The Exquisite Pain of an Open Heart

Opening our heart invites all of the feelings in

Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash

One of the gifts of aging, for me, has been to have my heart open more and more to all that is around me. The beauty of sunsets. The delight of birds bathing. The sacredness of walking in a redwood forest. The connection that we share with all living beings on this earth. 

This feels like such a treasure and blessing.

 I also feel so much of the pain.

The pain of this earth and all that we have done to hurt her. Climate change and all of the related destruction that comes with this. Fires, floods, draughts. An earth overwhelmed and out of control. 

 The deep sadness of so many different species becoming extinct. Species that we no longer get to see with wonder. That we no longer get to share the earth with. Beautiful creatures that can teach us so much. Not only about them, but about ourselves. 

The violence that we humans can exhibit and inflict on each other. The horrendous consequences of that violence. Lives taken, lives shattered. Families forever wounded. 

The tragedy of war and all of its both immediate and ongoing consequences.

The horror of increasing crime and feeling less and less safe in this world. 

The suffering of others on this planet who may not have water to drink, food to eat, shelter to retreat to. 

Abuse of others, both human and animal. Unspeakable abuse and disregard for life in all of its forms.

Pandemics. 

Illness, disability, pain, increasing losses of those around us as we age.

Aging also brings its own complexity. Losses, deaths, changes in functioning. Breakdown of our bodies. Increasing awareness of our own mortality. Grief becoming an ever more constant companion.

I feel all of it. Sometimes so much that I feel immobilized. It triggers such a deep sadness within, one that is difficult to contain. Difficult to feel. I find it so very painful to remain still with the awareness of it all and to keep breathing into the feelings. Sometimes I simply want to shut down and run away from it all.

I know, however, the price that this would cost me, this shutting down. I can’t shut down part of the world and those painful feelings without shutting down all of the feelings. And I don’t want to do that. 

I still want to feel the sacred connection to all, the wonder of it all, the beauty of what is all around us there to be noticed. There to be seen. There to be felt, inside of our hearts.

And so it is with our own individual lives as well. There are beautiful moments to cherish. Births, weddings, connections, love. The world around us and all who share it with us, human and other.

Youth and its promise. New babies being born and a hope for the future.

Human kindness. Courage. 

Those who fight to save the planet, animals, and each other. 

Random acts of kindness.

Our ability to learn to deeply listen to one another. And to learn from that listening. To deeply connect.

Aging also comes with its own sacred gifts. 

It can bring an increasing awareness of the precious beauty of life, of its treasures. More time to truly see and appreciate each moment.

 A slowing down as we head toward the end. To be able to see more, hear more, feel more. To live more fully.

And to get to feel the exquisite pain, and beauty, of our open hearts. 

My Personal Black Friday

The jury within is relentless

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I had a peaceful Thankgiving, and then a dream brought me back to the old, unresolved, relentless ongoing court case and battle in my head. 

Aging seems to bring these old cases up more dramatically and repeatedly and harshly. Short term memory may not be so great. Long term memory can be relentlessly vicious. 

My Thankgiving was a solitary one, and it was good. A visit to the mausoleum to “talk” with my parents, a walk in the gorgeous redwood state park not too far from my home. Feeding my neighbor’s kitties and spending some time with them, which was good for all of us. I lost several kitties not long ago, don’t know if I can handle the loss of another one (so no kitties currently), and am glad to spend time with sweet kitties that I can visit, feed, and yet not live with. Loss and grief are more frequent companions on this journey of aging, so I find myself more cautious about who I invite into my life and how deeply. 

And then last night I had a dream. It’s interesting that when I had visited the mausoleum early that day, I had thought (and quietly said to my mother and father inside my own head) that it would be ok for them to visit me in my dreams, thoughts, feelings. I thanked them for all that they had done for me. They gave me so much more than either of them ever was able to have in their childhoods. They did the best that they could, given their own struggles in their own very painful childhoods. 

The first to appear in the dream was my father. Although I don’t remember the specifics, it was an ok dream and felt like it was basically positive. 

The next to appear in the dream was not so positive. 

In this dream, my mother was with me. She was crying and asking me why we couldn’t have had the same relationship that she saw the other daughters and mothers having. She wept hard, asking me why. It broke my heart. 

I woke up with that broken heart and have felt it all day long. Taking myself to the gym didn’t help. It was hard not to break into tears on the gym equipment. I cut my time there short. I hardly spoke to anyone. 

