Good Grief

It has now been a year since my mother died. I’ve tried to be healthy in my mourning.  I’ve seen a bereavement counselor a few times.  I’ve tried to focus on the wonderful gift that my mother was. In general, I’ve done very well.  I’ve been sad, but functional.  I’ve been mournful, but also hopeful.  I feel that I honor and celebrate my mother every day by the way I live my life.  Still, there is a facet of my grief has been stubborn and uncooperative.  It holds on relentlessly.  On the other hand, the grief isn’t nearly as sharp or as devastating as I thought it would be.

During the months of my mother’s illness, part of my daily terror had to do with how I could possibly withstand the shattering blow that I would doubtlessly experience when she died.  I was so sad and in so much pain while she was still alive, I couldn’t see how I would be able to handle her death.  I read the hospice information about anticipatory grief.  I think I might have been the poster child for the condition.  The research said that many people traveling with a loved one during a long illness do experience the grief of loss long before the final ending.  They may experience the exact same grief cycle as most people do when a loved one actually dies.  I absolutely understood that and I knew I was experiencing it.  The bitch of the matter, though, is that experiencing anticipatory grief in no way guarantees that the mourner will be any less shattered when the death does occur. I dreaded and resented having to experience the rawness of grief in duplicate.

When it finally happened, I found that my grief, though profound and prominent, did not feel as raw and septic as I feared it would. I think there are many reasons for that.

At first, I thought the reason that my mom’s death did not devastate me more was because of the long road we traveled together during her illness.  I started grieving long before she left me alone in this world.  After her stroke, her decline was so treacherous and unforgiving, I lost her step by step and piece by piece. As her brain gradually crumbled in the last year of her life, my heart crumbled along with it.  By the time she died, my heart wasn’t shattered because there was nothing left of it to shatter.

It was also hard not to feel some relief that my mother was finally whole and healthy and happy again in God’s dwelling place.  The foundation of my life is a belief system that encourages me to rejoice that my mother is living more abundantly in Heaven and is waiting there for me to join her.  I do find some joy in that notion.  That belief does take some of the pain out of the grief now, but it still does not prevent me from missing my mom every day in this life.

I think I also came to understand, in my mother’s last days, that I wasn’t losing everything I thought I was losing.  A blog reader once left a comment that said, during the end of life, everything burns away except love.  This was absolutely my experience.  In my mother’s illness, there were many times when she would look past me or away from me as if I wasn’t there. There were also occasions, though, when she would look into my eyes with such intensity and meaning that I could feel her loving me to my very soul.  That love, maybe the biggest and best part of her, will never die.  She loved me with a love that I can never lose.

I am sure that all of these reasons played a part in my milder mourning experience.  There is something else, though.  I had a model for grieving.  My mother gave me that.

When my father died, everyone worried about my mother.  She was always an emotional person who loved extravagantly.  She felt with the people she loved.  She rejoiced easily and cried easily.  People sometimes took that heart on her sleeve as a mark of fragility.  Not so.  When my father died, she did everything she could to mourn in a healthy way.  She cherished her memories of my father. She continued doing activities they enjoyed together.  She helped herself and her children heal by loving us and letting us love her.   She joined an online support group for widows and widowers.  She kept working at a job she enjoyed with people who uplifted her.  She mourned him deeply and permanently. I don’t think there was a Thanksgiving after his death when my mother didn’t cry when we gave thanks for the people we loved who were no longer with us. Still, in the midst of that mourning, there was a renaissance.  My mother moved towards a life of her own crafting. She set her own priorities.  She pursued her own interests. She indulged her gift for happiness. She set out on a path of continual learning and grew in every way.  She reveled in her independence.   She turned her grief into something good.

In my mourning for my mother, I think I have been experiencing my own renaissance- almost without even realizing it.  Without thinking too much about it, I find that my experience with my mother’s end of life journey has prompted me to nurture my own life.  I’ve identified several attributes in my own personality that may be holding me back from experiencing as much joy as possible in life.  Almost unconsciously, I’ve been examining those personal barriers and experimenting with strategies for knocking them out of my way.

Good grief may be the last gift my mom gave me.

What have you learned through the process of grieving a loved one?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have a blessed day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

 

Bippity-Bop Or Not?

