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

Tapping Into the Energy of Your Youth

Yesterday morning after a visit to the gym I was about 3/4 mile from my home when it suddenly hit me that I had driven on that road thousands upon thousands of times in the 22+ years that I’ve lived there. With that thought also came the awareness that I have grown older here, and that my time left is that much shorter than when I first arrived in my neighborhood in 1997.

The Journey to 60

I will be turning 60 this summer. I was 38 when I moved in, single, active, and full of energy to explore whatever life had to offer. I had a corporate job that often took me to cities around the country. I felt blessed for a long time to have a stimulating job that enabled me to travel on an expense account, yet when I got into my mid-40’s I started asking myself questions about what I was doing with my life. With cats but no kids, I was looking to find more purpose in how I was spending my time.

In 2005 I left corporate life. It was ill-thought-out, but it brought me three years of spending my days feeling completely connected with who I really am. I had taken a two-year program which enabled me to get ordained as a non-denominational minister. I did spiritual counseling and performed over 100 wedding ceremonies. I was invited to give inspirational messages to underprivileged communities. It was a completely different life and I loved it. Until the economy crashed in 2008 and I felt forced to return to my roots in marketing. It was then when I started a business with the man who would become my husband.

The past ten years have seen us through some very good, yet also some very challenging times in our business. And I recognize that the way I have responded to being a business owner has often derailed efforts on my part to stay centered and in touch with a bigger picture of life beyond the business. Keeping up with work email in the evenings has certainly taken away from more soulful activities. But it’s all on me.

Reliving Younger Days

Over the last few weeks my husband and I have driven into nearby San Francisco and taken walks in the various neighborhoods he and I have lived in our younger days. It has brought me back to how I felt when I was in my late 20’s, both stimulated by the city energy and remembering the feeling of feeling energized by life. This has been a gift as I contemplate the big birthday and what I want to create that will follow. After all, so much of it is in our control.

If this post resonates with you, I would love to hear what comes up for you. Thanks for visiting.

 

Memories of My Aging Parents

Last night we took my mother out for dinner to celebrate her 81st birthday. My parents still live in the house in which I grew up, in a suburb south of San Francisco. I’m lucky enough to have easy access to them, living within an hour’s drive on the northern side of the city by the bay.

My father, 83, was a career longshoreman whose work involved tough manual labor for most of his career. He now suffers from a bad back and walks with a cane to support his stooped over posture.

Signs My Parents are Aging

I first noticed my dad’s cane in the trunk of their main commuting car about three years ago. He rarely used it, yet I’ve seen his reliance on it grow in the last couple of years. Yesterday when we arrived at my parents’ home, I discovered a second cane for the first time in their bedroom.

Over the past couple of years my mom has become the primary driver because my dad’s eyesight isn’t great. He’ll drive himself to his weekly Tuesday lunch with his buddies, but that’s about it. Whenever we all go out now, we drop my dad near the front door of the restaurant so that he doesn’t have far to walk.

In comparison, my mom is in pretty good shape. She gets around rather well, yet lately I’ve been seeing different signs of her aging. The once almost immaculate house is no longer immaculate. Her outdoor orchid plants, until recently her passion, now have weeds in between the potted bulbs.

Gratitude for Time with My Aging Parents

Last night after we finished a wonderful dinner at their favorite Basque restaurant, I looked at my parents across the table and felt an emotional wave of gratitude for all the memories I’ve been able to share with them as an adult.

I spent a good chunk of my mid-20s to mid-30s living in New England for my work. My parents were in their 50s then. Although my dad, who immigrated to the U.S. from the island of Malta at age 16 had seen many parts of the world before arriving in San Francisco, he’d not traveled to the northeastern part of our country. My mom who was a Brooklyn born full Croatian had never traveled the northeast states either. So my home in New Hampshire made for the perfect launching pad for memories.

Reminiscence of My Time Together with My Aging Parents

During one of their early visits to see me in New Hampshire, my parents had expected to be driving with my husband and I to Montreal, yet our SUV that was supposed to get us there was sitting at the local garage. Somehow we gained access to the SUV the night they arrived and my dad fixed whatever was wrong so that it became our vehicle to Montreal the next day. There was another time when my mom and I laughed our pants off when we couldn’t find our way off the toll road that kept bringing us back to Newport, Rhode Island. I loved that I introduced my California parents to Maine steamers and lobster and the beauty of Vermont. Those were the days.

I moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1996, and a year later bought a waterfront condominium in Marin County, which was a spot that fostered many other great memories with my parents. My father, a bird lover and a fisherman, enjoyed the unique outdoors where I lived. My mom was a presence I could rely upon, whether that be in-patient surgery or holding my hand as I said good-bye to my treasured kitty friend.

They haven’t spent much time at my place over the past few years. The traffic to get through San Francisco is too much for them and they’ve become much more comfortable sleeping in their own bed.

I miss the old times. I wish I had been more appreciative of those days as they were happening. I knew we were enjoying time together, but I didn’t have the awareness that those days would someday be limited.

I know that now. And better late than never for it gives me an understanding of how I want to charter the remaining times we have together.

Might you somehow relate?

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.

A Commitment to Reclaiming My Youth

jefferson starship

I celebrated Labor Day at the Sausalito Art Festival, where Jefferson Starship closed off the entertainment festivities for the weekend. While this particular festival is a world class art show, my boyfriend, Dean and I make our decision on what day we will attend by the music schedule.

As the day approached, I had been contemplating why the bands of my youth still held such appeal to me. While I looked around at the crowd today, many of whom were older than me, I got more in touch with the answer. The music is a part of our history.  As we gathered there in Sausalito, it was like we were reclaiming a part of our soul. For that one hour while the band played, my heart felt an elation beyond the every day. It touched the spirit of what I felt in my youth–optimism, hope, joy of life, and most of all, a connection to those around me. We had all experienced a lot of life since we first heard those lyrics, yet despite all the changes, somehow the music reminds us of who we once were.

The Lesson

As I sit here on the morning after, I still feel a hightened sense of peace and aliveness. This experience has inspired me to strive to bring all parts of myself into my daily life so that the most precious pieces can live on and continue to touch me.

Is 50 the New 30??

I’m not going to hide from it. I am turning 50 this year. A year and a half ago I attended my 30th high school reunion and reconnected with a number of people from my youth who are also turning 50 this year. Suddenly I’m noticing the statement, “50 is the new 30” being thrown around.  Hmm, I ponder. Is it true, or are we just fooling ourselves?

I’ve always believed that age is very much a state of mind, yet decorum and a dose of reality do come into play.  I have four beautiful mini skirts hanging in my closet that I can’t bear to part with, but I know will never again see the light (or dark) of day, at least on my body.  I can’t leave the house now without a pair of glasses because I can’t read a menu, ingredients on a label, or anything I might have to sign my name to without help. And the gray hair that I have inherited has made me recognize that I can choose to replace it with any color that I want.

If these are the biggest grievances I have about turning 50 (and they are!), then I consider myself pretty darn blessed. Although I still fit into and wear clothes I had long before I was 30, I’ve come to the conclusion that, at least for me, I don’t feel 30. And that’s a good thing.

Why 50 is better than 30:

  • I’ve come to value a nice man over a bad boy.
  • It’s no longer all about me.
  • I’ve come to prefer authenticity over sizzle.
  • I’m way comfortable with myself.
  • I cherish every moment with my parents.
  • I’ve come to value meaning over money.
  • I’m in touch with the fact that I’m not going to live forever.
  • I no longer care about what people think.
  • I think about how much I am blessed.
  • I’ve experienced some painful, challenging times and have come out stronger.
  • I’ve learned to trust myself.
  • I’ve taken some big risks and survived.
  • I’ve learned that being true to myself is more important than security.

Am I missing something in the “50 is the new 30” statement? If so, please enlighten me.

10 Life Lessons from My Dad on His 74th Birthday

Today is my father’s 74th birthday. I recognize how blessed I am to be able to share it with him, and I don’t want to wait until he’s gone to reflect on what I’ve learned from him. In no particular order:

  1. Give help without being asked.
  2. Hard work really does pay off.
  3. It is possible to create a new life in foreign land.
  4. You don’t have to hold a college degree to be intelligent and educated.
  5. Love is expressed by what you do, not what you say.
  6. Having someone you can count on is one of the greatest gifts in life.
  7. What’s inside is more important than what it looks like on the outside.
  8. A strong commitment will keep you going when the road gets rough.
  9. Don’t ever assume you know how a person will respond.
  10. Don’t take  your blessings for granted. Life can change in an instant.