My mother and I had a complex relationship. I think that relationships between mothers and daughters are often complex. She felt suffocated in the house and in her life with my father. He loved her intensely, and was very jealous of losing her, fearful of the abandonment that he had felt his entire childhood. So he clung tightly to her. So tightly that she couldn’t breathe. 

I was an only child, so a lot of the focus was on me. 

While I was a young child, my mother and I had a close relationship. I was dependent, and this suited her, I believe. 

My entering adolescence brought challenges. My wanting to be independent, apart from her. And my going away to college (which I had to fight very hard for, in order to be able to go) broke her heart. To me, I felt that it was my only chance to breathe and get away from what felt like deep enmeshment and suffocation, inability to be myself or even know who that was. To her, I’m sure it felt like complete and utter abandonment and rejection. 

Years later, a friend of mine would visit her in the assisted living where she ended up after surgery (which then led to her needing more supervision than I could provide for her at home.) She confided in this friend, who shared with me that my mother had never forgiven me for leaving her to go to college, and also for my seeming so happy to get out of the house.

I felt that anger in her toward me for a very long time. There was so much unresolved between us.

 And I’m afraid that I wasn’t as good a daughter as I might have been while she was living with me for several years. I tried, but could also feel my own holding back and resisting and desperate fight for enough of a sense of separation from her. Esoecially with her in my house. Just the two of us. 

 She moved back from her country of origin, Italy, to move in with me about 8 years after my father died. They had moved back to Italy when my father retired many years ago, when I was a young adult and it became clear to them that although I was married, I was not going to have children. If I had children, they would have stayed in the US to be grandparents. But, since I didn’t have kids, my father longed to retire back to the old country and be with his remaining family there. So they lived there, with my father eventually dying years later. 

She stayed 8 more years after his death, and then decided it was time to come back to the States and back to me. And she knew no one else here in the state where I now lived. She only knew me. 

There really was no discussion about it. It was what she wanted and that was that. And I didn’t have the strength to say no. I knew that it would be challenging, at best. 

We had some good times, some sweet times, and some very challenging times. Both of us hurting in our own ways. Neither capable of breaking through that.

I feel guilty about a lot of what happened. A lot. I did try to take care of her as best as I could, take her places, spend time with her, try to find friends for her. It never felt like enough.

Several years later she got sick with breast cancer. And she decided, now approaching the age of 85, to refuse treatment. 

Her last words to me when she was on hospice and in her hospital bed in the assisted living facility? “You are trying to kill me”.

 Looking back at my experience with hospice, I can see why she felt that way. I have a lot of feelings about hospice, but that is for another article, another time. Her words were so painful to hear. I felt like I had failed her completely. Again. 

Then this dream happened last night. With her crying about and expressing her pain. Pain that I know that she really did feel about us and our relationship. Pain that I also felt but somehow was unable to figure out how to fix. Even with being a social worker in my career, it’s a whole different case when it’s you and your own mother. Knowledge goes out the window and down the drain when it’s your own buttons being pushed. 

So today I have felt my own version of a black Friday. Black in terms of an all encompassing darkness. Black in terms of the light being gone. This familiar old and ever present guilt. This feeling of having been a failure and a disappointment.

I have written before about the jury inside me and how I am working on that to create more self advocacy. I have written about now having an internal defense attorney. This is all still true, for which I am grateful.

Today, however, the internal attorney for the prosecution was powerful, and my defense attorney was silent, for the most part. I think that she is still there and will have more to say, hopefully. But not today. 

It’s humbling, these old patterns and relationships and feelings. So very humbling. 

So here I sit, steeped in these familiar painful feelings. I know that it is important to feel these, and to work through them, and to let go. I need to work through them and get to the point where I can forgive myself and then give myself more complete permission to live my own life as fully as I can, with whatever time that I have left. 

I think that sometimes we punish ourselves for what we see as our past mistakes, faults, trangressions, failures. At least I think that is true for me. I feel like a part of me has always held myself back from fully participating in my life, from fully claiming who I am. From fully living my passions. From fully inhabiting this precious body that we borrow for a while. From claiming my right to live and to live fully. To be here now. Faults and all. 

That is my intention now. I am still alive, so there is still time. And that, perhaps, is the gift of that dream. To finally face that demon inside myself and break free. And live. 

The Seasons of Our Lives

Entering the early wintertime of my years

Photo by Ian Keefe on Unsplash

Much has been written about the seasons of our lives. We compare our lives to the seasons of the year. Spring, summer, autumn and winter.

I feel this comparison and metaphor more deeply as the years go by. Approaching the age of 70 next year, I feel myself entering the early winter of my life. 

