CARPE DIEM

The room is dark.  The technician is polite… professional… distant.

“Any history of cancer?” she asks.

Cancer? God no. We’re looking for gallstones, right? Find the stones. Remove the stones. Easy peasy. Cancer? Why did she ask that?

I lie on the table and hold my breath at all the right times. Roll this way and that at her command. Maybe if I’m a good patient, I’ll get a good diagnosis?

I think about my mother, gone for nearly a year, and of the endless medical procedures she endured during her last few years of life. She was old, nearly 90 when she died. Like most old people, she spent an inordinate amount of her dwindling time in a health care maze of doctors appointments, lab tests and hospitals.

Now, lying on the exam table, I wonder if I have taken her place on the medical assembly line.  I suddenly feel old. Vulnerable. I’m in my 60’s… early 60’s… but 60’s just the same. I’ve entered the decade when stuff happens. I stare at the cheap reproduction of Monet’s Water Lillies on the wall while snippets of recent conversations float into my brain.

“Did you hear about Jane? She had a heart attack last week.”

“How’s Bob doing after his knee replacement?”

“Did you hear how Eileen’s tests for lung cancer went?”

I used to be young. I miss being young.  I look up at the ceiling and bargain. I’ll never take another day for granted again. If I get through this without one of those heart stopping diagnoses that divide your life into “before” and “after”, I’ll make the most of each and every day. I know I’ve said this before, but this time I really mean it. Really.

I spend the next few days trying not to think, or worry, about the test results. And then the email comes from my doctor. All is well.  My life has not yet divided into “before” and “after”.

The sun is shining brightly, beckoning me to keep my promise. I head out for a walk around my neighborhood.  I finally make plans for that hike to see the fall colors before the first snow blankets the mountains.  I may not be young anymore but I’ll never be any younger than I am today.

My wise mother once told me to seize my sixties because it could be my last good decade. Okay Mom, you got my attention. I’m listening.  Tempus fugit.  Gotta run…

 

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I JUST NEVER KNEW

I never knew how much it hurts when your mother dies.  The nurse in me had always accepted that death is inevitable. No one lives forever. Everyone loses their parents eventually. It’s the na…

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I JUST NEVER KNEW

I never knew how much it hurts when your mother dies.  The nurse in me had always accepted that death is inevitable. No one lives forever. Everyone loses their parents eventually. It’s the natural order of things.  Except when it is your mother and then the abstract becomes excruciatingly personal.

Confusion is one stage of grief I did not expect. I expected denial. But I’m not in denial.  I know my mother died. I watched her take her last breath. No, what I feel is confusion. How can this be? My life has regained some semblance of normalcy. Work keeps me busy. I have moved past gut wrenching inertia and regained some of the  energy I need to do the things I always loved.  Snowshoeing in the mountains. Spending time with friends. But then I walk through a department store and see a jacket my mother would have loved for her birthday. DSC01819DSC02781 And there is no one to buy it for. And I’m confused.

How can this be? It just doesn’t make sense.  A world without my mother? Her heartbeat was the first sound I ever heard. While safe in her womb, her heartbeat was my first awareness of the world. And when it stopped, the world tipped, throwing me off balance and bringing me to my knees.

Since before I drew I my first breath, my mother was there. For my entire existence, she was there. She’s always been there. And now she is not. And how can that be? Okay, I know she died. I accept that. But why does it have to be forever? Why can’t she come back? Once in a while? Just for a chat? And a hug? I know she can’t stay. But maybe a visit now and then? Catch up on what my kids are doing. Chat about books and movies and how things used to be when we were all young and happy on the shores of Long Island Sound. How can it be this permanent? I can’t handle the permanence. It’s the permanence that makes no damn sense.

 

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WRITE NOW

Last year at this time,  I was lucky enough to still have my mother. A generous woman who remembered every birthday, every anniversary, with cards and gifts. I also had a lot of stuff. Too much stu…

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WRITE NOW

Last year at this time,  I was lucky enough to still have my mother. A generous woman who remembered every birthday, every anniversary, with cards and gifts.

I also had a lot of stuff. Too much stuff. It occurred to me that I didn’t need any more stuff. What I needed was more time with my mother. At 88, who knew how much more time we would have together.

So I decided that instead of birthday presents of more stuff, what I wanted most from my mother was more memories. Her memories. I already had my memories but wanted to hear her version.  And so I asked that in the future, could she send me gifts of memories. In each birthday, anniversary and Christmas card, could she substitute her traditional gift cards to restaurants and department stores with her memories. Hand written, cherished memories. And while she did still sneak in a gift card now and then, she started sending me her memories.

I found one of those cards today. Out of the blue. While rummaging through my desk for something I have already forgotten, I found a card that she had sent last year for my birthday. Her familiar handwriting leapt off the page and startled me. And then soothed me. The same handwriting that had signed my report cards eons ago. The same handwriting that had comforted and encouraged me in letters sent when I had been feeling lost and far from home. The same handwriting that had begun jotting notes of nearly everything as she lost confidence in her memory to keep track of even the mundane.

The world around me fell silent as I pulled up a chair to sit and savor her words in that familiar handwriting. She talked about how proud she was of me as I stood in my favorite blue dress on the bleachers in my school auditorium, singing my heart out in my second grade school play. She said she was still so proud of me. Proud of the mother I had become and the daughters I had raised. She wrote about how much she had enjoyed a recent phone call from my daughter, sharing thoughts on how far apart to space a second baby. Her favorite memory of me, her second child, was how easily I had napped. As the mother of two, I get it.

