The Resiliency of the Human Spirit

I am in awe today of the resiliency of the human spirit. I listen to what people have gone through or are experiencing right now, and yet – they are still living, still striving to make sense of things, still wanting and trying and hoping and if not moving forward, at least working to not move too far backwards.

I know that so many have struggled with so much this past year and a half. This pandemic has taken a toll. Yet I see families getting back together, emerging from the isolation and from the hiding and now smiling and laughing and reaching out to hold and hug each other. That spirit to live and love has not died. Not by a long shot.

And I see in myself my own process of grieving this past year. I live alone, have no family that I am in contact with, and so my furry companions become my family. I am so very grateful for them. This past year, I have had the painful experience of losing three kitties. Two were 17 years old and had been with me since they were kittens, and the third was a 12 year old kitty that I adopted when her owner died. I thought we were both grieving at that time and could perhaps bring each other some comfort. She became very ill, and after many visits to many vets, I lost her after 4 months. My heart was broken again. I retreated from the world for the most part. I simply let myself go deeply into the grief, not being sure that I could find my way out at times, yet believing that I would at some point get through enough of the grief to be able to feel like I could breathe again and start to rejoin life.

So here I am. I am deeply sad and missing my sweet furry companions. I am not ready to bring another pet into my home yet….I need some time to re-center and find my inner home again.

I find that I have been wanting to paint again and have been doing that for several days. There is something very healing about the time that I spend painting….I lose all sense of time and am completely in the moment. I am working on a painting of a stag that has come to visit me on the back of my property each and every time that I lost a kitty. I need to paint this stag – he has been a special visitor and I want to honor that and honor the visits. Something felt very special and almost sacred about them, about him.

I wrote in my journal today after not having done so for some time. And I am writing this post for my blog, to reconnect with myself, and with any who may read what I have to write. I’m glad that you are here.

We are amazing, we humans. We live, we age, and we lose….more and more as we age, I find. As I have written before, grief becomes a more frequent companion as time marches on….We lose dear ones – family, friends. We lose our definition of who we were as an employee once we retire. We lose the social structure that work may have brought us and we have to redefine ourselves. We lose relationships. We lose some of our physical functioning…..we perhaps move more slowly, may not hear or see as well, and many other age related changes. And yet, we persevere and we live. We live.

I am still here. I have lost pieces of my heart, both human and the furry kind. I have lost pieces of myself over the years, and yet I find that I discover deeper pieces that have been there all along, but that I may have been too busy or distracted to attend to or listen to. I may be older, but I am still very much here and very much alive. Perhaps I define being alive differently now – defined more by all the internal dances and emotions and stories….and perhaps more by each encounter with another being that I now can attend to more deeply and with more time. To really see. To really hear. To really experience. To really cherish each moment….

Each moment becomes more precious to me as I sense that there are fewer of them ahead of me than behind me. But, that does not rush me into a frenzy of action with pressure to do more and accomplish more. Rather, it quiets me and helps me to be more still….and to be more able to notice life around me and life within me. To get to know, once again, the spirit and soul that I have always been, but not always focused on. I am grateful to have reached this stage of my life. And I want to live each moment that I may have left with that awareness and gratitude as much as I can. To breathe into each moment. Pain, grief, sorrow and joy, happiness, peace …..all are part of the canvas of my life. I want to welcome them all and feel them all. This is what being alive is, after all. The will to live is strong. The resiliency is deep, until we reach our own individual time to go. But let us not go before our time. Let us embrace each moment, let us embrace each feeling (even the bitterly painful ones) – let us live while we are here. I appreciate being able to write this and to any of you who may take the time to read what I write. Thank you You are also part of the canvas of my life.

The heavy emptiness of grief…

I am here once again with my ever frequent companion of grief. It’s a heavy feeling, yet there is an emptiness in that heaviness….to yet another loss. My heart truly aches. My soul aches. I don’t understand death.

If you have read any of my previous posts (and thank you, if you have) you will have already read that I lost two kitties last year….both 17 years old…within 6 months of each other. Then this past January, even though I had not thought I would get another kitty or pet for a while, I adopted a 12 year old kitty named Squeaky whose owner had died and who needed a new home. I thought since we were both grieving, we may be able to offer each other some comfort. I live alone, and an animal companion offers me such solace, comfort, and a sense of not being alone in this world. We had a bumpy start – she was terrified and would hide up high in my closets (I would even feed her there just to make sure that she was eating) until she got more comfortable and came down to explore.