I remember spring and youth, although not appreciating its beauty so much at the time as I was busy doing things, comparing myself, trying to be what I thought that I was supposed to be.

I remember summer and feeling myself coming into more full bloom. Yet still busy doing and striving and fretting.

Autumn brought a beginning quietness. A deepening of color. A sense of loss to come. A richness that is beyond description and that ends all too soon. I appreciated autumn more, feeling the edges of what was around the corner and coming next. And the brilliance of what was still there. 

I have been quiet and self isolating the past several days (having been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID recently). This time of isolation and no social contact has been rich with many feelings, some of them more painful, some simply and quietly there.

I approach 70 and realize that aging will continue to bring more changes. To my body, my face, my mind, my functioning. I will do my best to keep active and as healthy as can be, but aging will continue (if I am lucky and blessed enough) and it will bring its own gifts. Some of them more welcome than others.

In this period of more intense isolation (and I am not a hugely social person in general, as I prefer long periods of solitude and my own company), I felt what I think of as the different sort of isolation that I believe, see and hear that aging can often bring. 

Less engagement, perhaps, with as much or as many around us. Less participation in things of quantity and choosing things of quality more often. This includs friends and social interactions. Preferring quiet one-to-one interactions of depth versus larger, more social gatherings of groups. 

I have never really been a group person, although I can and sometimes do enjoy these events. But, for me, the richness and reward comes from a quiet conversation where the connection is deeper, richer, and with more soul to soul conversation. 

Yet I also became aware the past several days of the importance of still feeling connected. Still feeling part of the world. Still feeling engaged and like I am an active participant. Perhaps the need is less than it may have been in earlier seasons of my life, but the need is still there.

I found myself wondering if this need continues to slowly decrease as the years continue. As we approach the time of our departure from this life as we know it. 

I remember as a very young girl, maybe around the age of 6, lying in bed and suddenly having intense thoughts about the time that I would no longer be here, be part of the group, be part of what was going on. As I look back, this seems to be a pretty young age to have any beginning awareness of these things. Perhaps being an only child contributed to this. 

I began crying in my bed. My mother came and not understanding what I was trying to say about my experience, shushed me and told me to go back to sleep. A lost moment of deep connection there. I don’t blame her. But I do want to go back to that part of me within and listen to her now.

I have that awareness of endings and separation from everything much more constantly now. And I got to “practice” naming what some of my fears may be about this by watching all the interactions on my street and in my neighborhood these past few days, feeling myself separated and apart from them all. 

My sweet young neighbors had a first birthday party for their little girl, whom I adore, and I could not attend. 

I heard the laughter and joy coming from their home, and felt distant. And like I was getting a taste of no longer being part of things. It was interesting. Poignant in some ways. Instructive. A reminder. A reminder of the brevity of this journey, of this life. And a reminder to engage when I want to and can. To continue to be part of this life, my life. 

I woke up this morning feeling such a depth of sadness. I worked to simply breathe into it and not run from it. It is a grieving, I believe, for my own mortality. For when my end will come, whenever that will be and however long I may have left in this body and on this earth. 

This sadness is a gift. A sacred remembering. An acknowledgment and nod to mortality and endings. And a call to life. To live and connect and participate in my own life with others of my choosing. To love while I can, laugh and share when I can. To keep living while I still walk this earth. To appreciate the winter of my life and the fires that still burn within. 

My Body Knows

Learning to trust the wisdom of our bodies, finally

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My body is wiser than I have often given her credit for. She knows when something is wrong. I am learning to not only listen, but to advocate and fight for her.

I recently had some symptoms of something that I have experienced before. Symptoms of a urinary tract infection. Not uncommon among women, and even more so as we age.

Without going into too many details and too much information, suffice it to say (and those readers who have experienced this condition will understand what I am referring to here), the symptoms can be quite uncomfortable.

It was time to contact my doctor that day, a Thursday. I was aware that the weekend was coming and I wanted to begin treating this before then, before the weekend arrived, and my then not being able to contact my doctor again until Monday. 

My primary doctor had another physician (who was helping her) respond to me. This physician requested a urine sample. A good start.

Preliminary results confirmed my tentative diagnosis. My doctor sent me an email that she wanted to wait for the results of the additional urine culture that could take 48–72 hours before prescribing antibiotics.

I truly understand the need to be cautious when prescribing antibiotics, as they have been overprescribed in the past and we can then overuse them to the point where they become ineffective. I understand this and I agree.

And I also know my body. I knew that I could not tolerate a weekend of worsening symptoms. The discomfort was continuing and at times beginning to become worse.

