Accepting the Reality of Aging Parents

My 86-year-old father has arthritis in his back so badly that he cannot stand up straight. When I visited him this past weekend his back was more bent over than ever. And it had only been three weeks since my last visit.

The significance of the issues with my father’s back first came to my radar when my now husband, Dean and I took my father and mother to a rustic Northern California coastal resort to celebrate his 80th birthday, over 6 years ago. It was mid-January, and we were blessed to have seaside temperatures in the sunny 70s, when a bank of fog and wind would typically cool the weather into the 50s. I felt that our time together had been given a gift.

Recognizing the Pain

After we checked in to the hotel, we walked our luggage up the stairs from the open-air lobby to our second-floor rooms.  This became my first experience in recognizing that my father was beginning to struggle with his physical condition. He was struggling to climb the stairs that would lead us to our rooms. My father’s gestures showed that he was frustrated by these challenges. The rest of us didn’t bring any attention to it.

Once we all got to our adjacent rooms, we had a wonderful time being together. We chatted about lots of different topics, something that visits with the responsibilities of home didn’t come as easily.

Yet at the time I didn’t fully apprehend the reality of what was taking place. It was too new to me. We were moving into a new phase.

Dean and I got married nine months later.  Throughout the course of our reception, I observed my father in a visible state of physical pain. It was the first time I’d seen him use a cane in public. As much as I know he loved me and his then new son-in-law, his physical pain that day had overridden his joy.

Empathy of Pain

My latest visit with my parents enabled me to recognize once again that my father is living in a state of chronic pain. His quality of life is clearly not good, and my mother lovingly bears the burden of caretaker. She admits that she is exhausted all the time taking care of my father and all the household needs. My father doesn’t complain, yet it’s clear from his disposition that he is not happy about the limitations of his physical condition.

A Turning Point

I now recognize that this is a challenge for my family that isn’t going away. I cannot turn my head, hoping it will go away.  I need to put energy towards educating myself to help my parents get through the health issues ahead of them. While I clearly need to be a greater physical presence in their lives, I need to develop a fuller plan.

Last night on the phone I told my mother that I recognized how much she did and acknowledged that she needed help. She told me that it was her job and that she would let me know when she needed help. She’s never been one to have household help. The gardener who has mowed their lawn over the last decade has been the extent of their outside help.

What to Do Now

I’ve committed to spend more time with my parents to not only support them, but to get a better picture of what’s going on with them. From that will come the discovery of what their insurance covers and all of that stuff. My parents walked me through this some 15 years ago, a time where I felt the need to know was so far in the future that I didn’t take good notes.

I’ve got to step up to the plate now.

Any insights you can offer on your own experiences would be great.

Losing My Dependency on the Gym

Last Saturday morning I woke up at 7:25 without an alarm feeling no pressing need to meet any early morning commitment. As I took joy in the opportunity to linger in bed, I acknowledged the freedom that the COVID-19 pandemic had provided in releasing me of my dependency on the gym.

I signed up for my first gym membership when I was 31. That was 30 years ago. Working out has been a top priority my entire adult life. I was overweight in my youth and I attribute my values towards fitness to that experience and its impact on the self-esteem I felt lost when I didn’t feel good about myself.

The Gym Shutdown

As a gym goer, I would literally design my life schedule around the fitness classes I wanted to attend. I never thought this was ideal, but it was what it was.

My last visit to the gym was Friday, March 13, 2020. After my workout I had an exchange with a young woman in the locker room who attended the Tuesday evening core class that I took. She was flying to Las Vegas to spend the weekend with her boyfriend. She acknowledged the COVID-19 concerns that were becoming more pronounced, but she decided to go anyway. I completely understood.

The following Monday morning I received an email from the gym announcing that the facility was shutting down temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I wasn’t surprised, yet I freaked out from this news. I wondered how I was going to be able to maintain my fitness goals without the gym. Even in Northern California the weather wasn’t inviting enough to look forward to a walk in the hills around my home.

My New Fitness Beginning

The following day I dived into spin bike research mode on Amazon. California was ahead of the lock-down curve in the United States, so time was on my side with regards to inventory. The spin bike I ordered was delivered on Friday, March 20th. My husband Dean and I worked together to assemble the bike, which made its maiden voyage that weekend.

