Since my mom died a few
Mom was one of the biggest supporters of my writing journey.
But here I am, my third post in less than a month. I hope you understand.
Mom was one of the biggest supporters of my writing journey and my goal of publishing my memoir. Before she died, I had told her about a big “first” for me: being interviewed about my memoir on the Midlife A-Go-Go podcast. Mom was excited, but she never got to listen.
I wish I could hear her voice.
When the interview first aired last week, I believe Mom heard it. I believe she knows all that goes on in my life, more so than she did while she was earthbound. But still, I find myself waiting for her call to tell me how proud she is. I wish I could hear her voice. I imagine it, I hear it in my head, but I ache for the real thing.
Since I won’t hear from Mom, maybe you can listen for a few minutes and tell me your thoughts. It would give me a smile. Mom, too.
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Before my mom died, she and my dad regularly ate lunch in the dining room of their senior facility. Mom didn’t have the energy to make it down for breakfast and dinner, so they had those meals delivered to their apartment.
Mom, an extrovert, missed the socializing, but the schedule suited Dad, an introvert. I take after Dad, so when I visited, the limited “peopling” suited me, too.
For introverts, “peopling” is draining rather than energizing.
When our trio went down for lunch, I pulled out every reluctant extrovert cell in my body (and there are a few) for a song-and-dance-show. I turned on the charm. Since Mom wasn’t always her usual bubbly self and she so desperately wanted to make friends, I tried to be her girlfriend ambassador.
Those ninety-minute lunches drained me, but it was OK since I had a whole day to recover.
In case you don’t know, one of the hallmarks of being an introvert is not that you dislike people and/or socializing, but that “peopling” is draining rather than energizing. And just like any drained battery, introverts need to recharge.
After Mom died two weeks ago, I thought Dad might wither away in his room, but he put on his big boy pants and started going down to all three meals. I’m visiting him now, still turning on the charm at lunch and sometimes dinner, this time on his behalf.
After one particular noisy lunch gathering, my charm quickly wore thin. “I can’t believe you do this every day,” I told Dad on our way back to his apartment.
Introverts need to recharge.
When I got back, I opened my email, found this article about introverts and the cartoon above by the talented Aaron Caycedo-Kimura. It nailed my exact feelings. When I showed it to Dad, he agreed, with a laugh.
For too many decades, I was so caught up in people-pleasing, in wanting to fit it with the extrovert world, I ignored my need for solitude. And although I often enjoyed “peopling,” I ignored my need for recovery.
Mom and I had often talked about our extrovert and introvert experiences, but Dad and I never bonded over our introvert inclinations. Until now.
At eighty-seven, newly widowed after sixty-three years of marriage, Dad is living proof that it’s never too late to learn and you’re never too old to grow.
At sixty, newly bonded with my dad, I’m learning and growing, too.
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Reflections on the day Mom died.
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 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
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
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.
If you don’t see the comment box here, click on the title of this post, scroll to the bottom and, Voila! Or, you can click on “Contact” on the menu bar and send me an email. I really do want to hear from you!
The first time I tried to meditate, I fell asleep. It was about twenty years ago, when I was still a working mom, and our family was recovering from my son Matthew’s rumble with a brain tumor.
The exact setting escapes me, but I was taking a workshop with about a dozen other people, all of us in work clothes, sitting on hard folding chairs. The setting wasn’t conducive to relaxation, but I was so sleep-deprived, it didn’t take much for me to nod off. Fortunately, I didn’t drool or snore (I don’t think).
I thought falling asleep meant the meditation was effective but unfortunately, you have to stay awake for the full benefit.read more
Being assertive is a challenge for me, but apparently not for my appendix, which choose Memorial Day to demand its freedom. That evening, I happily complied, and a surgeon put my appendix, and me, out of our misery.
(BTW, I’m perfectly happy without that little wormlike appendage to my colon. I’ve recovered quickly, thanks in part to the many doctors over the last century who contributed to the development of laparoscopic procedures.)