I want to give some history here about my relationship with my doctor from several months ago. My last phone call with her had been challenging for me. (I wrote about this previously in a post called A Letter To My Doctor.) I felt rushed through the call, not really seen or heard. Like an item on her list and not like one of her patients. 

Yet I was, and am, a patient who needs the medicine of my doctor’s attention as much as I need the other medicines. I do not need a lot of attention. I simply need to feel seen and heard in the brief span of our interaction. I know how busy doctors are and how they are pushed to see too many patients in too short of a period of time. I was not asking for quantity. I was asking for quality. 

I decided to call the advice nurse for assistance. She listened, reflected what I said, validated my concerns. She wanted to write a message to my doctor stating that I wanted the antibiotics before the weekend. That if the culture that we were waiting for came back as negative, I could stop the medication at that time. 

I noticed that when this advice nurse paraphrased what I was saying, I was uncomfortable with how it sounded like I was making a demand of my doctor. Who was I to demand anything? She was the doctor, after all.

And yet, I also knew that I did not need to tolerate a weekend of possibly worsening symptoms. Or worry about any damage that allowing a possible infection to continue might cause.

I agreed to have the advice nurse leave the message for my doctor.

I soon received a message from my doctor’s office staff that a prescription for antibiotics was now available for me at the pharmacy.

And, interestingly enough, I felt some guilt receiving this message. Like I had broken some rules, asked for too much, been one of those patients who are a pain to deal with. That I was being pushy, whiny, non compliant. (I know some of the terms that are sometimes used to refer to certain patients or their family members, having retired two years ago as a social worker in a nursing facility and having had the opportunity to work with quite a few doctors and nurses. Some of them were wonderful, others were more of a challenge for me to deal with. Enough said about that right now.)

I pushed forward and went to the pharmacy to pick up my prescription, so that I would have it for the weekend. I decided that I would begin it that evening, if things didn’t feel better.

And then something interesting happened.

There was an email from my doctor. The communication from her felt softer in tone. She wrote that she noticed that I had picked up my prescription from the pharmacy, and that she was glad that I did and that I should begin taking them right away. The lab results had come in and indicated that the medication was indeed needed. And she went on to write that she hoped that I would feel better each day. 

Ah, the wisdom of our bodies. The importance of listening to what they tell us. The need to advocate and fight for these precious bodies that we inhabit for a while. We need to remember that we are, after all, the ones who have been living in and walking around in these bodies for all of these years. 

We know when something is not quite right. We know what we are talking about. We are not the doctors, but we are an important and necessary part of the treatment team. We have to be our own first primary care doctors, teaming up with our physicians, but not abdicating all of our power, wisdom and knowledge to them.

This is such a vital lesson to keep learning. The trusting of self. The inclusion of the wisdom and voices of that self in any treatment and diagnosis. The ownership of our wisdom and the right to speak it and have it heard. One more gift of aging. It has taken me years to arrive here. 

I am grateful for my doctors and all the wonderful care that they provide. I am grateful for all the advances in medicine, the vaccines, the treatments.

I am also grateful for my own inner physician. Her wisdom, persistence, courage, and voice inside me. I can hear her so much more clearly now. 

Grateful for the New Defense Attorney in My Head

I now have an attorney that can speak to the jury within.

Photo by Robert Linder on Unsplash

I have written about the internal jury in my head before, about learning to fire those that are not welcome or invited. This is still true, the interviewing of jurors that show up that were not sent notices of jury duty.

I now also realize that there is a new addition to the chorus in my head. There is a defense attorney whose voice is becoming more and more powerful and who is taking her place permanantly in this relentless courthouse in my head.

She speaks from a place of understanding and compassion, and she reminds the jury of the circumstances and history that may have contributed to whatever transgression or breaking of rules that this jury wants to judge and punish me for. She speaks of the balance of truth and of including all the facts. 

She speaks eloquently, not attacking the jury or the prosecuting attorney, but rather from the place of realizing their function and the job that they have been trying to do. She speaks eloquently, not attacking the jury or the prosecuting attorney, but rather from the place of realizing the function and job that they have been trying to do. She speaks with understanding and compassion for the jury and how those voices and judgments came to be and how they have been doing their best to try and protect me from any further pain or repetition of the behavior in question. 

 She states that they may, however, have taken their role a bit too far and may have been a bit too quick to judge negatively and to condemn. She does not belittle or berate them for it, realizing how they came to be many years ago from the external judgments that came at me. How they internalized those judgments so that they could beat anyone else to the punch. 