The bike has a holder which cradles my iPad and a bar where I lodge my phone to track the time.  At first, I would watch spin classes on YouTube and then it occurred to me that I could consume any kind of content while I was spinning. I’ve read books, caught up on the news, checked the weather forecasts, and watched many interesting interviews and motivational videos while on that bike. It has become a routine I relish between 20 and 45 minutes six mornings a week.

A few weeks into my home workout regime I realized that my 2.5- and 5-pound dumbbells were no longer challenging enough so the hunt began for heavier weights. I would search online over the course of weeks to find a set, but inventory was nowhere to be found. Some two months later Dean came home with a pair of 8 pounders for me that he discovered while shopping at the big discount retail store in our city. A few weeks later I finally scored a pair of 10-pound dumbbells online.

When I was going to the gym the heaviest weights I would take on were 6 pounds. For shoulder work I would go for 4 or 5 pounds. Most of my lifting now is at 10 pounds and 8 for shoulder work. I can now pretty easily hoist a 35-pack of 16-ounce water bottles into a shopping cart.

In the Rear-View Mirror

I got an email from the gym I belonged to a few months ago inviting me to reinstate my membership. The decision was a no-brainer. I had managed to become stronger physically on my own. I discovered that I could do whatever workout I wanted on my own schedule. I feel like I took my life back while saving the cost of the membership.

As I look at this decision now from a place further in the rear-view mirror, I recognize that COVID-19 enabled me to shed a piece of my persona that I came to discover no longer fit. I no longer needed to associate being fit with belonging to a gym.

It has been a great revelation to discover that I can be great on my own.

A Father’s Day Gift in Words

Last weekend I shared my first real meal with my parents since the COVID-19 outbreak fifteen months ago. It was a Mediterranean takeout lunch that we shared at the kitchen table which has been the hearth of my family for nearly six decades. We were celebrating Father’s Day.

Until then my visits with my mom and dad were limited to facial mask outdoor visits, and depending on the weather, sometimes separated by a screened window. As we gathered this Father’s Day all fully vaccinated, it felt like a return to normal. I hugged and kissed my mother and father, who are 84 and 86, respectively.

So Grateful for the Love

I have been blessed to have shared many great memories with them throughout my adult life. They supported me through divorce and have always been there for me when I needed anything. We shared some great adventures when they visited me during the ten years that I lived in the New England region of the United States. We have had our ups and downs over the years, for sure, but I have always felt deeply loved. And it warms my heart when I hear my parents say that they love my now husband like a son.

My dad spent his career as a longshoreman working on the docks in San Francisco and Oakland. He came across as a tough guy with a vocabulary filled with colorful words. Growing up I would often hold my breath when my high school friends were over, hoping my dad would keep his words clean. Over the last 20 years he has mellowed into a very gentle loving man .

When I greeted him on Father’s Day, he was reclining in his favorite chair in the family room. I bent over to kiss his face and saw tears in his eyes. “I love you” was the very first thing he said.

Signs of Aging

Over the last year my mother has begun to be open with me about my father’s failing memory. She has shared that he often forgets where a household item is stored that has been in the same place for decades. On a recent phone call with my dad, I mentioned the surprise 50th wedding anniversary party we threw for my parents 14 years ago. He told me he did not remember it. During our visit last weekend, I learned that my father also does not remember the special occasion waterfront restaurant lunch and overnight stay we shared with them for their 60th anniversary four years ago.

We enjoyed our lunch and visited for a couple of hours before it was time for us to fight the traffic going home. I remembered the Father’s Day card that had been in my purse and handed it to him. He opened the envelope, admired the image on the front of the card and asked me to read it to him because he said that he cannot see.

A Father Daughter Bond

First, I read the words on the store-bought card and then the handwritten messages from my husband and I, expressing our appreciation for all he has done for us. “I’ve always been there for you,” he said with a sense of pride. So true, I thought to myself as my mind raced back through key events in my life when I needed some loving support.

As my husband and I prepared to leave the house, I bent down to kiss my father good-bye. As I bent over to meet his face, I saw the same watery eyes and heard the same expression of love as when I arrived. “I love you.”

As the only daughter in a family with two brothers, I have always felt a special bond with my dad. This Father’s Day visit opened my eyes to the fact that my time with him here on Earth is not unlimited.