And then she got sick. Very sick. A multitude of medical problems that would be long term and very difficult….for both of us. The very kind vet at the emergency clinic talked me through this, and so this past Monday night …(driving to the clinic at midnight after getting yet another call from the vet about Squeaky’s condition not getting any better…. the fateful drive that no one wants to make happened…) we “put her down”. (I find that an interesting term to use for the process of ending her life, but that will most likely be another blog down the road). I held her, I talked with her, I petted her, I thanked her, I poured all the love that I could into her …..and I let her go. And the pain is so very deep.

I have quarantined myself yet again (not for any pandemic this time, but for my own personal need to isolate) and am deep in the grief process. I miss her so very much. To lose three kitties in one year is excruciating. I don’t want to compare my grief to others’ pain (and I know so many people have had such deep grief this past year) as I don’t want to minimize this. Loss of a pet (our furry companions are so much more than that) is very real and needs to be honored and respected as its own very unique form of grief. I am inconsolable at times, and I let the tears flow. I talk to her, should her spirit be around. I told her to go find her original mom and dad, and to go be with them. I knew that I could never take the place of them, but Squeaky and I grew to love each other, I think, in our brief time together. I firmly believe that her grief and loss was too deep for her to recover from. I believe this about my second kitty who died 6 months after his companion died – his health had been fine until the loss.. he was so sad and so missing his 17 year lifelong friend.

I wish I could offer words of wisdom here, but at the moment, all I can offer is my truth – my pain and grief and deep, deep sadness. This is where I am today. And it is where I need to be. I know that this will pass, and I will reach a different place inside me (although I know that I will always miss my furry friends and always hold them in my heart). I am not there yet. And I don’t need to rush to get there. I think that this is something that I am learning – that I need to be where I am right now, to feel what I do right now, to honor and respect the process and whatever time it may take, and to simply breathe my way through this. To befriend grief yet again….and say, “Sit down, here, beside me. I see you. I feel you. I accept you. I am listening. Teach me what you will.”

Still lost…..still alive…..still breathing….

I haven’t written much for a while, and I miss it. I stop myself and I don’t really know why. Some may be the self questioning of my words and what I may have to say…..some may be that it can be hard to write from a dark place (where I feel that I have been for a while now). So I distract myself….with tv, with food, with games on my phone (a friend introduced me to Words with Friends and I have become somewhat addicted…) I continue to navigate retirement (I cannot believe that his has been a year since I retired!) People ask how I like retirement….what I have been doing. Oh, the eternal pressure (within) to somehow validate my existence and prove my worth by doing….

The pandemic has allowed more quiet time (which is not uncomfortable or unfamiliar to me) and less expectations of being the happy, traveling, fun filled retiree…..

I am grateful to be retired. It was time to leave that job. I gave enough…..having been a social worker as my career. I do not regret it for a moment, but I am done with that.

So, who am I now? I like to write – and hope that this becomes more a part of my life as I continue on this path. Because I have things inside that I need to express. I like to paint, and recently started a new painting and am grateful to have begun that. I was taking voice lessons for fun, but stopped that for a while dealing with a sick kitty and many visits to the vet. We still don’t know exactly what is going on with her, but I also realize that I need to keep living my life. So I will start singing again.

That perhaps this is yet another lesson of aging – to keep living one’s life even with all the challenges and setbacks …..including age related changes in ourselves. I go to the gym, but now my goal is to keep flexible and functional as long as I can ….very different than the goal of my younger days to look fit and attractive. It’s not that I don’t still wish for that in some ways, but I am more realistic and hopefully wiser these days. At least I like to think that I am. My hearing is not what it used to be. I will need to deal with this. It’s so interesting to remember saying at times that I was tired of listening to people all the time. Be careful what we say to ourselves…. I find myself not wanting to drive at night as much, as it is a bit more difficult for me to see then. How much do we push ourselves to keep doing things and how much do we adjust and find new ways to keep going……I don’t know the answer to that, but will keep working on that with each new issue.

