Turning the Chapter With Elderly Parents

This past Sunday my husband Dean and I went down to my parents’ house to do some much-needed work in their backyard.

My dad is 85 and my mom 83. My dad has been suffering with bad arthritis in his back for the last 8 years and can no longer stand upright. He spent his career as a longshoreman and until the last decade or so, had always been a physically strong man. Now he can no longer reach the shelf above the refrigerator to pull out the bottle of bourbon for their nightly Manhattan.

My mom has essentially become his caretaker since my dad is legally blind in one eye and can’t drive. She does all the shopping, cooking, and most of the household chores. She’s recently developed an issue with her sciatic nerve and is walking with great pain herself.

I’ve been lucky to have had an enjoyable relationship with both my parents and this new reality is heart-wrenching to watch. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about their physical conditions since the visit on Sunday.

Treasuring the Memories

I have wonderful memories of my parents visiting me when I moved from California to New England in my 30s. From Cape Cod to the southern coast of Maine to Montreal, we were explorers of a new world together. It was a time of sharing different pleasures that you rarely experience in the Bay Area. Like picking up steamers or lobsters for dinner, or just sitting on the front porch relaxing into life at the end of a long summer day.

When I moved back to California I was blessed to have the opportunity to buy a modest waterfront condo which became the foundation for many good times on my deck. We would enjoy each other’s company for hours as we watched the wildlife and the boats cruise by.

I’ll never forget the delightfully surprised look on their faces when I opened my front door to welcome them to their 50th anniversary party where 50 friends and family were waiting inside.

Accepting What We Can’t Change

This latest visit has been a reminder to me that we should never take anything for granted. Things change, and we need to come up with a way to respond to and deal with each new reality. Just like we’re living now in pandemic times. We want things to be like they used to, but we don’t have total control over it.

For me with my parents, the new reality is that my mother really needs some support. The quality of both of their lives is not good. I can pretend it’s not happening, or I can take action.

My parents live 30 miles away. While that doesn’t sound like much, it’s an hour’s drive each way in brutal San Francisco traffic. I can’t quickly pop over to put the air conditioner hose in their family room window when the weather forecast points north.

I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that I need to start to develop a plan to see that they get the care they need. I need to be there for them more. It’s a new chapter and I need to step to the plate.

Demonstrating Love in a COVID-19 World

After we finished our yard chores my dad was urging me to sit across the couch from him in the family room. Yet in a COVID-19 mindset I kept my distance, instead standing in the kitchen some 6+ feet from both my mom and dad.

Looking back I feel bad about my response. Who knows how many more opportunities I’ll have to share with the people who have been there for me my entire life?

We are living in a time where we need to adjust how we express love to the people who mean the most to us. I’ve begun to call them more frequently to demonstrate that I care. I’ve told them that I miss hugging them.

Next time I visit my parents I want to focus more on eye contact. If I can’t touch them with my body, I can connect with them from the windows to my soul.

Stay well,
Susan

Don’t Take Anything Personally

I joined a new health club a couple of months ago and am now settling into my routine.  I’ve recently discovered a class instructor who has become my favorite. Her classes are always very challenging, yet different, and she pushes us really hard. I always leave her classes with a great feeling that I’ve given myself a healthy workout that I can feel into the next day.

Although I do know the instructor’s first name, I refer to her as “Sergeant” when I talk about her with my husband. I call her this because of the grueling nature of her instructing style, along with an overall lack of warmth or compassion. While she has a good sense of humor, her demeanor is tough.

Yesterday was the Sunday morning after turning the clocks ahead. I was planning on attending Sergeant’s 10 am Total Body class and considered that I needed to go to bed early enough on Saturday night to feel energetic despite an hour of sleep lost. My alarm first went off at 8 am Sunday morning. I knew I had time to spare and made a mental note to snooze my alarm. That didn’t happen. Instead I woke up at 9:22 and jumped out of bed in a panic to make the class.

I got to the health club in plenty of time to make the class. Once the Zumba class ahead of us had cleared, I walked into the exercise studio with all the other women. We grabbed a step platform and weights. Sergeant got the music started and our time together began.

As we worked through the hour with cardio, weights, bands and core exercises, I felt a sense of joy that I was getting the workout I wanted. It was probably the sixth class I’d taken from Sergeant and I was thinking that it was time to express my appreciation to her and introduce myself after class.

Putting Myself Out There
After class ended and the exercise studio was emptying, I took a place behind a woman talking with Sergeant at the front of the studio. It was clear from their conversation that the woman had been a regular in Sergeant’s classes and that there was a fair amount of familiarity between them. When that woman stepped away, Sergeant turned her body away from me to focus her attention on the music she was disassembling. It struck me as odd. Hadn’t she seen me standing there waiting to talk to her?

I thought about tapping her arm or shoulder to get her attention, but instead I just spoke. I said, “I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your classes. You really give a great workout.”

The Surprising Snub
What happened next surprised me. Or better said, what didn’t happen amazed me. I expected a smile. I expected to see some type of facial expression or eye contact that displayed feelings. I expected to see that my outreach of gratitude was felt and appreciated. I experienced none of that. Instead I got a cold snub. It made feel bad.

I walked out of the exercise studio, through the health club, and outside to the parking lot totally attached to the bad experience I’d just had. I felt humiliated having extended myself and then being treated like that. I was pissed. If her classes weren’t such good workouts, I would have vowed never to attend them again. But they are, and I had to find a way to deal with my experience.