The day after my surgery, an interesting dilemma presented itself–to defend myself, and risk offending my surgeon, or to stay quiet. I chose a middle ground, and I’d love to know what you would have done.
To be assertive may risk causing offense.
In my memoir, which is written and soon to be agent-ready, I explore the roots, manifestation, and consequences of my excessive agreeableness. I own the sad truth that my inability to stand up for myself made it difficult to stand up for my son Matthew during his long rumble with a childhood brain tumor.
For many years, I was well aware of my reticence toward speaking up. There were times I tried to be assertive, but mostly I stayed in my comfort zone where others’ needs took priority over mine.
Being assertive is outside my comfort zone.
But with my uncomfortable truth ready to be laid bare to the world on the pages of my memoir, I’ve been making a concerted effort to be stronger, more assertive, to speak my truth.
Part of what makes it hard for me to speak openly is my fear that I’ll offend someone. That’s what happened with my surgeon.
The morning after my appendectomy, the diminutive man with thinning hair, square glasses, and nutmeg skin stopped in to check on me, and give me my discharge instructions. In a thick accent, he sped through the dos and don’ts. I caught a few snippets–showering was OK, swimming was not, no lifting, call his office if I had any problems.
“So I don’t need to schedule a follow-up appointment with you?” I asked when he finished.
“Yes, you do!” he said with a laugh, “I just told you that.” His laugh didn’t hide his derisive tone.
What I wanted to say, also with a laugh, was, Well, you have a very heavy accent and you talk too fast, so don’t blame me.
But that seemed rude. I was afraid I might offend him. I didn’t want to sound prejudiced.
So what I said, with a smile, was, “Well, you gave me a lot of information, and I’m just trying to take it all in.”
This was growth for me. In the past, I might have said, I’m sorry, I must have missed that. Or I might have been too embarrassed to say anything.
I took a step in the right direction by not taking the blame, and not feeling the shame. But I regret not being more assertive, and I don’t know how I could have responded without offending the person who had held my life–or at least the life of my inflamed appendix–in his hands.
I regret not being more assertive.
The dilemma is, when you want to stand up for yourself, but you don’t want to offend someone in a way that is antithetical to your beliefs, what do you do?
Since I’m learning to navigate these new waters of assertiveness, I’ll ask you–
What would you have done?
I have a therapist—a mental health counselor—who I see regularly.
It’s no big deal.
I’m not mentally ill. I don’t have drug or alcohol addictions. And I’m not in the middle of a big transition like divorce, serious illness, a loved one’s death, relocating, losing a job, or starting a job.
And yet, I see a therapist.
My point is that you don’t have to have a specific diagnosis or life-altering crisis or HUGE problem to engage in counseling. It doesn’t have to be a big deal.
Mental health counseling doesn’t have to be a big deal.
I’ve been in counseling many times in my life, starting when I was an overweight 16-year-old, my self-esteem in the toilet. In college, and as a young adult, I also sought help. And then again in 1997, when motherhood overwhelmed me because my 10-year-old son Matthew was falling apart from what would later be diagnosed as a brain tumor. (OK, that WAS a big deal, but we didn’t know it was first.)
Recently, three life events sent me back to my therapist:
- Writing my memoir, and re-living the challenging years of parenting Matthew through his brain tumor.
- The pain and isolation and frustration of my chronic illness, year six.
- Growing pains. Sigh. Yes, still, at 60.
Mental health counseling is more than a bandaid.
My husband has strong shoulders to cry on, and my friends have ears open to listening, but sometimes I need a neutral, skilled party to help me weed through the surface shit and find the core of what’s bothering me. Friends and loved ones are sometimes just bandaids–very caring and soothing, but bandaids all the same. Therapy is like open-heart surgery–it gets to the source of the angst.
Some people don’t “do” counseling.