She tells them that they can relax and breathe now. She speaks to them of hearing their voices, and of all of us listening to what the lesson may be that can be learned from whatever behavior is on trial. And she reminds them that learning can happen. Without the harsh judgments and belittlement and attacks. That, in fact, those harsh judgments can actually hinder learning when someone is feeling attacked, not seen or heard for the pain underneath whatever may have happened. 

I welcome this attorney. I welcome the advocacy that I hear. I welcome the compassion and shift in attitude that she brings with her to the trial. I welcome her kindness, balanced with fairness and a willingness to self explore and improve. 

I welcome that part of me that I didn’t know was possible to include in the courtroom. So this is what self care feels like. 

I am grateful. 

Just Right! 

Learning to believe in yourself and who you are

Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

Do you remember the fairy tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? She would try out various items in the house of the bears, and would get to the one that was just right! Not too much, not too little. Just right. 

We get lessons everywhere and in the most interesting ways. I recently had an online connection come to an end, mutually agreed upon by both of us. And it has been a blessing and a gift. 

There can be wonderful gifts in goodbyes. I didn’t realize that for most of my life. I begin to see the truth of that now. That endings are sometimes necessary and absolutely ok. And no one has to be a bad guy in the ending. 

Ah, how I wish I had realized this earlier in my life, with different relationships that I have been in. Relationships where I tried to make myself into something that I am not. Relationships where I tried to deny and push away parts of me. 

This recent online connection was sweet for a while. And then the language and style differences between us became more apparent.

 I speak the language of emotions and affect. It is where I live. It is my native tongue. 

For many years, I condemned this as being wrong somehow. Too feminine. Too hysterical. Too over the top.

I have been told this by others at times, both indirectly and directly. That I am too much, want too much in terms of emotional understanding and response. That I am too sensitive. Too this or too that. Wrong and defective and not good enough. Interesting yes ? To feel judged as both too much and not enough at the same time? With the most harsh judge of all being myself. 

So this online connection that I had was yet another lesson. I did not feel heard or seen enough in responses that I would get to some of my posts on my blog. I also felt that I was given advice at times, and I react strongly to being given advice when I have not asked for it. That does not make the other person bad. It simply makes it very hard for us to connect for very long. 

And it’s ok to acknowledge that and to move on. What a lesson this has been for me. 

I have tried, in more long term and real life, face-to-face relationships in my life, to tone down my wants. To dampen my feelings. To try and numb the emotional parts of me that hungered for more. I would tell myself that I wanted too much and that this was a bad part of me that needed fixing. That I had to learn to shape myself into someone who didn’t need so much, who flexed and quieted those parts of me so that I didn’t feel like I was asking for too much from anyone. Then ending up never feeling satisfied or really seen or heard enough. Condemning myself for it all being my fault.

So, ending this brief online connection because we could not connect, where both of us, perhaps, were not feeling validated, heard or seen adequately, this was a new idea on a gut level for me. To simply say that we were too different and that things were not working. What a concept!

This man gave me the gift of saying that he did not have the time to work on what seemed like very difficult needs on my part. 

In the past, this is where I would have tried to engage even more, without really hearing the truth, his truth, of what he was saying for him and for the connection. 

And this, this is one of the greatest gifts. I realized. I breathed deeply into my feelings around this, deeply enough to find the part of me that completely agreed with him. To realize that I too, did not have the time, or energy, to work on this any further. No extra explanation needed. No extra conversation needed. This was enough for an amicable good bye. 

I am sensitive. I get emotional. I have certain expectations in relationships. Expectations of enough understanding, enough of a connection, enough of a mutual language shared to enable clear enough communication. And that is perfectly ok. I don’t have to judge myself as bad or less or defective for these parts of me. 

And I can choose relationships, even brief online connections, where enough of this language and communication is shared. Where there is space for all to feel heard, understood, and accepted. And sometimes, when that doesn’t happen, it’s ok to say good bye and to wish each other well. No one has to be bad or wrong. It just wasn’t enough to make it work any longer. People are different and we don’t connect with everyone. And we don’t have to.

Such a relief. Such a gift. 

And absolutely and completely just right!

The Safety of Boundaries

The importance of boundaries to feel safe in your own skin, body and life

Photo by Jan Canty on Unsplash

I have not felt safe for the past several days. There are some good reasons for this, as what used to be a very quiet, safe neighborhood is not feeling as safe anymore.

My lovely young neighbors who live just down the road from me and who recently added a new baby boy to their family, experienced some very scary trauma this past week. The woman’s mother, who has been staying with them to help with the baby, took the dog out for a walk the other day. She was in front of a grade school walking their French bulldog when two men jumped out of a car, pushed her onto the sidewalk and attempted to steal the dog. (French bulldogs, I hear, can be sold for quite a price on the internet.)