How I Grew From a Marriage Betrayal

Twenty-five years ago I experienced the greatest betrayal of my life. I discovered that my husband was having an affair with a woman he worked with. I had begun to suspect that something was going on between the two of them for months. Yet because I could not fathom the thought of cheating on my husband, I naively could not acknowledge the truth of their relationship while it unfolded before me.

After I shared some concerns I’d been having with a long-time friend who worked with my husband, he filled me in on the depths of what had been going on. Deep down I had known it, but I chose not to acknowledge the truth.

I was so upset that the only action I could imagine was to confront my husband when he arrived home from work that evening. He denied the truth and at the same time said “I’m not meant for marriage”. Then he walked out on me.

Betrayal Pain Turns to Anger

For weeks I felt tremendous pain in response to this betrayal. It was a personal devastation that gutted what I envisioned my future life to entail. Over the course of weeks, the pain turned into anger when he started coming after me in a legal battle. While he came to the relationship with debt, the great majority of our assets originated from me.

I became livid over the understanding that the man who was leaving me for another woman was also seeking to receive compensation for assets he did not contribute to.

Moving Beyond the Anger

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I did not want my anger to destroy my outlook on life or my sense of hope for a loving relationship in the future. So, I made a pact with myself that, while I would never forget what my ex had done, that I would forgive his actions as a way to free myself from holding on to anger.

The way I got to this was the realization that on a deeper level, I felt sorry for him. Lacking a moral compass, he was a man completely lost, moving from relationship to relationship in search for someone or something to fill his empty soul.

A few months later my soon-to-be ex reached out to tell me he wanted to settle our court case. The woman he was having the affair with had an opportunity to transfer from New England to my native San Francisco and he wanted to be free to join her. I was happy to put the legal process behind me, yet I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say that it bothered me that the two of them would be residing in my home town.

We finalized our divorce and we moved on.

A Cordial Ending

A year later I moved back to San Francisco myself. My ex reached out to me a few times afterwards over the course of a few years while we were both in California. Thanks to the place of forgiveness I had come to during the heat of our divorce, I was able to engage with him from a place of peace.

I think this has been one of the greatest lessons of my life. I’ve had conflict with relationships far less significant that I’m still working on towards finding peace.

Learning to Cope with Panic Attacks

Last Saturday my husband Dean and I took a drive to visit a grocery store 22 miles from our home. I know that may sound crazy to drive so far for groceries, yet grocery shopping has become one of our biggest outlets for external stimulation during COVID-19. Dean has a pre-existing condition, so we have been extremely cautious during this pandemic, even as the restrictions have been lifted. Until we both have been vaccinated our joys will centime to come from simple pleasures. For the last year one of our vehicles for fun has been exploring quality grocery stores looking for good produce for the plant-based meals that have become the foundation of our diets.

It was a lovely day, yet it was difficult for me to relax and fully enjoy the ride. I was uptight. My body and mind were feeling uncomfortably anxious.

My Introduction to Panic Attacks

I was 30 when I experienced my first panic attack. I had recently moved to Boston from my native San Francisco. It was my second coast to coast move across the United States as an adult. I had no family or personal friends there yet. I was simply there for the job.

The panic attack hit me on a Sunday afternoon in early winter. I had set out to explore on a Greater Boston freeway that I had not yet become familiar with. There was no snow on the roads. It was just cold.

I do not recall feeling nervous about the drive. Having a job that required a fair amount of business travel, I had grown comfortable being in unfamiliar territory on my own. Yet suddenly, a sensation came over me that I’d never felt before. My heart began pounding, my hands were sweating, and a sense of fear overtook me. I thought I was having a heart attack. I was afraid that I was going to die. I exited the freeway as soon as I could and slowly inched my way back to my suburban Boston apartment by way of the back roads. I felt defeated but grateful to have endured a scary, unexpected time.

I have experienced these kinds of episodes on and off over the last three decades. I have gone years without a panic attack and have had years that were fraught with episodes. I have even had a handful that have landed me in a hospital emergency unit.