At Disneyland and Disney World, there are magical shops called Bippity-Boppity Boutiques (BBB).  These are enchanted places where parents can spend several hundreds of dollars for a Fairy-Godmother-In-Training (FGMIT) to transform their little girls into Disney princesses.  The service includes wardrobe, hair, make-up, accessories, and photo shoots.

You can see the results all over the various Disney parks.  You can tell when a little girl has been bippity-boppetied.  She has the costume, of course.  However, many little girls roam the parks in princess regalia purchased from Walmart so you can’t know for sure that a costumed child has visited the BBB. Sometimes the newly-fashioned princess has a pink sash draped across her torso, proudly proclaiming her patronage of the boutique.  You don’t need the sash to identify the bippity-boppees, though.  It is the hair that usually tells the tale.  A fresh bippity-boppety hairdo usually involves an improbably intricate contraption of the child’s hair, wiglets, tiaras, barrettes, and hairspray.  Oh, and glitter…lots and lots of glitter.

The glitter doesn’t stop with the hair.  Usually the bippity-boppee has glittery pink or purple eye shadow and may have cheeks that glisten with pixie dust.

I always swore that, if I had a daughter or granddaughter, she would be bippiy-boppetied whether she liked it or not.  I mean, how could I not?  I even checked one time to see if I could book my own session with a FGMIT, but the age limit for such enchantment is twelve.  Since I was several multiples past twelve by that time, I was out of luck.

Not anymore. Several spas located in Disney resorts are now offering “character couture” sessions. These sessions are very much like Bippity-Boppity Boutiques for adults.

Oh, there are a few differences.  For one thing, the character couture sessions do not include costumes.  That isn’t a problem for me, since I have a Disney wardrobe that is the envy of four-year-old girls everywhere.  Also, the character couture sessions are a little less expensive than BBB, but don’t include photo shoots.  The FGMITs in BBB are not licensed cosmetologists.  Their magic involves rocking a costume, wielding a wand, and being good with children.  In the character couture experience, the stylists are real cosmetologists.  They are hair and make-up experts who are there to customize a unique hair and make-up design for each client. The character inspiration can be any of Disney’s creations- princess or pirate, Minnie or Daisy, Ariel or Ursula, pixie or Pooh- whatever sparkles the client’s fantasy fireworks. The idea is to create a look “inspired” by the client’s favorite character, but to complement the client’s own natural beauty.

When I read about this service, my immediate thought was, “I have to do this!” Then, I started wondering if I really wanted to spend about $100 for a Tinker Bell makeover.  After all, I am a grown-up and it does seem a bit extravagant for a few hours fun.  I know the service is actually intended for adults, but I’m thinking that, at nearly 59 years old, I am even pushing the boundaries of “adult.”  I also can’t imagine even my most Disney-obsessed friends joining me in the transformation and I’m not sure how much fun it would be by myself.  Still, I can’t get the idea out of my head.

There is NO WAY I would schedule a character couture until the weather cools down.  I don’t expect the makeover to last forever, but I would like to give my transformation a fighting chance of staying pixie-lated beyond the front door of the salon.  With the current weather, make-up will melt immediately upon contact with the great outdoors.  Pixie-dusted hair and humidity are also kind of mutually exclusive.  While the weather is so not “happily ever after,” I have some time to contemplate whether or not I should really do this.

I started polling my friends to get their opinions.  Most of my friends were puzzled that I would even ask since they figured an opportunity to channel the Pixie Princess has me written all over it.  As I kind of suspected, they were all gung ho for me to do it, but none of them wanted to get in on a makeover of their own. They apparently want me to be the entertainment on a girl’s trip to Disney World.  They all want to watch me get Tinkified and then go over to Magic Kingdom to visit the “real” Tinker Bell in Pixie Hollow.

I guess they want me to be the designated doofus to play dress up.  I can live with that.  What are friends for?

What do you think?  Bop or not?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a glitterific day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

REMEMBER: You can order your copy of Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement by visiting: https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076

Note the Tinker Bell green!  All it takes is faith, trust, and pixie dust!