And yet, there is still much life and passion within me. I want to honor that, even if it is expressed differently than before. I am still here. I am still alive. And I have the “me” from all the ages that I have been still deep inside me. They don’t go away, they simply make room for each new facet as the years continue to go by. The team meetings within grow larger with more members each year.

We , each of us, have so many stories within us. I want to hear the life stories of others on the path with me. I want to keep sharing my own story. And so here I am, with gratitude, writing. – even if lost and not knowing where I am going – but still writing and expressing and feeling and living. I am still here – I am still alive.

Elephant lessons

I am very lucky to be able to volunteer at our local zoo I am on the Behavior Observation Team….We track behaviors to make sure the animals are doing well and if there is anything unusual or different going on that needs to be attended to. I observe the elephants. These big, beautiful, sacred creatures. We have three elephants at our zoo – we had four but sadly one of them died over a year ago. We all feel the grief still. So we have two females and one male. I get to observe them all, depending on which elephants are on the exhibit at the time . Our male can sometimes, in his youthful exuberance, be frightening or annoying to the females – so they are on the exhibit at different times.. But they can touch each other and interact across at the fence, which is lovely to behold. Elephants can greet each other by putting their trunk in each other’s mouth as a way of saying hello. I feel in awe of these animals. They have a majestic quality to them, and we can learn much from them. They are huge and wrinkled and saggy – and yet are loved by so many who come to see them and call them beautiful and amazing. They are themselves, and do not pretend to be anything that they are not. They eat, play, sleep, rest, and do whatever they are called to do at the moment. With no apologies needed. And we are mesmerized by them. My shift is for two hours, and it goes by so quickly. I am amazed at how the average time spent at each exhibit by guests is two minutes. Two minutes. I feel that I am only beginning to know them and I have been doing this for about 7 years now.

I show up for my shift…in whatever state that I may be in at the moment. As of late, my mood has been one of sadness and grief about several losses that I have had….and also about a sick kitty (an older kitty who I adopted in January after her owner died) I had lost my two 17 year old kitties recently, so I thought we could grieve together and offer each other some comfort. I don’t know if she will recover from this. I may face yet another loss. She also teaches me about resiliency, the spirit to live, the drive to survive. And how unique each of us is. She cannot be like my previous kitties. I cannot be like her previous owner.

And I start my shift at the zoo….watching, observing,, recording. I soon become lost in their world. The present moment and what is in front of them, and me, right now. All else fades for a bit, and we are in a meditation together. I like to think that they now know me and recognize me……who knows? For moments, I forget all else except being with them in their world. I feel blessed to be so honored as to witness a life being lived moment by moment…with beings that share this earth with us….that we, as humans, have abused (killing them for their ivory tusks.. …training them to do silly tricks for a circus (thank God, no longer)…riding them and training them to be ridden …most of the time the training is not kind). And yet….they go on. They go on and live their lives. They carry on. Majestically. Sacredly, Beautifully, I have come to love them deeply. How can you not fall in love with someone you observe for hours and hours?

I am humbled by them. Maybe I can learn to love myself ….saggy, wrinkled, and less than what our society deems as perfect. Maybe I can let go of some of my worries for a while and simply be. Maybe I can just breathe and live and claim my space on this earth. No more, no less. Maybe, just maybe, I can be myself. And that can be enough……Maybe…..

Writing from within the darkness

I am deep in the process of grief yet again. I still mourn my two kitties who died within 6 months of each other and right after I retired….when I had hoped to spend more time with them as we all aged together (they were 17 years old and had been with me since they were kittens). I don’t talk about this too much to those who don’t have pets or perhaps don’t understand the connection that we have with our animal companions. But, for those that do understand, you know what I am writing about here.

I miss their furry little bodies next to me during the night….the purring that brought me such comfort, the warm body that I could reach out and touch…..life touching life, connecting heart to heart.. I live alone, have no family – so, and especially during this time of the pandemic, these fur babies have been my family, my lifeline. I miss them more than words can adequately describe. I have previously written about feeling lost during this time of my life, and this remains true still.

