My vulnerability and why I’m thankful for it.

Dad and I shooting pool. We both won.

Two years ago, I wrote this last-minute Thanksgiving blog about my mom’s recent heart surgery, and my gratitude that she survived.

This year, she’s gone.

I lost my best girlfriend, but I gained a surprising new confidante–my dad.

What’s important is our current connectedness.

When I was sixteen, I never could have imagined sitting on the couch next to my dad with my legs up on his lap, discussing our dreams and fears late into the night. I never could have imagined us side-by-side, holding hands, sharing our deepest feelings. Not that long ago, if you had told me a day would come when no one in my family would understand me as well as my dad, I’d have suspected you of imbibing a little too much holiday sauce.

Yet, it has all come to pass.

When I was younger, my dad and I didn’t relate well to each other. He was an involved father with all six of us kids–changing diapers, building a backyard ice rink, attending games and performances–whatever was needed. He said, “I love you,” regularly, and I knew he meant it. But we just didn’t bond emotionally. I closed my heart to him. The complicated dynamics of our previous relationship don’t really matter–what’s important is our current connectedness.

I’m trying to pinpoint when this new relationship with my dad started, but it was less a point and more an evolution.

Since 2016, when my declining health forced me to leave my job, Dad has never neglected to ask me how I’m feeling. And in spite of the embarrassing symptoms, humiliating symptom-management, and undignified procedures I’d endured, nothing was ever TMI for him. His only concern was for me. The more I shared my distress, the more love he gave.

Vulnerability is an opening for love.

Vulnerability was not a state or characteristic I’d have associated with my dad in the past. He was used to being the family provider, his rock-hard Catholic faith buoying him through stressful times. But as my mother’s health declined, and she became more and more in need of care, my father wondered what the future held, and for how long. His faith wobbled.

Dad felt unmoored, perhaps for the first time. And I felt deep compassion for him, perhaps for the first time. His floundering to find his footing opened a place in my heart that had often been closed to him. It was an opening for love.

We’re often afraid to share our angst, our fears, our unsettledness. It’s risky. Others may think poorly of us or act unkindly. They may use our weakness against us. It’s wise to be cautious.

But sometimes a risk pays off. It did for Dad and me. I’m glad we’re flawed human beings because it is our shared vulnerability that brought us together.

This Thanksgiving, you may have an opening to share your vulnerabilities. Dare you take it? If you do, please let me know!

Regardless, I wish you a day filled with deliciousness of every variety.

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Golden Moments: the silver lining of aging.

Reflections on the day Mom died.

Three sets of feet resting on an ottoman.
One of many recent golden moments with my parents.

On Friday, September 27, my eighty-seven-year-old dad, who often has trouble sleeping, got up at 3 AM. In the independent-living apartment he shared with my mom, he took a few steps from the bedroom to the tiny kitchenette to get a bite to eat. He grabbed a pita bread, then took a few more steps to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a scotch.

As he sat on the living room couch enjoying his snack and his “middle-of-the-night-cap,” my mom, eight-six, appeared with her walker at the bedroom doorway.

“Do I hear the tinkling of ice-cubes?” she asked.

“Yes!” Dad answered.

His “yes” would have been enthusiastic and drawn out, both arms and one scotch raised in celebration, his eyebrows raised like a character in a Norman Rockwell painting.

“Does that mean you’d like a shot of bourbon?” he added.

It meant exactly that. So Mom shuffled to the couch while Dad fixed her drink. They sat for about fifteen minutes, holding hands, until Dad broke the silence.

“Whoever said these were the golden years could not have been a day over fifty,” Dad said. “There’s not much golden about getting old.”

There’s not much golden about the “golden years.”

Mom agreed. She would know

Two years ago, she had heart surgery from which she never completely recovered. At times, she seemed to be on the mend, then a UTI or stomach bug or new medication would spiral her back down and we’d wonder if we were going to lose her.

In the past month, though, she gained strength and spirit and seemed to be on a solid rebound. She had asked my sister and I to plan a joint visit for a “girls weekend,” which we hadn’t done in years. I had booked my flight for tomorrow.

Sitting on the couch with his wife of sixty-three years, Dad found the silver lining of another color.

“But, truly,” he said, “this is a Golden Moment.”

Golden Moments are the silver lining of aging.