 

I Miss My Momma

My mother was born on August 22, 1931.  She was my beautiful, love-illuminating mother for almost 58 years until her death last year.  She spent her life loving and laughing and playing and working and bringing joy to everyone who knew her.  As many of you know, she spent the last year of her life stumbling around in the rubble of her collapsing brain before she found her way home to our great God.

The time I spent walking with my mother towards the end of her life was the most difficult time of my life.  When she died, I was sad to my essence. Every cell in my body mourned her. I was also relieved that she had finally escaped that half-world where everything she knew was disintegrating around her.

When she died, I had to look for a new way to live.  Learning how to grow towards my joy after keeping vigil at the edge of her darkness for over a year has been difficult.  For the most part, I’ve done pretty well.  I think that is largely due to the huge amount of anticipatory grief I processed during my mother’s illness.  Still, there is so much I am missing in this world without my mother.

The hardest part of mourning for me has been my fear that I would never remember my happy times with my mother when she was as she was in what I refer to as her “real life.”  Yes, my brain could remember those warm, loving, joyful, funny memories.  I could even point towards times during her illness that brought me deep peace, love, and happiness.  The scary part was that it was only my brain that could remember.  My heart couldn’t seem to connect with those times anymore.  I could tell those memories to someone else, but it always felt like I was talking about something I read or about someone else’s memories.  I couldn’t feel those happy moments anymore.  Before my mother’s illness, I could deftly enter my brain’s library and find a richly beautifully shelved memory.  I could re-live that moment and actually feel all the same feelings again.  After my mom’s stroke, all the happy memories seemed to be cloaked with the heavy, uncomfortable, dark sadness.  I couldn’t struggle my way out from under that cloak and refeel the happiness.

The hospice grief counselor assured me that the time would come when I would be able to connect with those jewels of joy again.  I was skeptical, but it turns out she was correct.  It happened for the first time a couple of weeks ago.  I was in my car backing out of the garage.  Max was waving good-bye to me.  He made some funny, exaggerated motions with his hands and, immediately, I was brought back to a time when I was a teenager.  My mother came into my bedroom to wake me. She began singing:

The Lord told Noah to build him an ark-y, ark-y.

The Lord told Noah to build him an ark-y, ark-y.

He made it of hickory barky, barky… children of the Lord.

So, rise and shine and give God your glory, glory.

Rise and shine and give God your glory, glory.

Rise and shine and give God your glory, glory.  Children of the Lord!”

She sang at the top of her lungs and her performance came complete with jazz hands, which is why Max’s motion triggered the memory.  I physically felt my mood soar.  I began to giggle.  I know my whole face beamed.

That wasn’t my last “re-feeling” moment. They are coming back to me spontaneously, like beautiful little surprises. I think my mother is sending them from Heaven.

I was thinking about how much I enjoyed teaching leadership classes when I was working.  I remembered the year I won my employer’s highest award for training.  I was going to Washington DC to accept the award and participate in a videoconference about teaching techniques.  I asked my mother if she wanted to go, even though I knew she probably wasn’t physically up to the trip.  She asked if all the other award winners would have guests with them because she “would crawl there on her knees before she would let me be the only one there alone.”   She had my back, every day in every way.

I saw something the other day that mentioned how many weekends were left before Christmas and remembered my mother’s intense adoration of all things holiday. I could feel her contagious excitement in the pit of my stomach.  I was watching “Countdown to Christmas” on QVC the other day and I kept wanting to text her when I saw something cute.

That’s the thing, though.  I am thrilled to find these joy jewels coming back to me.  I love being able to relive the emotions.  I feel love. I feel pride. I feel fulfillment.  I feel silliness.  I feel nurtured.  I feel mothered.  On the other hand, just as suddenly as these waves of warm, joyful, happy feelings crest, they crash down on the reality that there will be no new moments like those to remember.

I am happy that my mother is living a new, joyful, eternal life in Heaven.  I am happy that she is waiting there to share it with me when my turn comes.  I am also happy that my heart is now receiving glimpses of all the good she lavished on me in our life together.  I know she is no longer with me in my world, but she will always be with me in my life.

Yes, these heart memories and the wistfulness that follows them remind me that I have a hole in my heart that will always be empty.  Still, I’d rather feel that hole in my heart than not feel my heart at all.