I adopted an older kitty whose previous owner died (in January). And now this kitty is not well. I am working with the vets (and so is my checkbook) to try and find out what is wrong. No answers yet. She seems sad to me. I live alone, and perhaps she needs more activity and people around her, since her previous owner had caregivers coming and going and providing activity and interaction. Perhaps the grief is too much for her. I firmly believe that my second kitty’s death was from the deep grief of losing his lifelong companion, which left him open to the cancer that invaded his liver and finally took him. Perhaps this little kitty cannot cope with the loss she has sustained. Perhaps I cannot comfort her adequately.

I wanted to write from the light as I worked my way through this darkness. But I really don’t know when that will happen. It’s not happening now. And so I write from the darkness. From the deep sadness and loss and the hole in my heart. I don’t know what to do. Maybe there is nothing to do, but to keep walking through this until I get to whatever the other side is. Maybe there is no other side, but only a learning to live with this grief as a more frequent companion as I continue to age, and ask what I can learn from it. What I can learn to help me keep living intentionally and consciously and fully.. It hurts. I hurt. That is part of life. It is not all of life, and I believe that there is still joy and light and love….but right now, I need to acknowledge that dark place and give it its due respect and space. And so, grief, I am here. Teach me what you will. I am here with you.

Lost….a step toward finding myself yet again?

I have felt lost in the world as of late. I have not been writing as much, have not felt focused, have wondered about my purpose, life in general, everything. I don’t have an answer to what causes this, really. I can make some guesses….the state that the world has been in, the aftermath of retiring and trying to redefine myself, the ageism I feel (most frighteningly within myself at times – the questioning the worth of anything that I might have to offer and even questioning my own worth in this world at times.) It’s a difficult part of the road to have to navigate.

My belief has always been that in order to grow through to the next step, we have to face whatever is going on right now directly and walk through it. Easier said than done. How does one walk through what feels like quicksand with no sense of direction? I have always been directionally challenged, but this particular form of it comes with no GPS, unfortunately.

I have loved writing, but have difficulty sitting down to do that – wondering what the purpose is or if anyone will even want to read anything that I write? I enjoy painting, but then wonder if my paintings will just end up in the garbage when I am dead and gone. And even though I enjoy taking singing lessons just for fun, I find myself wondering why I am doing that or if I am being silly and foolish. Oh, these negative voices within are a formidable enemy.

So, how to befriend those voices and work with them….To hear the fear, sadness, loneliness, depression, feelings of invisibility and aloneness (even though I am one who craves and thrives on solitude – the pandemic has pushed those edges…even for me). To have the courage to hear and speak with those voices and feelings so that I can address the feelings underneath and yet keep moving forward.

I thought that the book that I wanted to write was about the experience of women aging. But, as I ponder this more after talking with a book coach (I signed up for a few sessions with a book coach to see what help I could get) and hearing the feedback that she felt that the book was about much more than that – that it will include that piece for sure- but that there is more to it…..so, as I think about this, I begin to have some thoughts….

Thoughts like …..the book may be about what I am experiencing and feeling more at this stage of my life. How do we, when we no longer have the distractions of work and goals of accumulating….how do we live as we now more directly face and look into the face of our own mortality and eventual (now closer as we age) death? How do we live knowing that we will die? I have no children (by choice), so I don’t really have anyone to remember me…..but even with children, I don’t really remember my great grandparents….so generations later what will be remembered by anyone? Does that matter? Or does it matter more how I live my life now ? Is it to simply experience what is happening right now, do what good that I can (because that is a value of mine) with what I have, and enjoy what I can (because I do believe that life should be enjoyed)…? To write and paint and sing because it feels good to do those things? To go for walks outdoors. To take drives to be out in nature? To keep living consciously and intentionally. To cherish each meaningful contact with someone? To cherish even the pain of the consciousness of eventual death …to allow that to help me appreciate each moment of life even more?

Maybe….being lost can be a good thing?

A dose of vaccine – a dose of poignant reality

I got my first COVID vaccine this week. I am grateful.

There are lessons and messages everywhere these days, or perhaps I am simply more open to receiving them. I looked around at all of us receiving the vaccine ….the looks of fear, relief, hope, fatigue at all that we have gone through. A strange bond and connection among strangers. This I expected, in a way.