The card was dated October 4, 2015. Less than two months later, she was gone. Forever. No new memories to create or old memories to share. But I still have her card, in that familiar handwriting I know so well.  Emails get deleted. Phone calls forgotten. But I have her handwritten note and will keep it and reread it whenever I need to spend some time with her.

The time it takes to write a card or note is never wasted.  It brings joy when first received and only grows more valuable with time. Stuff wears out. Gets broken. Lost. Heirlooms don’t need to be made of silver or gold, china or crystal. Written memories are more precious than all the stuff we have stacked away in closets and attics.

Thank you, Mom, for taking the time to write and share your thoughts and memories.  It was wonderful to hear from you today.

Miss you heaps.

Posted in Aging, life lesson in love, Memories, motherhood, mothers day, the written word | Tagged , , , , | 19 Comments

BEHIND THE NURSERY DOOR

Growing up in the 50’s, I was told that girls were made of “sugar and spice and everything nice”. Boys, on the other hand, were made of “snips and snails and puppy dog tails…

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ACROSS THE GREAT DIVIDE

Ace, ice, elevate. Gulp down a handful of Advil and my bruised ankle should feel better in no time. If only it was that easy to heal my bruised ego. It’s 2AM, hours after my latest embarrassing clash with the realities of aging, and still my ego aches worse than my twisted ankle. What was I thinking?

I have been known, on occasion, to glibly assure my younger friends that turning 60 is not as bad as they fear. You’re only as old as you feel. Yeah, about that. You may feel young at the start of your day, alone in your kitchen, enjoying the sunshine and your leisurely second cup of coffee. Try spending a few hours in the company of those who are truly young. You too will be forced to face facts that you, my dear, are old. Maybe not ancient old. But certainly old in the eyes of the millennials who have taken your place in the world of the relevant.

I suppose it’s my fault for thinking I could defy the calendar. I signed on with a modeling agency in hopes of landing the occasional job calling for a white haired woman. I feel silly calling myself a model since I am far from glamorous  and more than a few dress sizes away from a model’s body.  So how did I end up at a photo shoot which seemed to be hell bent on humiliating me and making me long for a senior center filled with fellow white hairs?

The shoot got off to a bad start when the twenty-something wardrobe chick with the red and purple hair handed me a pair of what looked to be impossibly small jeans and steered me in the direction of the dressing room.  Without my reading glasses, I had not a clue what size they were, but there was no way I was going back out to fetch them.

The jeans were that annoyingly stretchy material that has replaced the denim of my youth.  Ever the optimist, I took a chance, and a very deep breath, and struggled into them. Turns out that even stretchy, size 8 jeans only stretch so far. I didn’t need glasses to read the horrified looks on the faces of the make-up girl and the director. The wardrobe chick was sent shopping while I cooled my heels, and size 12 hips, in the dressing room.

She eventually returned with larger jeans, a looser top, boots with heels the size of the Empire State Building and… a dog.  A large, energetic dog which proved to be way more interested in chasing squirrels and cars than in making me look good.  As we headed off to downtown Denver, it was obvious who was going to be the star of the show.

“Let’s try that one more time,” sighed the obviously frustrated photographer. My job was to walk the dog along a busy city street, relaxed and smiling, all while balancing on heels not compatible with what was being asked of me. That dog could smell fear and knew it was him, not me, who was in charge.

“It looks like the dog is walking you,” complained the director.

“That’s because he is,” I replied as nicely as I could without letting on what I thought of their ill-conceived plan.  Either put me in flats or find a dog that has outgrown chasing cars.

The dog was eventually sent home and we all moved on to a new location, new wardrobe and new challenges.  This time, I was handed size-appropriate jeans and pointed in the direction of the photographer’s car.  While the crew set up for the next shoot, I crouched down low in the car to peel off the stretchy jeans. Memories of zipping my jeans in my boyfriend’s car, so very long ago, floated back to me.  It struck me as downright hilarious to now find myself back in that same position, crouched and zipping. I was still smirking when I exited the car and handed the stretchy jeans to the wardrobe girl.

“What’s so funny?” she asked.

Was  she actually looking at me in that worried way young people look at their grandma when she starts showing signs of dementia?  Maybe I was just overly sensitive. Sharing my funny trip down memory lane might show her how cool I really was.

“I was just thinking how long it has been since I zipped up my jeans in the back seat of someone’s car.”

“Ewwwwww,” was all she said before turning and hurrying away to find the rest of the crew.

I couldn’t keep up with her in those blasted heels.  I tried short, quick steps. No good.  I tried long, lunging steps. No better. After twisting my ankle for the third time, I took off the boots and walked barefoot down the chilly sidewalk. Let her think I’m old and demented. At least I’d remain upright for the rest of the shoot.

Even the worst days must eventually come to an end. As the sun set over Denver, I headed home. Home to my husband who shares my reading glasses and can’t see my wrinkles without them. Home to my friends who share stories of hot flashes, memory lapses and the aches and pains of aging. Home to my mailbox which will someday soon hold a check for the photo shoot, making those few hours of embarrassment seem almost worth it.

Do I regret putting myself out there? Not really.  Will I do it again if I get the chance?  You betcha!  I’m not yet ready to go gentle into that good night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Aging, generation gap, modeling, never give up | Tagged , , , , , , , | 13 Comments