What are some of your favorite memories of a lost loved one? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a joyful day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

Jumpin’ Jaguarundi!

Have you ever heard of a jaguarundi? Neither had I… until one appeared in our backyard. His name is Whispurr.

How do I know his name is Whispurr? For that matter, how do I know he is a he? I know his name is Whispurr by decree. In other words, since he didn’t seem to be carrying any identification, I just decided on a name that seemed to fit him. Strictly speaking, I am not completely sure he is a he, but he was pretty big as jaguarundis (jaguarundice? jaguarundium?) go. Since the males are supposed to be significantly larger than the females, it seemed logical to assume our guest was a he.

This brings us to the $64,000 questions. What is a jaguarundi and how do I know that one is lurking on the outskirts of the wetland behind our house?

At around 10:30 this morning, Max called to me from the Florida room. We often see squirrels and rabbits in our backyard in the mornings, so I figured he’d spotted one of our regular furry friends. Instead, he yelled that he could see a bobcat. We have never seen a bobcat in our development, but other people have. I grabbed my phone as I came running, hoping to get a picture. Unfortunately, the “bobcat” had slinked back into the brushy wetland behind the house by the time I got to the Florida room.

I listened, disappointed, as Max described what he had seen. He said that he was looking out the Florida room window and saw a big black cat, with an incredibly long tail walking around the corner of our house.

Wait… what? My vision of bobcats is that they are a tawny-taupey color AND that they have short tails. I think they are called “bobcats” because they have “bobbed” tails, not because they are all named Robert. I asked him about the black and he said the animal wasn’t jet black like a panther, but it was definitely dark-colored. I asked if it couldn’t have been a feral house cat, but he was sure this cat was much larger than any house cat. It was long and thin and kind of bullet-shaped. Oh, and the creature’s head! From what Max described, it sounded like God tried to force a round head into a rectangular hole.

I googled “dark-colored wild cat in Florida” and came up with the jaguarundi. The jaguarundi is a small wild cat, about double the size of a house cat. It can be dark grey or black. It has a long tail and is slender and thin. They are sometimes called “otter cats” because their heads are flattened and they are shaped like an otter… or a bullet, if one is more violently minded. They are typically more active during the day. In fact, Wikipedia even specified that they are most often seen at around 11:00am!

I found out that jaguarundis eat snakes and lizards, which is good. Unfortunately, they also eat squirrels and rabbits. We are hoping Skitter and Skatter (our regular squirrel visitors) and Honey Bunny, Thumper, and Wascal (our regular rabbit friends) will make sure to visit only when Whispurr has a full belly.

There are some people who vigorously assert that there is no proof jaguarundis exist in Florida. These people were clearly not in my backyard this morning. The consensus of scientific opinion is that there is, indeed, a jaguarundi population in Florida. The population is probably not indigenous, however. The jaguarundis seen slinking around the southeast United States are probably descended from captive jaguarundis released into the wild by humans at some point. There have been sightings in central Florida since the early 1900s. Cat species can interbreed, so it is also possible that Whispurr is a hybrid of some feline genetic cocktail. Even if Whispurr is a Heinz 57 of a cat, it seems certain to me that he has a goodly amount of jaguarundi blood coursing through his veins.

Why am I so sure that the fine furry feline in our backyard is a jaguarundi? For one thing, the Wikipedia description matches exactly to what Max observed, down to his smushed, flattened head and preferred time of day to prowl about town. I showed Max a picture of a jaguarundi on the internet and he immediately identified it as the spitting image of Whispurr. Also, a few days ago, I thought I saw some sort of dark creature down by the wetland. At the time, I wasn’t even sure I had seen anything because it was gone in a flash. I just caught it out of the corner of my eye. I thought it was just a shadow slanting off the neighbor’s Florida room. Now, I think it must have been Whispurr.

There is one more bit of evidence that supports our own personal jaguarundi sighting. For the last couple of months, we have noticed some weird animal poop in the ornamental rock area surrounding our house. We wondered what was leaving it. Given our latest development and a little subsequent research, I am now willing to bet money that it is jaguarundi poop.

There truly is no end to what you can find out on the internet… just try googling “jaguarundi scat” and see what I mean!