Earlier in my career, when I was a student assistance counselor in elementary schools, if I assessed a student who could benefit from counseling, I would ask the parents to consider it.
“I don’t DO counseling,” I often heard.
I get it. Some people would rather have a tooth pulled than to bare their souls to a stranger. Some people don’t feel the need to dig deep into their personalities or lives to figure themselves out. Some people won’t air their “dirty laundry” beyond family or friends. There’s no judgement here.
But if you had a recurrent pain in your calf or elbow or any there body part, when it got to be too much to bear, wouldn’t you see a doctor to treat it?
If you had a toothache, wouldn’t you see a dentist to stop the pain?
If you’re confused or sad or angry or don’t know how you feel, but you know you feel something and you want to feel better, why wouldn’t you reach out to get that help?
I reach out for help from a mental health professional because I love figuring myself out. I feel and think very deeply about just about everything…as my husband would attest. I’ve got more layers than an onion, more sides than a prism. Counseling helps me understand myself and my relationship to the world. We all have just one chance at this life, and I want to be my best self as I fumble through.
Mental health counseling is like running a marathon.
I love counseling in the way that some runners love marathons. It’s hard work. It’s usually painful. It challenges you to push through fear and self-doubt and find your inner strength. It makes you a better person in the end. For me, it’s all about personal growth, and counseling is the ultimate fertilizer.
In recognition of Mental Health Awareness month, I’m sharing my “no big deal” story in hopes that it will normalize counseling. I hope to de-stigmatize asking for, and receiving support from, a professional to help you obtain, regain, and/or maintain your emotional health.
Despite my convictions, I’m nervous about this disclosure.
In spite of my conviction that counseling need not be hidden because there’s nothing to be ashamed of, I’m still a little nervous about “outing” myself to the world on this topic. It just goes to show we all still have work to do.
I hope you’ll do the work with me. If you want counseling, I hope you’ll get it. If you’re in counseling, I hope you won’t hide it. If you’d like to “out” yourself here with a comment, go for it. I’m with you 100%.
Together, we can make caring for our emotional selves no big deal.
How do you find a therapist? Click here, and below for some resources.
Also, many states and local governments have departments of mental health, or behavioral health, and may help you find sliding fee services.
When I was a sophomore in college, I drove to Fort Lauderdale for spring break with my two roommates. It was my first time in Florida, first time on a road trip with friends, first time being threatened with arrest.
We were at a bar somewhere on the boardwalk. Most of the patrons—the guys, at least—sardined themselves into the back of the room around a low stage, whooping and hollering at a wet T-shirt contest. The air was a haze of cigarette smoke. The floor was sticky with beer, covered in peanut shells, and littered with empty plastic Solo cups.
When I finished my beer, I didn’t want to throw my cup on the floor. I didn’t see the big deal in throwing it in a trash can. Trouble was, I couldn’t find one. Wandering among the drunken hordes, avoiding the stage and the wet floor surrounding it, I searched for a place to deposit my empty cup.
When I got near the front entrance, I saw an overflowing receptacle just outside the door. Stepping out into the glaring light, I paused for a moment to reflect on the ribbon of people waiting to get inside. The line seemed endless. The bar must have been full to capacity, and a bouncer stood guard, waiting for people to leave before allowing new customers to enter.
I tossed my cup, then returned to the dungeon of debauchery.
After my second beer, I didn’t bother searching inside for a trash can. I knew right where to go. One step out, one step back in. Except this time, the bouncer stopped me.
“On no, you don’t,” he snarled at me, “you butted line once, you’re not doing it again.”
“But I was just …”
“I don’t wanna hear it. Go to the back of the line.”
“But I just …”
“Girlie, if you don’t move now, I’ll call the cops and have you arrested.”
I was stunned. The bouncer’s words stung like a slap to my face, and my face burned in response. My sense of injustice at being wrongly accused was crushing.
I’m trying to do the right thing, I wanted him to know. But my hands were effectively tied, and I knew I had to leave.