Solutions for Coping

Last weekend when I shared with Dean the anxiety that I was struggling with on the ride back home, he suggested that I consider starting to run again to release some of my anxiety. I had been a runner for 25 years until lower back pain and hamstring injuries led me to end that chapter three years ago. I would do the elliptical machine at the gym until COVID-19 led me to cancel my gym membership. I have been riding a spin bike at home six mornings a week for 45 minutes, but I will be the first to admit that I had not been pushing myself full throttle to get my heart rate truly pumping.

The day after the grocery store trip anxiety I laced up an old pair of running shoes and headed towards the high school track a mile away on foot. Once I got there, I discovered that the track was not open to the public, so I cautiously jogged back home on the sidewalk to protect my lower back.

I had forgotten what it felt like to be truly winded. My heart rate had not been elevated to that level in a year. When I got home, I felt happy and relaxed. The air of depression that had been hanging over me had lifted. That experience paved the way for me to learn how to better manage anxiety. Since then, I’ve been making a point to get my heart rate pumping on my spin bike as I await the delivery of new running shoes that will support my back.

As someone who believes that our thoughts are the driving force behind our experiences, my issue with anxiety has been a challenge. I know from too many first-hand experiences how difficult it can be to stop the avalanche of fear during a panic attack to calmly remind yourself that everything is going to be okay.

6 Tips for Anxiety Management

I want to stress that I am not a mental health professional nor have I had any formal training in anxiety. I am simply a patient who wants to share concepts that I’ve been practicing that have helped me to better manage the impact of unwelcome panic attacks.

  1. Identify that what you are experiencing is a panic attack which you have experienced and lived through before
  2. Acknowledge your power to control the sensations through deep breathing in the moments
  3. Keep telling yourself that you are going to be okay
  4. Minimize your caffeine intake
  5. Keep your body hydrated
  6. Identify a spiritual or human connection that you can call upon during times of need to calm your fears

Why I Share About Anxiety

I write about my experiences with anxiety because I want to help others who deal with it to recognize that you’re not alone. None of us is perfect in all ways. I like to think there’s a reason why I’m challenged with anxiety that is an asset to my greater being. And I think the same is true for you.

Please reach out if it this topic speaks to you. I would love to learn from you.

My Surprising Discovery of Feng Shui

I recently began studying the art of feng shui. I have to say that, until now, feng shui was not a concept that I gave much thought to. The only exposure I had to feng shui was through a lovely feng shui consultant named Sabine who participated in a women’s group I led some 15 years ago.

Feng Shui and Environmental Energy

I had been single for 10 years at the time when Sabine pointed out that the small vase on my fireplace mantle contained only one flower. She told me that I needed to display flowers and other objects in pairs to attract a happy relationship. I admit to having been skeptical, but I saw the rationale in Sabine’s advice and followed it. The next year I met the wonderful man who is now my husband.

My recent interest in feng shui came as I began to explore how I might be able to turn my passion for plants and flowers into the beginnings of a new career. With so many of us sheltering at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, I suspect that there is much that many of us can do to create personal and work spaces that better support our goals.

I’ve started on my journey of learning with a wonderfully practical book called Feng Shui that Makes Sense by Cathleen McCandless. It’s early pages led me to become more aware about how I feel in a particular space.

My First Feng Shui Experiments

My first effort to improve the energy in my home was a cleanup in my office. After months of working at home, my desk had become a disaster area with a dirty dusty desktop peaking out of multiple piles of paper and randomly thrown unorganized stuff. My first task was organizing the paper into one pile, putting the stuff in a drawer, and cleaning the desktop. The result was refreshing!

I next went on to add a couple of simple touches to warm up the room. I upgraded the frame holding a photo of my parents and moved it to the corner of my desk. I put a decorative pillow on the folding “guest” chair across from my desk. It’s amazing how these little improvements have made such a big difference in my enjoyment in being in that room.

The second effort was my bedroom. I moved a couple of large plants to sit at the foot of the bed. With a couple of other plants in the room it was beginning to give a bit of a jungle look which I love. I also angled the electronics that were placed on my dresser as well as the decorative pillows on the bed. The room now feels more warm and inviting.

My third effort was our guest room whose biggest focal point is a large bookcase. First I took all the books off the shelves and dusted the shelves. Then I stacked the books on the floor, sorting them by size before putting them back on the bookcase. Small books are on the top shelves while the larger books are on the bottom. The result is a sense of order which has produced a new feeling of calmness and peace whenever I walk into that room.