What I did not expect was the dose of reality that came with it. I looked around at all of us, and was struck at how this was a group of older people, over 65, receiving the dose. And I was struck that I am now among them. I do not feel 67 on the inside, but clearly I am that age. I did not feel a part of this group. Is that denial of my age? Is it that I do not feel the same age on the inside as on the outside, as what my driver’s license states? As the lines and changes in my body remind me of at times? How did I get here? Where did all those years go? I remember my father jokingly saying “Who is that old man in the mirror?” I now understand much more what he was saying.

It is a strange feeling. An almost unreal feeling. I struck up a brief conversation with the woman behind me in line waiting at the hospital for our vaccines (6 feet apart, of course). I was amused and a bit chagrined and saddened to hear her quickly tell me that she was waiting in line for her elderly parents….as if to make sure that I knew that she was not yet old enough to be in this line, to be included in this group. As if this would be a shameful thing?

What an interesting time of life. I feel in some ways more alive than ever, as I get closer to the end of my time, whenever that may be. I feel more grateful for each moment, for each feeling (some are more fun than others….), for each breath, for each day that I get to be alive. I cry much more easily these days, feel more sensitive to everything around me. I am grateful for that as well, as feelings are such a gift that being alive gives us. I feel sadness at losses (and they come quicker these days – losing friends, family, pets….) I feel sadness at the loss of my youth, of my delight and anticipation of the future. And yet, and yet….I feel such connection to the earth, to all that is around me. I feel such depth inside me, such intensity of experience, such sweetness of memories and appreciation for new ones created still.

I have been taking voice lessons since my retirement. I want to learn to better express my voice….spoken, written, and sung. The latest song that my voice teacher has begun working on with me today is “Autumn Leaves”. I told her that I would probably be moved to tears by and during this song. Her response – that this was a great thing and to be cherished and allowed. Indeed. Indeed we can cherish the autumn leaves as they fall….with their glorious colors. We, too, have glorious colors in our own autumn. I want to embrace this time and let my colors glow…..until it is time to let go. But, for now, I am still here….still glowing….still alive….With things to say, stories to write, and songs to sing.

When to accept, when to defy….

I am thinking these days of all the various aspects of aging. There are parts that we cannot help, that are part and parcel of changes that aging brings. Changes in our bodies, in our memories, in our senses. There are losses – of parts of ourselves, of friends, of family, of partners. And more losses as time goes by. Losses of singers and movie stars and people that we grew up with. Losses of what and who we have known the world to be. And the changes go by so quickly. So very quickly.

And yet, there is something that I notice can be attached to these changes that I need to really look at and tease apart. They are somehow attached to each other automatically and yet need to be questioned…

I am retired from the career where I spent such a huge amount of my time and life. I am not, however, retired from life.

I am older and my body is not what it was. My body is not, however, ready to call it a day in any way. I still want to move, to be active, to be passionate, to be so very alive. I still love to walk, even though I need to map out my hikes in terms of where the restrooms are all located..! (I now know at least one reason as to why they are referred to as the “golden years”!)

I forget names and sometimes why I walked into a room, or perhaps the thing that I was just going to say. My friends and I laugh about this. I do not forget, however, who I am and what I believe and stand for, and what I value and believe in. I do not forget how I got to where I am and all the lessons along the way – some of which I can share in hopes of helping someone else along the way. If they will listen.

I feel losses more deeply, I think, and appreciate each moment more, even if more of those moments may hold sadness. Sadness, although uncomfortable, is also a gift. The gift that reminds us of our humanity and capacity to feel, to understand, to resonate deeply within ourselves and then also with others. And I also feel those moments of gratitude and happiness more deeply as well, having more of a sense that these moments are numbered and that I have less of the road ahead of me than that which I have already traveled.

I cannot defy aging and the changes that come along with it. I can, however, defy the messages that get attached that may not be true and that serve to quiet and deaden us before our time. I am still alive. I am still here.

The Gifts of Aging

Here we are in a new year……2021. I write those numbers amazed at how quickly the years have gone by. How quickly my own years have gone by.

How did I get to be this old? When did that happen? I remember my father looking in the mirror and asking, only half in jest, “who is that old man in the mirror?” I now understand what he meant. The mirror does not reflect what I feel inside, who I see when I look inside myself. And yet…the mirror shows me the signs of time passing. I can still see who I was, but it is interesting that others don’t recognize her when I may show them pictures of my younger self. How can they not see it is the same person, that it is me that they are looking at? Our bodies change, our internal image….not so much. My body has spread, sagged, grown wrinkles, and slowed down some. My memory is not as sharp, nor is my vision or hearing. I can get overwhelmed by all the new technology and am thrilled when I actually learn new things, figure them out, and use them (though slowly, I must admit).