Fortunately and blessedly, some passers by helped and both she and the dog are physically fine, albeit shaken up and traumatized. 

The next morning this same neighbor woke up to find someone had drilled into the gas tank of his truck in order to steal the gas from it. 

Later that week, I drove down the road to find that all of our mailboxes had been torn open, even though they all have locks. 

I stayed home for several days. It felt like too much too close to home. One violation after another, even though most of them had not happened to me directly. They have even more of an effect on us, I think, when they are close to home and when they happen to someone that we know personally and have come to care about. 

That same week I had heard of several people that I had known, worked with, been acquaintances with, that had all died. All within several days of each other. 

One of the men had gone jogging in the park and was found dead there. The cause of death is still unknown. His partner had dies a month ago. I believe that broken heart syndrome is real.

Another friend’s cousin died in a kayaking accident. 

The third was a nurse who had worked well into her 80’s, retired several years ago, and recently died. Yes, she was older and this was to be expected. Yet it always seems to be a shock to me that someone that I knew and cared about will no longer walk the face of this earth. And it brings my own mortality into sharper focus each time. 

All this sobered me into a quiet space of even more solitude than usual. 

In some ways, being safe is really an illusion. The next moment is never guaranteed. Certainly not in terms of crimes and violence that we hear about all of the time. And not in terms of whenever may be our time to leave this earth.

This illusion of safety becomes more and more apparent to me as I continue on this path of aging. Yes, we can try to live in what may be safer communities and neighborhoods. We can be aware of our surroundings and not take unnecessary risks. And still there are no guarantees, no promises made, even with these choices that we can make. 

I find myself thinking about other kinds of safety as well. Internal safely. Boundaries. 

I come from a family that I experienced as intrusive. Boundaries were not allowed or encouraged. At least not for me, an only child. I struggled with even having a separate sense of self apart from my family, given the enmeshment I now can name and look back on and see. 

Fast forward to becoming an adult, to being in relationships. I had such struggle with feeling a sense of self when in any relationship. And I struggled with setting boundaries. My limits were constantly pushed and tested. I did not feel that I had the right to set them firmly and mean NO when I said NO. I wasn’t even sure at times what and where my boundaries were. I was more focused on pleasing others in order to feel safe. I often wasn’t even aware where my NO even was. 

I am older, and hopefully at least a bit wiser. I have worked on this issue. And I now can feel the strength that was always there, even though I wasn’t aware of it, wasn’t taught that about myself. 

I now know. I can, and do say NO. And I mean it. I am grateful for all the relationships that I have had that continued to teach me these lessons. 

I am so very grateful to have had the time for a while, finally, to live alone and to not be in a primary relationship, by choice. 

I think that for me, this is what it took to finally be able to feel at home within myself. To finally be able to define myself without having to use someone else as something to bump up against so that I would know where I ended and they began. To learn to trust that inner part of me that reacted when something that someone said or did wasn’t feeling ok. Intuition. Messages from my inner gut. 

 This sense of being home within myself brings a quiet peace. A sense of gratitude that this part of me never left me, was only waiting to come out and be claimed. 

I cannot always guarantee what may happen in the world around me, cannot always feel safe. Life is uncertain, especially in these very troubled times. That is the harsh reality. I need to be aware of my surroundings, my environment, where I go and when. 

With the world within me, however, and the world between me and others, I can keep working to claim the right to protect myself, to set my own limits and boundaries. I can be clear with others on what I may or may not accept, what I want, what is not ok with me. I now know that I have the right to do this. Just because. I have the right to protect myself. To say no without having to make an excuse. As someone said, “No is a complete sentence.”

We cannot always set the boundaries adequately in the world around us. We can, however, continue to set them within ourselves and between ourselves and others around us. We have the right. Just because. 

Falling Orchid Petals

Talking lovingly to my orchid plant as it drops its flowers. I can relate.

Photo by Rita Ox on Unsplash

I have an orchid that someone dear to me gave me as a gift about 4 months ago. The very fact that it has maintained its flowers since then is a miracle in and of itself. I have not had the best history with keeping orchids alive.

This one has given me such pleasure with the beauty of its flowers. I talk to it every day (one of the benefits of living alone). And I tell it how beautiful it is and how very lucky and happy I feel to have it living with me.

As of late, the flowers are beginning to droop. Yesterday one dropped off. Today another.

Having a writer’s brain, I see the metaphor in everything. 