Feng Shui Energy

I have a lot to learn about feng shui but already I recognize that tending to the energy of a room can reap results, not only in how I feel about being in that room at the time, but also how the energy of the room inspires me beyond the present moment.

I love being in my home office now. It inspires me with a desire to create. My bedroom now is inspiring a sense of introspection that invites me to think about who I want to become.It’s now a space that I want to return to do the work of my soul. I feel more comfortable now in the guest room which has great late afternoon sun and hosts many phone calls with family and friends.

I will share more as I learn more. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your experiences of your spaces.

Journey Towards A Life Well Lived

Last week I picked up a book that has been on my bookshelf virtually unread for over 15 years. It’s a book that has reportedly sold over 35 million copies worldwide—A Purpose Driven Life:What On Earth Am I Here For by Rick Warren.

I remember being very excited to read the book when I first got it. It’s title spoke to the very question that still nags at me. Yet I was disappointed that I wasn’t called to get more than a couple of short chapters into it. The language didn’t resonate with me and I was intimidated by it. The book is filled with scriptures from the Bible. While I certainly believe in God, evangelical teachings have always felt foreign to me. Yet as I am experiencing now, there’s much that can be learned from those who speak a different language. I just need to have the strength to stretch out of my comfort zone.

I am going to finish this book this time. Because despite the language barrier, I do resonate with its core message and its guide to how to pursue your purpose.

The Lesson is Available When You’re Ready to Learn

I picked this book up again two weeks before my 61st birthday. I’m feeling like I’ve got to get to living with purpose because time is running low. I don’t want to get to the end of my journey here feeling any regrets.

The reality is that I have a good idea of what I am here on Earth to do. Yet I forever hold myself back. Not giving myself permission to pursue my passion. Not making purposeful activities a priority. Not allowing myself to shine. Holding steadfast to the known.

Yet Pastor Rick Warren has taught me that it’s my obligation to the force that created me to fulfill my purpose. To recognize that the unique talents and characteristics that I was born with were given to me for a reason. I now feel compelled to make my creator proud. To have him/her see the manifestation of what he or she visioned for me.

I figure that it’ never too late to live a life well lived.

What about you?

Now is the Perfect Time for Reinvention

Two yellow flowers surrounded by rocks

It’s mid-July amid a summer unlike any I’ve ever known. Much of the state of California where I call home remains on COVID-19 lock-down. Nearly all of the social and recreational activities that usually shape my summers are now off limits.

No social gatherings of any kind. No hugging family and friends. No enjoying of life at restaurants and music venues. No getaway vacations. No gym classes or weight machines. No getting my hair cut and colored by a professional. No dressing up…for anything.

I have been looking at this pandemic period as a time to begrudgingly ride out the storm. Yet I realize now that life is not simply on hold.

We are all in a period of transition. We’ve left the known and are treading the waters of uncertainty about what lies ahead. We’re not really sure if we’ll be able to just pick up where we left off when “things settle down.” But is picking up what’s been your status quo really what you’ll want?

A Time For Reinvention

Each one of us has now been invited to reinvent our lives, one action, one alternative COVID-19 choice, at a time.

For those of us who have lost jobs or business, there is more time available to focus on that thing that you really want to learn, that business you’d love to start, or that person that you yearn to become.

Perhaps COVID-19 is your personal invitation to create this new change?

I know that I have been challenged to give myself permission to dream big, to believe that fulfillment of my deepest dreams are actually possible for me. I come from a blue collar middle class family and have accepted the belief all of these years that living below the radar in middle class was my destiny.

It wasn’t until I started reading recently about the early lives of some incredibly successful people and learned that many started out with nothing. That tells me that your history doesn’t dictate your destiny.

What I’m working on now is getting clarity on what I really want to create in my life. The hardest part for me is to allow myself the luxury of thinking big. I’m now telling myself that getting the clarity will require some time and disciplined focus. It won’t happen overnight.

I’ve been doing 5-12 minutes of ab exercises every night for the past 3 months thanks to some awesome instructors I’ve discovered on YouTube. I didn’t expect immediate results, yet I didn’t expect it would take this long to begin to see a vague resemblance of a six-pack. I guess that’s how I need to look at creating my ideal life—with dedication and the belief that I can change my status quo.