And yet, I am grateful for the gifts that this changing package can bring. I feel a bit more wisdom (at least most days) and more patience and understanding that things take time, that I cannot control them, and that there is grace in letting go and surrender. I can so enjoy a moment in time appreciating a brief contact and smile with a total stranger, a moment watching a bird enthusiastically splashing while taking a bath, the sound of the rain coming down on the roof and how that soothes me, the sound of a friend’s voice and the love that I can hear in it… a moment of contact with a new, also older, furry being that lives with me and the joy of momentarily breaking through this kitty’s fear of a new place and a new person to live with (her owner died, my two 17 year old kitties recently died. We are in grief both separately and together). I seem somehow to be better able to be more present in each moment. This, of course, also includes the moments of pain that life brings. And aging brings more of these moments of loss and the grief that accompanies the losses. It also brings a much deeper and slower appreciation for all that is ….even the moments of pain are gifts that remind us of our hearts and our ability to love deeply….

And now, there are so many moments filled with so many emotions. A raging pandemic that has taken so many lives. Civil unrest pointing out years of abuse. A divided nation that has much healing to do. And a new president, who at 78 years of age, is facing these huge challenges. There is an appeal to his age, to his experience, his wisdom, his having survived so much pain in his own life and thus able to hear it in others. We are somehow at times pushed aside as we age, considered no longer as capable of doing a job. Yet, here we have an older president who has taken on a challenge that many would not dare to attempt….to unify and heal and try to bring us back together as a nation and a world. I wish him Godspeed. I wish that for us all….as we all navigate this life both individually in our own unique journeys and also together in this roller coaster ride of being human.

Squeaky lessons

Life is humbling…and my most recent lessons in humility come from an 11 year old kitty named Squeaky.

I have lost my two 17 year old kitties recently and have been deeply in grief. No way did I think I would be ready to adopt another kitty for quite some time. Then I was told about this kitty named Squeaky (I cannot say her name without smiling). Squeaky’s human recently died, and the daughter of this woman who passed away was unable to take Squeaky in. So…..what serendipity, yes? I was grieving….Squeaky was grieving…..maybe we could comfort each other…?

And so last week Squeaky came to my home. And she has been terrified, hiding up on the top shelf of my bedroom closet most of the time, crouching around,……a scared, sad, abandoned kitty ( I am only imagining that she feels abandoned ….being in a new home with a strange new person).

Her fear and sadness and my inability to quickly comfort her have brought me to tears.

And yet, here we are. She comes out for a while now (I have to help her down from the closet shelf as she seems able to get up there on her own but not down). She quickly retreats to the closet when I have to do anything else and not pay complete attention to her….I think that her previous human must have been bedbound for a while and thus always available). She is eating and uses the litter box (this last one would have been a major issue if she was unable to do that). And….last night….she jumped up and slept on the bed with me for at least part of the night. And purred.

Squeaky will take her time with this, and I must be patient as we both continue to work on this new arrangement and life together. Grief and fear and adjustment take their own time and will not be rushed. My own grief is the same, as I still feel such intense sadness about my two kitties, who have been my family for 17 plus years. So we are both grieving – sometimes separately in our own corners…sometimes able to be together briefly and connect and touch.

Each feeling takes its own time. Each grief journey takes its own time. Each life lesson will unfold in its own time. I am humbled by this. I must be patient, and let go of trying to control anything about this. I don’t know if this will work out with Squeaky and me….. it’s too soon to tell. All I know is that there is a new furry being in my home that I can do my best to be available for. Maybe I can try to remember that about each of life’s challenges and lessons….to be kind, to be patient, to do my best, and to wait and see what happens. Maybe each of us can remember to treat ourselves that way……we each have a Squeaky inside us whenever we face something new or difficult or painful and we need to be gentle with ourselves. Life can be hard. And we don’t need to add to that difficulty with any rules or timeframes for ourselves and how we handle things. Maybe we can just be kind….especially to ourselves.