What is the weirdest or most exotic animal you have seen in the wild?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a purr-fect day!!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

REMEMBER: You can order your copy of Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement by visiting: https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076

Flying Creatures Of The World, Unite!

And that seems to be exactly what they are doing. Uniting. In mid-air.

It seems like something has gotten into the birds, butterflies, moths, and dragonflies in central Florida. Something frisky, to be precise. For the past couple of weeks, I look out my window to see birds in brilliant shades of red and blue and yellow engaged in elaborate mating rituals. I see parades of butterflies, soaring around trying to impress each other. I see moths displaying their most spectacular colors and patterns. The other day, I was driving and could see two copulating dragonfly couples spinning through the air. At least, I think they were copulating. Maybe they were just cuddling.

I suppose it is just a natural phenomenon that I am experiencing. I would have thought this frenzy of animal attraction would have happened earlier in the spring, so I did some googling and found out that butterflies and moths tend to emerge from their cocoons in the late spring or early summer. As soon as they emerge from the cocoons, there is apparently a free-for-all designed to keep their genetic material going. Dragonflies supposedly mate during the hottest and wettest time of the year. It is feakin’ Florida. I wonder how they know when it isn’t time to mate? As for the beautiful bird ballets, I had a harder time accounting for those. Googling confirmed that mating usually takes place in the spring. Maybe my fine featherer friends were just feeling left out.

Whatever the timing of this explosion of color and life, it is amazing to behold. Whatever it is, it is perfect. I don’t know why I’ve never noticed it in past years. The grace and peace and inaudible music of the whole panorama is too lovely to describe. It is heart-breaking and heart-healing all at the same time. When one of these vignettes catches my eye outside my dining room window, my brain seems to suspend all activity. I don’t think about what I am seeing… or about anything else, for that matter. My mind and my heart and my soul just live in the beauty of what I am experiencing. My senses overlap- I seem to be able to see sounds, hear sights, taste scents, and touch God.

Maybe that is why I’ve never noticed this phenomenon before now. I’ve not been able to let my senses override my brain enough to fully live in the moment and appreciate this exquisite miracle around me.

I hope it isn’t too weird that I am noticing this. Being so fascinated by free flying creature procreation makes me feel just a little voyeuristic and obscene. On the other hand, the United States Supreme Court decided that one criteria for obscenity was that it didn’t have any “artistic value.” I think my flying friends might be the very essence of “artistic value.”

What miracles have you encountered when you observe nature?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a miraculous day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

REMEMBER: You can order your copy of Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement by visiting: https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076

Fresh Starts

Recently, I published a post called Graceful, about my spectacular clumsiness. Several of my friends who have known me for some time commented that I was too hard on myself and that they didn’t consider me particularly klutzy. They may have reopened Pandora’s box.

After considering this feedback, I thought it might be time to rethink my position (especially if that position is inclined to be unstable…. I am much better off on firm ground!). In keeping with my quest to open myself up to new experiences and bolstered by my friends’ confidence in my ability to remain upright, I decided to buy a new pair of flip flops.

I didn’t completely throw caution (and several years of painful experience) to the wind. I did some research and discovered Vionic sandals. Vionic shoes are supposed to be great for your feet, ankles, legs, hips, back, neck, shoulders, and maybe even your spleen. They make flip flops in all kinds of cute colors and patterns. Online reviewers rave about their comfort and orthopedic splendor. They are expensive, but people swear they are worth every penny. Surely, I reasoned, if this company is all about health and foot safety, their designs must be less perilous to the dexterity-challenged than the $12 Old Navy variety of flip flops.

I plunked down my credit card at the local department store and bought a pair of these cloudwalkers. I took them home and began to wear them the next day. Time will judge the wisdom of this decision. I am hopeful, however.

Retirement really is about making fresh starts. It is the perfect time to try activities for the first time. It is also the perfect time for trying a second take if something didn’t work out so well the first time. In retirement, the stakes for experimenting are both higher and lower than they were when I was working. The stakes are higher because, as I age, it becomes clearer to me that my time in this world is limited. If I don’t try things I want to explore now, there might not be another chance. On the other hand, the stakes are lower because I am the only one who defines success and failure now. There are no bosses to disappoint. There is no annual review to make me feel inadequate. It is up to me to decide what success looks and feels like. For me, the success is in the trying and allowing myself to delight in the attempt. It is pretty cool to do something that you’ve always wanted to do. It is pretty cool to do something that has always scared you in the past. It is pretty cool to consider yourself a winner, even when the product resulting from your effort is a bit of a loser.