Shaking, heart pounding, gesturing wildly, I pleaded with the bouncer to let me back inside to retrieve my purse. He threatened to come in and find me if I wasn’t out in five minutes. I hurriedly found my purse, told my friends what happened, and waited for them outside. As soon as they joined me, I broke down, sobbing.
The fact that I remember this incident, and that I can still conjure the hurt, says a lot about the depth of that hurt.
It comes to mind today because I’m in the middle of a similar hurt.
It doesn’t involve beer or bars or garbage cans, and the only wet T-shirts are my husband’s in the washing machine.
But the hurt involves unwarranted accusations against my character. My attempts to defend myself are being ignored. My hands again are effectively tied.
This time, my accusers are people whose opinion of me I value. Hearing their condemnations is crushing.
The wound is still fresh. It’s so deep, I can’t imagine how it will heal. Writing about it, exploring my thoughts, sharing it here is part of my healing process.
In most interpersonal conflicts, each party has some culpability.
I believe that in most interpersonal conflicts, each party has some culpability.
In this recent conflict, I recognized my culpability, and apologized–in person, and via phone, text, email, and snail mail. None of the other parties has apologized yet. But I’m not responsible for them. I am only responsible for myself.
Undue apologizing–when you haven’t done anything wrong–is usually a people-pleasing, victim-y reaction borne of low self-esteem. Women fall into this trap more often than men. However, when an apology is justified, delivering that apology takes courage.
Apologizing, when justified, is courageous.
Even more courageous, requiring incredible restraint, is to apologize without requiring an apology in return, even when a return apology is warranted.
What strength it takes to say, “I’m sorry,” and to let that stand alone when an I’m sorry is due back to you.
I’ve learned that one of my super powers is to hold myself accountable for my mistakes, to apologize when necessary, and to let go of my expectations of other’s apologies or lack thereof.
Apologizing without requiring an apology in return is my superpower.
It doesn’t always feel good. In fact, right now, it sucks. But I’ll hold myself to a higher standard. That feels good. That will help me heal. No matter how much trash lays at my feet, I will always move toward the light.
When I was in Los Angeles recently to visit my elderly parents, one of the first things I did was work on a grocery list. I planned to go shopping later in the day.
Thick in the middle of peanut butter and canned pumpkin on my list, my dad sat down to give me directions to the supermarket. I couldn’t process what he was saying. At that moment, toilet paper and paper towels were my priority, not traffic lights and left turns.
“Dad, hold on, let me finish the list before you give me directions.”
“Well, it’s simple, Karen, you just…”
“Dad, give me a minute so I can pay attention.”
“I’ll draw you a map, Karen. If you turn right on Esplanade…”
My brain is OK with incoming information from multiple sources if the info is easily understood, like writing a reminder note, or hearing a funny story, or being asked if I want my coffee warmed up.
But for complex information, (and even directions around the block are complex for me), my brain can only handle one topic at a time.
My brain can’t multitask.
I can multitask physically, like when I make coffee at home. With my right hand, I pull the kitchen faucet hose extension over to the coffee maker to fill it. At the same time, I can open the drawer to pull out a coffee filter with my left hand, and plop it in the basket, without accidentally redirecting the faucet hose to the floor or my pants. (Usually. )
My brain can’t do that. It has folders for important information, and if the folder is closed, new data doesn’t get in.
“DAD,” I finally said, “the folder in my head for directions is closed. Anything you tell me now has nowhere to go.”
Then he understood.
If your brain is unable to multitask, a closed folder is a great visual.
My brain’s inability to multitask is the reason I haven’t posted here in awhile. I’ve had my Memoir Manuscript folder open, and not much else.
Last week, after 20 years, I finished my manuscript.
My editor will have a red pen lollapalooza with it, I’m sure, but the bulk of the writing is done.
And now, I have to open some folders that have been lying dormant for too long.