I’ve enjoyed Golden Moments with my parents, too.

After I graduated from college in 1980, I never returned home to Pittsburgh. Between my relocation to Troy, NY–my husband’s hometown–and my parents’ moves later in life, I’ve lived anywhere from 500 to 3,000 miles away from them.

When I came in town to visit, I usually didn’t make plans to catch up with friends or to sight-see or take side trips. I preferred to spend my precious little time with my long-distance family.

Once, my sister-in-law asked me, “So what are you going to do while you’re out here?” I was dumbfounded. I wanted to say, “Nothing,” because that was the truth. But it seemed so boring. It seemed small compared to the jet-setting lifestyles of some of my siblings. I can’t remember how I answered.

I’m not suggesting that there’s a right or a wrong way to spend time while visiting family. I wish I had been better about keeping in touch with friends. But I have no regrets about the Golden Moments with my parents. Especially now.

My golden moments give me no regrets.

In their living room at the independent living facility, Mom and Dad sat and held hands for another fifteen minutes, enjoying the silence before going back to bed.

Dad would have followed Mom into the bedroom. He would have put her neck pillow in place and raised or lowered the head of the bed to the perfect angle. He’d have arranged another pillow under her ankles so her painful heels didn’t bear any weight. Then he would have tucked Mom’s favorite pink blanket under her chin and she’d be asleep before Dad made it to his side of the bed.

That evening, after an uneventful day, Mom and Dad again sat on the couch, watching the PBS News Hour. Around 7 PM, Mom stood up, pitched forward, and was probably dead before she hit the floor.

My heart aches that Dad witnessed that scene. I grieve for his loss. I grieve for my family and many friends who loved Mom. I grieve for myself and the loss of my best girlfriend.

I lost my best girlfriend.

Tomorrow, I’ll fly down to visit Dad. Instead of a girls weekend, it will be a father-daughter week. Dad and I will sit on the couch, holding hands, sharing a drink, enjoying our Golden Moments. Mom will join us and I’ll feel her hand in mine. I feel it every day. It’s golden.

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Giving up may help you move forward.

Hydrangea flowers as big as my head
My hydrangeas in a better year.

Giving up gets such an unecessarily bad rap.

I’ve neglected my gardening for most of the summer. I don’t do vegetables, just perennials, with a few annuals in pots. This year, the deer have been voracious, eating things they never touched before. Even my makeshift deer “fencing”–rows of fishing line stretched across the flower beds–have been trampled. So I gave up.

Giving up- this year, the deer won.
Tiny hydrangea blooms left this year after deer devoured all the big blooms.

Giving up on gardening came first.

I became a gardener when I first planted marigolds and petunias in front of our first house over thirty years ago. I was such a novice, I didn’t know the difference between an annual and a perennial. I didn’t know certain flowers needed sun and others needed shade. All I knew about planting flowers was you dig a hole, stick the flowers in it, and water.

When my garden bed became a mass of bright yellow and hot pink, I was hooked.

I don’t know when (or if) I got hooked on writing. What I know is I’ve devoted so much time to it lately, I haven’t had time to miss my gardening.

Nature abhors a vacuum, right? Take away gardening and writing fills the void.

My “writing” includes doing some updates to this website (did you notice?), creating my guided meditation video (free to subscribers; did you receive the link?), “guesting” on a podcast (I’ll let you know when it airs), building my social media platform, and, occasionally, transcribing actual prose.

When I started writing over twenty years ago, I knew nothing. After a long hiatus, when I started writing again in 2016, I knew even less. Well, more accurately, I continually discovered how much there was to learn, so the ratio of what I knew to what I didn’t know increased tenfold. (Here’s an example of one of my first blogs about gardening. Not horrible, but not great, either.)

This past week, although my creative mind has been churning out ideas, the mechanics of writing–for an audience reading a literary or mainstream publication–got the best of me. I gave up.

Giving up on writing came next.

Don’t worry–I’m not going to quit writing. I’m just going to take a day or two to putter among my poor eaten hydrangeas and weathered iris stalks and pachasandra bed overgrown with weeds.

By tomorrow, I’ll be refreshed and ready to dig in to my writing again.

Giving up is just what I need to move forward.

Giving up isn’t always a bad thing. It could be just what you need to move forward.

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