I’ve done a lot of new things in the past several years. I’ve moved across the country. I’ve learned to be part of a community. I’ve spent days swimming with dolphins. I’ve started a blog. I’ve published a book. I’ve painted a picture. I’ve given a party. I’ve gone Christmas caroling. I’ve started doing water aerobics. I’ve changed religious affiliation. Some of these endeavors have yielded beautiful results; others not so much. I can say, though, that every single one of them has brought me pleasure and delight. I consider all of them to be unmitigated and absolute successes!

We’ll see how Take Two with the flip flops goes. So far, all is well with my experiment into foot fresh starts. However, if you hear of any freak flip flop related fatality, you will know why Terri LaBonte is no longer publishing weekly blog posts.

Have you had an experience with a “fresh start?” Have you tried something again that you had previously abandoned?  What was that experience like for you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a flip floppy kind of day, without actually flopping!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

REMEMBER: You can order your copy of Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement by visiting: https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076

The Harbinger Of Doom

It seems that, as we age, we are called to deal with bad news more often than when we are younger. Maybe it is because all the people we love are also aging and experiencing more health problems. Maybe it is because the elders that often protected us and buffered us from the brunt of bad news are now gone.

Somewhere along the way, I have become the designated driver of bad news. I’m not sure how it happened or why, but I seem to be the person that gets the rotten task of telling someone that something bad has happened.
I first noticed it when my aunt died. My brother, who lived about five miles from my mother, called me to drive out and tell my mother the sad news that her sister had passed. I drove 150 miles roundtrip to be the bearer of bad news.

I had three employees die during my career and I was the one who got to share that news with the staff. I had to fire several people during my tenure in management, which was very difficult.

It isn’t that I’m especially good at breaking bad news. I never know what to say, no matter how hard I try to come up with the right words. I can’t say I have ever noticed that anyone’s grief was lessened because I was the one who told them. I think the only skill that I have learned to bring to these unpleasant conversations is that people get to feel however they feel. Perhaps, if there is a way to manage another person’s grief, that way is to NOT manage it. Maybe I’m a good person to break bad news because I understand that. I am willing to listen and sit silently in the wake of the other person’s grief, trying to absorb as much of it as I can.

I’m not sure when I started developing this skill, if it is indeed any skill. I’m not sure it is. I can’t explain it or tell you what steps it entails.
Maybe it was when my father died and I found myself comforted by selecting the music and readings for his funeral mass. I was going to read the responsorial psalm and I was nervous about it because I wasn’t sure I could get through it without crying. I found that, as I spoke the words of the psalm, my voice actually got stronger and my soul felt lighter. I am sure that was the intention of the psalmist. I volunteered to do these tasks because I saw it as the last service I could do for my father- to see that he was blessed on his way to Heaven and that the people he left behind were comforted.

Maybe it was when an employee died in a train accident, only a few years after surviving an earlier crash on the same train line. I did not think of the “right” things to do. Someone else had the presence of mind to call in the grief counselor and informed the union president, who called me to suggest truly sensible, practical things we might do to help the family. I was the one who made the grieving about my other employees- sitting with them, as a group and individually, and assuring them that their grief was important. I went to the funeral, even though the service was many miles away from my home. This happened soon after I took the position in this new office. Oddly, I noticed a shift in attitude towards me after these events. I could feel a subtle change towards their desire to let me lead them. I didn’t behave in any particular way during this time in order to curry favor with the employees, yet it happened.

Maybe it was even earlier. I remember, as a very small child, the day my maternal grandmother died. I was in first grade and, when I came home from school, my mother told me that Nana had gone to Heaven. She was crying and shaky and seemed almost like a stranger to me. I climbed into her lap and cried with her, as she rocked me in the rocking chair and held me. Yes, that is probably when I first learned to give bad news and try to bear some of the pain.