Everything Happens For A Reason

Purpose is a principle that drives my life. I am constantly looking to understand the purpose behind what just happened. I believe that our Universe surrounds us with wonder and that our day-to-day experiences are far from random events. Most of us just don’t pay close enough attention to receive the clues that are designed to guide us in the direction our hearts yearn to go.

If you were to believe that everything happens for a reason, is there something you can see that you are being invited to do during this time when the life you’ve known is no longer an option?

Be well,
Susan

Choosing Your Habits Can Be Easy

Ducks

This summer as we’ve been sheltering at home we attracted a male and female duck couple who started coming around to our deck. And of course we fed them. Not bread though, because we learned bread fails in nutritional value. Instead we created a mixture of dry oatmeal, tiny bits of organic rice cakes, and the ground peanut and sunflower mix that we fill the feeder for the doves, sparrows, bluejays and other birds who visit our trees.

Let me tell you. Word has gotten out about our food supply! The other ducks who hang out in our waterway have begun to stop by. The Canadian Geese who cruise by began to notice the ducks dining at our deck and now they are stopping by. Tonight they brought their young children.

It’s been fun observing the behavior of these birds and recognizing how similar they are to humans. The male will tend to make sure his female partner has had enough to eat before he goes at the food. There is a territorial nature where the birds nip at each other to fight for the ability of their loved ones to eat. They are social creatures who respond to the words of us humans who they are beginning to trust.

How Quickly Habits Can Form

What has fascinated me the most is how quickly and seemingly natural all of their initial visits have turned into habitual behavior. We see the birds once and then they return the next day and following days. They have discovered a ritual that feels good to them that they immediately make a new habit.

I relate this to new habits and beliefs that I have recently created in my own life. The most significant is how I can choose the thoughts and energy that I invite into my life.

I’ve recently developed the habit of getting on my spin bike first thing in the morning with an inspirational book on my iPad. Just like the ducks realizing how well this feeds me, it became a habit immediately formed. When I rise in the morning there’s no wavering. Whether it’s 10 minutes or 45 minutes, spinning with positive thoughts is how I think of myself of starting each day.

For me this has been a lot more then an exercise in workout discipline. It’s been a discovery of recognizing how good it feels to feed my soul and how easy it can be to make that a habit once I tell myself this is what I do.

The book that has been my morning spin companion this past week has been Change Your Thinking Change Your Life by Brian Tracy. One of my biggest takeaways is how important your choices are in how you spend your time as it relates to the goal of creating the life you want.

Every day is a new slate. Can you think of one new habit you’d like to make to take a step towards creating the life you want?

Be well,
Susan

Are the Routines of Your Life Working For You?

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in my life is that challenging times are actually opportunities that can lead me to thrive in ways I would have never undertaken on my own.

Twenty-five years ago, I was in a marriage in which my husband left me for another woman. I felt like the framework of my life had been ripped out from underneath me. My need to overcome my pain led me to study teachings that I would never have explored on my own. I’ve come to recognize that this experience laid the foundation for philosophies which now govern my life.

The Organic Necessity of Change

There is no doubt that we are living in tough times. We have all been sacrificing things which typically provide us with a sense of physical safety, financial security, and overall pleasure. Yet there is a great opportunity here to approach things differently. So often we keep on trying to force something to happen in the same old ways, without considering that perhaps it’s not working because it is no longer meant to be. It no longer fits who we are right now.

Eggs, milk and yogurt are not the only things in life that have expiration dates. Who we are ages and changes as well. What we value changes as a result of every new day of experience. To expect that we will feel the same level of fulfillment by keeping our routines steady for long periods of time is unrealistic and a recipe for unhappiness. We must listen more closely to our soul.

Questions to Ask Yourself

I am welcoming this as a time to ask myself the question of what’s working for me and what’s not. It’s made me realize how my experience of life is not made in one wide swoop, but rather a tapestry of decisions involving minutia ranging from where I feel safe shopping to who enriches my emotional joy to what work fulfills me to when, where and how I work out.

You know how we are frequently being asked by businesses to complete a survey about our satisfaction of their service? How about asking ourselves how fulfilled we are with the routines we have established for our life?

Please stay well.

Susan