The first folder, which I opened this morning, was Website Blogs. And here we are! I’ve been neglectful of this folder lately, so my very belated New Year’s Resolution is to open this folder and post monthly.
As soon as I hit “publish” here, another folder will open: Create and launch my quarterly Newsy Letter.
My Newsy Letter is how I’ll keep in touch with my email subscribers. Here’s what it will include:
- One totally useless and possibly embarrassing fact about me.
- A snippet from my memoir, and an update on my publishing journey. I want you to be the first to know when I get a book deal! (Notice I said “when,” not “if.” I’m working the positive thinking magic!)
- Links to essays I’ve had published. Hopefully I’ll have some new ones out soon.
- Books I’ve read, and upcoming authors to watch.
- An inspirational quote.
My Newsy Letter will be a short page, four times per year. I promise it won’t overload your inbox. But if you don’t subscribe via email, you’ll miss out!
It’s so simple–just find the “Enter email” box, then, well, enter your email address. You don’t even need to have a brain folder open–it’s that simple. My 87-year-old dad has done it, and if he can, you can, too.
Speaking of my dad, once I opened the directions folder in my brain, he told me just how to get where I needed to go, and I didn’t get lost. One task completed at a time. That’s how I roll.
How do you roll? Can you multitask? If not, what folder do you have open today?
[I posted this two years ago, but tis the season, so here’s an update. BTW – I still still had to ask my husband who was playing this year!]
OK, right off the bat, er, pigskin, let me admit that I’m not a huge sports fan.
This is how out-of-touch I am with the Super Bowl scene: as I sat down to write this blog, I had to Google which teams were playing on Sunday. I know, I know, some of you are incredulous. I can’t explain how this has happened. And, yes, I am alive and breathing.
As a native of Pittsburgh, I would know if the Steelers were playing, but if not, I usually don’t pay attention. Anyway, in case you don’t already know, it’s the New England Patriots (again) and the Philadelphia Eagles. And it’s being played in Minneapolis. Don’t ask me why, but they couldn’t have found a warmer place to toss around a ball?
There will be no big parties for us this year, so Michael won’t have a room full of guys to high-five at every touchdown, or discuss kneeling during the National Anthem, or analyze what happened to the Steelers this year (again.)
Michael will be watching the game with me. He’ll make a big fire in the fireplace, we’ll gather some snacks, leave any dishes left in the sink, and forget about returning phone calls. It will be a nice evening together, but I know I’m not the most thrilling Super Bowl companion.
So here are five promises I making to my husband to help maximize his viewing experience:
1. I promise to figure out which team is wearing what colors, right at the beginning of the game, so when the first big play happens, I don’t blurt out, “Now, which team is that?”
2. I promise that when Michael goes to the kitchen for another beer, I’ll pay attention to the game so when he comes back and asks what happened, I won’t have to answer, “I don’t know – I was looking at the screen but not watching the game.”
3. I promise that when I fall asleep in the middle of the second half, I won’t be leaning against him on the couch, so he can get up easily when he needs another beer.
4. I promise that when a player doesn’t get right up from a tackle, I won’t gasp loudly and bring my hands up to my face and say things like, “I can’t look” and “I could never be a football wife.”
5. I promise to get in touch with my inner-sports fan for the evening. Even though I don’t get caught up in the Super Bowl hype, there really is a certain beauty when the receiver tears down the field, looks over his shoulder, reaches up and plucks the football from the air. I hate to make the comparison, but it’s as elegant as ballet.
And when the quarterback throws a perfect spiral right down the center of the field and nails the receiver in the gut – BAM – I get a little thrill even if I don’t know what the score is or who the team is.
The coolest to watch, though, is the way the players drag their toes across the turf when they complete a pass near the sidelines. I’m mesmerized–through every single instant replay.
I’ll do my best to make it a fun evening. I might just enjoy the action.
Hmmm. Maybe I am a fan after all?