fact that I have fewer miles ahead of me than those behind me. 

In my winter, I carry all the seasons that I have lived and loved. I feel them all. I hold them all. I remember and appreciate them all. I do, at times, miss the earlier seasons. I also try to stay present to be able to fully appreciate the season that I am now in. This final season. This most rich and poignant season. This winter of journeying within to find my soul and fire and Self. More deeply than ever before. 

And so, I embrace this winter season of my life. I sit quietly in it, looking and listening to what it has to teach me. Feeling all that it brings with it. Understanding that this is the final season, and perhaps can be the richest of all, if I have the courage to face it, feel it, and immerse myself in it. To fully live it while I am still here.