I am telling this lovely orchid that she is still beautiful, with her droopy flowers. I tell her that it’s ok to drop them, and that I will keep taking the best care of her that I can. I will follow the instructions on how to care for her in this new current condition. 

I tell her that I love her still. That she is no less beautiful to me, no less of a gift and a blessing. That I am still feeling graced to have her in my home. 

So I also learn to speak to myself. I have my own version of dropping flowers. My skin is thinner, bruises more easily, does not bounce back. It wrinkles. It sags. My own version of petals drooping and dropping.

My mind, though clear, is not as quick as it once was. It forgets things, especially names. But not faces or how that person was to be around, how I felt and feel around them. Not the essence.

My eyes don’t see as well, especially at night. I do my best to compensate and keep going, And I so very much appreciate all the beauty that I can still see all around me. The greenery outside, the birds taking a bath outside my sliding glass door. The trees all around. The smiles of friends and strangers. The ability to write on my laptop and to read what others have written, both electronically and in the form of a book. To read and hear their souls. To write and express mine. 

My ears don’t hear as well. I now wear a hearing aid in one ear. I am grateful to have it. And I pay extra attention to sounds. Birds in the morning. Music that I love. Voices of friends. Music. Fireplaces crackling. Wind blowing gently through the trees. (I think of this as God whispering.) Laughter and the sounds of amazement and awe of the families that visit at the zoo where I volunteer. The sounds of all the animals at that same zoo. Elephants trumpeting. Hyenas, chimps, baboons, lions, gibbons …all expressing their feelings about whatever may be going on at the moment. What a delightful symphony!

My joints don’t move quite the same way as they did before. I feel stiffness after sitting too long. I notice that I don’t bend down the same way or as easily as I did in my younger days. And I am grateful for the movement that I have. For being able to go to the gym and still participate there. For being able to walk, even if more slowly than before. For being able to reach out and touch someone, hug them. For being able to still be functional enough to live alone and do what is needed , and to be able to hire someone for what I cannot do on my own. 

I need more rest at times than I used to. I nap during the day, and those naps are delicious. And I go to bed early, sometimes even able to read for a while before I find that I have dozed off. 

I am grateful for so much. I, like the orchid, had my day when my flowers were glorious and fresh. Now, my orchid and I have a different kind of beauty. A beauty that holds the memory of what was. What may yet be. Of all that we contain. Some others can see. Some not. 

Our flowers and petals may be droopy and dropping. Our spirit and souls are not. We are still so very much alive. And still have so very much to give, to those that can look beyond the flowers. To see the plant beneath. To see the glory of all that it has and still contains. 

Breathing Through the Fear

Sometimes you just have to feel the fear and let it wash over you

Photo by Egor Myznik on Unsplash

I wrote yesterday about keeping a sense of humor about my current situation of having had asbestos exposure in my home, writing about how it takes time for asbestos to get you, how something else may likely get me before then, given my age. All true.

The fear that this brings up is also true. Feelings come in waves. The wave this morning is one of fear. 

I love life, with all of its bittersweet moments and ups and downs. And, although I know that I will die, I’m not wanting to hurry this along at all. So when realities happen that our bodies face, realities that can cause illnesses and breakdown, (in addition to the aging process that is already going on, ) then my constant companion in this life of fear comes back into the foreground.

I say constant companion because I have carried anxiety for all of my life. I have pushed through it to carry on, and acknowledge that it is still there with me. I can point out where I learned this, but the fact is that it is here with me. And this morning it is truly sitting right beside me with its warnings, dreads, and whisperings of looming possible catastrophe.

So here we sit, my fear and I. I am afraid of this likely asbestos exposure that is now an issue, given that the furnace inspection person found a partially open duct that does indeed have asbestos. My house is older, built in 1955, when this was used in houses. Great for fireproofing. Not so great for human lungs.

I have no symptoms, but have been strongly encouraged by several friends to notify my primary care doctor about this recent situation, in order for her to suggest any tests that she may think are necessary. 

I emailed my doctor this morning. Funny how that makes this all more real, makes it harder to for me to deny and to push it into the background. It’s real, this whole asbestos thing. It has happened. I can’t deny it at the moment. I can’t push it out of my awareness at this moment. And I feel fear. How human. How vulnerable. How very real and present and in the moment. And how this moment is not one of my favorite ones.

Things happen in life. People get a diagnosis that changes everything in the blink of an eye. Accidents happen that change everything for someone and their family. People end up in the wrong place at the wrong time and life turns upside down. Shit happens. Life happens. 