It is hard to be the town crier of catastrophe. It feels like desperation to me when I know I am going into a situation that will require me to tell another person something that will cause them great sadness. In a way, I think that feeling of desperation and confusion is almost the beginning of me trying to absorb some of the grief. It is either self-pity or empathy. I choose to believe it is empathy.

Despite the fact that being the bearer or bad tidings is such a difficult task and takes so much of my inner reserves, I am glad that I have been able to experience these situations. Being with people in these moments of grief has taught me a lot about how to live and how to die. While I pour out my emotional reserves, I often find I am repaid with a wide spectrum of wisdom after the experience. There is a richness in these experiences that I am privileged to share.

A cousin of mine had a massive stroke about a month before my mother suffered her stroke. He died eleven days later. He was my mother’s godson. In my extended family, there are many cousins. Since my family moved far away from most of the siblings and relations over fifty years ago, there are only a few with whom we have kept a continual bond and relationship over the years of separation. The cousin who just died was one of the few. He bought me my first typewriter for Christmas one year when I was a little girl. It was bright orange. He airmailed it to me, likely spending more money on the shipping than on the typewriter itself. He used to send me holiday greeting cards decorated with sheet music that I could actually play on my flute when I was in the school band in junior high. He took me gallivanting through Manhattan, even to see Broadway plays, when I made trips to New York as an adult.

His sister called me when it happened and asked me to tell my mother, of course. She called my mother a few times after the original news, giving updates while we were waiting for the tests to come back that would suggest a prognosis. She tried to make these updates sound cheery and hopeful, even though they really weren’t. The news finally came that the stroke was devastating and any rehabilitation was unlikely. The hospital was moving my cousin to Hospice where a breathing apparatus was going to be removed. The doctors did not expect my cousin to survive long after the transfer. Of course, at that point, my cousin called me, the harbinger of doom, to give my mother the bad news. A day or so later, when my cousin died, I was again called upon to tell my mother the sad ending to the story.

Telling an 85-year-old disabled woman who has always cried over even slightly sentimental events (like my first communion) that her godson was dying and, then, that he succumbed to his illness, was difficult. I could say I didn’t want to upset her, which is, of course, the truth. However, such a desire was completely unrealistic. Of course I was going to upset her. I just didn’t want her to be upset to the point of making herself ill and compromising her own life. I told her and she was upset, of course. But that is okay. She was allowed to be upset and, if she wanted to cry, she was allowed to cry. She kept apologizing and I kept assuring her that it was okay…. That she gets to feel however she feels. It soon became clear that, despite the tears, she was actually strong and wise and faithful enough to know that the best thing that could have happened for my cousin had happened. She found it sad and confounding that he should be gone and she should still continue in this life, but she knew that his life was often complicated and fraught with darkness. She also knew that, given the effects of the stroke, any life he had in this world would be painful and compromised.

I have learned that a death often brings a life into focus. When I was still working, I used to think that wasting time was a luxury that I could indulge once I retired. Being the harbinger of doom has taught me that wasting time is not a luxury. It is simply a waste. When I leave this life, I want the life I leave to be emanating light and love and courage. Until that day comes, I will not waste time. I will spend time. I will use time. I will invest time. I will percolate in time. I will do all these things with time in a different way and for different reasons than I did while I was working, but I will remember that time is precious. Using it wisely, whatever wisely means, is the most important thing we can do in our lives.

How do you relay bad news?  Have you found that you have to do so now more than you did when you were younger?  What have you learned from the experience?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a doom-free day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

REMEMBER: You can order your copy of Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement by visiting: https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076

Discovery In The Cove

I say I’m not very good at once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I justify spending money to do something by saying, “I’m only going to do it once,” but I am rarely successful in limiting myself to one time if I enjoy an experience.