Don’t Take Anything Personally
After I got home and continued to process this experience, I was reminded of the second agreement of Don Miguel Ruiz’s classic book, The Four Agreements, in which he wrote—

“Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally. Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves…”

I was reflecting back on what I’ve observed in the woman I call Sergeant. First of all, I typically refer to people by their names unless there’s a particular aspect about them that is part of the story I’m trying to tell. Why would I ever expect that a woman I have named Sergeant will be warm and fuzzy to me? Duh!

I’m also suspecting that I may have encountered Sergeant at a time in her life when she’s not feeling particularly good about herself. She’s mentioned in classes that she’ll be turning 60 this year, that no matter how hard she works, her body is becoming “fleshy”, declares that she hasn’t gotten a face lift because it will mean too much time away from the gym, and so on.

The coldness I encountered is not about me. It’s about whatever is going on in her life that is preventing her from having an open heart.

The next time I see her will be through eyes of compassion rather than insult.

Fight for What You Want in Life

Six months ago a routine check-up with my doctor landed me on the scale and I was horrified seeing my weight results. I knew from how my pants were fitting that I’d gained some inches yet I had no idea that I had hit my heaviest weight ever. I moaned to the nurse who kindly told me that women had a tendency to gain weight after menopause and that I looked good. That wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to be lean and fit.

I was a fat kid all the way until I was 19, when one day I woke up and decided I didn’t want to be overweight anymore and set out to lose 40 pounds. So my thing with not wanting to be overweight has hung with me throughout my adult life.

After my visit to the doctor I started researching menopause and weight gain. I learned that while drops in estrogen do have an impact on weight gain, the bottom line is that how much you exercise also impacts how much weight you gain or lose. I was not willing to just settle on being a menopause weight gain statistic. The battle was on!

While I’d faithfully committed to a 3-4 times a week workout regime for 25 years, that frequency was no longer producing the results I wanted. I recognized that I needed to crank up the volume to drop the weight. Thankfully, with the help of my fiance who added 2-3 more workout sessions per week in the form of tennis, I dropped 12 pounds over the summer. And it was fun!

Little did I know that the best was yet to come. Late in the summer I discovered Pure Barre.

Pure Barre is described as ballet meets Pilates, neither of which I’d had much experience with. All of these years I have foolishly believed that my heart rate had to be riding high while I was sweating profusely to get a proper workout. Wrong!

The Pure Barre technique is designed to fatigue your muscles to the point of shaking and then stretch out to achieve long, lean muscles. I’m three months into it now with a changed body. Tomorrow I will complete the 20 classes in 30 days challenge. I am now fitting better in jeans I bought a dozen years ago than I did then. Over the course of the past month I’ve moved from wondering how I will endure the intense back-to-back workouts to realizing it could be my new routine.

Fight for what you want

The lesson I learned here was not to simply accept how life is playing out if it isn’t what you want. We can all change the course of destiny by taking steps to redirect the ship onto another course. Sometimes that might mean trying something completely new, but doesn’t that make the experience of life richer? And if you really want it badly, aren’t you okay with working hard for it?

Are You Making the Most of the Days of Your Life?

Tonight I learned that my 51-year-old cousin has colon cancer that has spread to her lymph nodes. She’s got a husband, two older kids and six months of chemo–I hear–in front of her. My cousin and I aren’t close friends but we share the bond of family and I love her. I pray that she will beat this incredible challenge and thrive.

I learned about my cousin’s condition on a phone call tonight with my mother. It reminded me of how vulnerable we all are, going about our lives thinking that we are free from harm–that something bad will never happen to us. I’m guilty of this big time and I know that this thinking gets in the way of me getting totally serious about taking total control of my life.

The Days are Numbered Mindset

I think that the biggest gift that we can all give ourselves is the constant realization that our days are numbered. I’m embarrassed by the fact that I am a native Californian who has never been to Yosemite. I’ve wanted to learn Spanish but I haven’t lifted a finger. There are so many other things that I’ve said I wanted to do that I haven’t followed through on. As I now feel the clock ticking, I see that everyday decisions make a difference in the quality of our lives.

Learning about my cousin has given me the desire to want to see her life dreams carried out. At the same time it has inspired me to focus on my own. What are they? What are yours?

 

The Wisdom of Age 55

I celebrated my 55th birthday three months ago. I didn’t expect the number itself to have the impact that it has. I think this particular birthday so far has been the one that has had me soul searching like no other.

Turning 55 has been a wake-up call that reminds me that there is an end to my life. I can’t continue to neglect thinking about what I want from my life because I realize now that the days I have to achieve it are numbered.

At first I responded to this revelation of 55 from a perspective of defeat. But as I sought the advice of others whose success I respected, I realized that it is never too late to fight the clock to get what you want. Just like I was in and out of college a number of times before I finally decided on a major that I stuck to, maybe I’m just someone who needs time to figure it out.

As I’ve been trying to sort this all out, the one thing that stands out is that it’s not going to get sorted out without my attention and energy. Giving my life up to chance isn’t going to work as I set my intentions on creating a more meaningful life experience.

My response to the wake-up call has brought a key benefit —

It has made me look at what I want from my personal and business life in a new light. After evaluating what I don’t like about things now, I’ve been able to put a clear new focus on what I’d like to accomplish immediately.

I feel very excited. Try it for yourself.