Having worked in a county nursing home where I would work with patients as young as 18 who were now quadriplegic due to gunshots, I have seen human tragedy up close and personal. I have also seen the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of these unspeakable tragedies. I was, and still am, in awe of the courage and spirit that I got to witness. 

Since I retired from this intense, demanding and rewarding work several years ago, I have truly begun to find my Voice. Both in written word and in art. The Self that was there so long ago , the one that had to submerge due to work and life’s demands, has emerged again. I have been so very grateful and humbled by this. Such joy and beauty.

Today I feel the other side of life, of random things that occur, of life being itself and things happening. I feel deep fear. And awareness on a different level of how brief our time on earth really is. How quickly it can change and be taken away. How precious each moment is. How precious each breath is. I am particularly aware of the preciousness of breath at this moment. Inhaling and exhaling. Something that we can so easily take for granted. 

So I must, and do, acknowledge this fear. Accept that this is part of the whole messy process of life. Accept that things happen that we truly have no control over and that we carry on as best as we can. 

And sometimes we simply have to stop and feel the fear. Then breathe, and take the next step, when we can. Carrying on while we can and while we are alive. 

Yes, I’m scared. Humbled. And still alive, still here, still going to write, paint, and feel it all. Feel. It. All. And still live while I can, with gratitude.

Dodging Bullets

Bullets of mortality coming toward us increase as we age, until the one with our name on it arrives

Photo by Velizar Ivanov on Unsplash

I laughingly tell my friends that we keep dodging bullets as we age until the one with our name on it comes for us.

That’s what if feels like to me. Whenever our time to go and whatever the way we go is (the bullet with our name on it), we have to accept that this is coming.

This is easier to think about when I haven’t heard a bullet whizzing by head, feeling too close for comfort.

I had a scare when I was turning 50, which is 19 years ago. (Where did those years go?) 

I experienced some tingling and numbness on my left side. Multiple MRI’s, a spinal tap, various other ongoing medical tests and we had a result. My neurologist, a lovely man who I will be ever grateful for, showed me the results of an MRI. There was a spot on my brain, a lesion. Of unknown origin. Was it a brain tumor? Something else?

 We would wait for 3 months to see if it grew and acted like a tumor. If it was a tumor, I was told it was in an inoperable area of the brain.

I don’t have to tell you that these were the three longest months of my life, as I waited for the next MRI. I turned 50 during those three months. Not the happiest birthday that I ever had. I was definitely present and awake, I can say that. 

Fast forward three months and the next MRI. The lesion had actually shrunk. Great news! 

The eventual working diagnosis was migraine, that could cause spots on an MRI. Who knew?

I was, and still am, so grateful. 

And here I am at 69. 

Today I had the annual heater inspection happen. Something that I have done annually since I replaced the old heater system in my house three years ago.

They found a duct that had become disconnected. A duct that they could not touch, as it had asbestos. (My house is old, built in 1955). I was surprised that this had not been seen or mentioned before by all the inspections prior to purchasing the house, and with prior heater inspections.

The next step? Having a senior tech come to my house tomorrow to give me a more accurate estimate of what the solution will cost. (The young tech that was here today didn’t have the experience or knowledge to be able to do this.) 

What will this involve? First off, the Hazmat team, in all their protective garb, will have to come to remove the asbestos from all the ducts, including those under my house. Then the heating company can replace all the ducts. All. The. Ducts. 

The expense is something that I dread hearing about. And even more, the thought of the asbestos and wondering how much of that I may have inhaled and taken in. I briefly looked up asbestos poisoning. Not pretty. 

So here I am this evening. Sobered by this. Thinking about the bullets that I have joked about before. Thinking about life and how something gets each of us in the end. This is a bullet that is one of the potential ones with my name on it. Maybe later, maybe sooner, maybe not at all. Maybe another one will appear sooner. 

Once again, aging brings one of its gifts, its messages. Our time here is limited. We will die. We will succumb to something eventually. We don’t know, for the most part, what it will be. Some of us get to know sooner, with a diagnosis and the potential prognosis that it brings. Some of us get more surprised. Some of us get warning shots, reminders.

So, the lesson? The gift? To take the best care of ourselves that we can, with what we can. To realize that we are mortal. To remember that each day is a gift, that nothing is guaranteed. That we are lucky to wake up each day, to live another day. To ask ourselves whether we are doing what we want with each precious day that we are blessed enough to have. To live each hour, each day as fully as we can. To be aware of impending mortality, yet not paralyzed by the fear of it.

We don’t know when our bullet will come. And we can live up until the moment that it arrives.