I proved this point yet again by visiting Discovery Cove, Sea World’s dolphin-centric sister park in Orlando. I visited the park for the first time last year. The experience blew my mind. I had such a great time, I actually wrote two separate blog posts about my playdate with the porpoises. You can catch a rerun of those posts by visiting:

My Date With The Dolphins

School Of Dolphins

Even though my dolphin day at Discovery Cove was beyond my wildest expectations, my initial thought was that I probably wouldn’t do it again. There is a steep discount on the admission for Florida residents. Still, I did suffer a bit of sticker shock when the ticket price showed up on my credit card. The amount just seemed ridiculous for a day at a theme park. On the other hand, the admission gets you a lot for your money and there is a pretty low limited daily entrance to the park. You never feel like you are fighting the marauding hordes for your entertainment or for any of the “free” (well…. let’s say “included in the price of admission”) goodies they hand out with wild abandon (meals, snacks of every ilk, soft drinks, frozen beverages, beer, wine, dolphin safe sunscreen, towels, snorkeling gear, showers, shampoo, conditioner, and other stuff that I’m probably forgetting). Also, the admission price includes unlimited admission for fourteen days to Sea World and the other sister park, Aquatica.

You can probably tell that I am still trying to justify my decision to pay the big bucks and return to the park this year. Since I went ahead and did it, it is probably time to let it go.

Once I made my reservation, I began to wonder if my second trip to Discovery Cove would be as magical as my previous visit. Was it possible to enjoy the experience as much once the serendipity factor no longer applied? I remember that, on my first trip, it seemed like some unexpected, delightful surprise lurked around every corner. Now that I knew the drill, would these encounters fail to enchant me? Also, last time, my Discovery Cove trip came at a particularly difficult and stressful time in my life. In fact, I’d cancelled my original reservation because it was scheduled when my mother’s stroke was still a new and stultifying situation. By the time I actually went, my mother and I had already been through most of our difficult journey together. She had been living in the skilled nursing facility for about five months. We were past the point of believing she was going to improve and not yet at the point where death prepared to pounce. We were both living in a shadow world and trying to light the way for each other. I’m sure the fact that my first trip to Discovery Cove propelled me totally away from Stroke World for one, beautiful, restful day enhanced my first experience.

When I packed up for my recent excursion, I was a little apprehensive. Maybe it was better to live with my perfect memory of my “once in a lifetime” Discovery Cove adventure rather than risk overlaying it with another trip that might not be as wonderful. Then, I considered that I am trying to broaden my horizons by being braver and less anxious. I am trying to embrace the now rather than living in the past or obsessing about the future. I am trying to stop automatically saying “no” to things simply because they make me a little uneasy. So I said “yes” to myself and went to Discovery Cove.

The activities I enjoyed at Discovery Cove were very similar to my prior visit. I swam with the dolphins, snorkeled in the salt water reef, waded past marmosets and otters, fed birds in the aviary, and lounged my way down a lazy river. I spent hours and hours in the water. I ambled aimlessly around the beautiful grounds, sliding my feet through the elegant sand beaches and splashing around the edges of the coves. I ate and drank and read my kindle. I shopped in the little stores. I stayed even longer than I stayed last year. And I enjoyed every moment of it.

On one of my numerous trips down the lazy river, I floated behind a family with two small children. As I passed them, I heard the little girl exclaim, “Mommy, this is the best day ever!” I closed my eyes, listened to the birds chattering around me, snuggled my shoulders deeper under the gently warm water, and felt the sun skip across my face. I smiled and thought to myself, “it sure is.”

That spontaneous reaction started me thinking. Was it the best day ever? How could it be better than my last trip? Was it better than my last trip? Wasn’t it the same experience?

In purely objective terms, I could argue that this visit might not have been quite as good as my first visit. The dolphin assigned to my pod was a bit of a maverick and wasn’t really in the mood to play host to a bunch of strangers that day. Her dolphin ADHD required some patience and creativity. It was a bit chaotic. Also, the sloth I went to visit at the animal encounter kiosk was not able to overcome his slothful DNA and rouse himself from his crate, so there was no small furry animal petting on this visit. Also, I forgot my credit card and worried that I would be unable to purchase merchandise to take home. I also lost my brand new sparkly prescription sunglasses somewhere in the depths of the snorkeling reef.

Still, I had a wonderful time and I am not even going to pretend that I don’t want to go back next year. So, what was different this time that made my visit a new, magical event despite the minor glitches I’ve mentioned?

It is true that the activities were basically the same as last year, but the difference is that I am not the same as last year. I am much further along in my journey to improve my capacity to enjoy life as it comes and embrace new adventures without mourning what they are not. I am more confident. My heart is more open. My brain is calmer. I even embraced the glitches. I didn’t just tolerate them; I leveraged them.

I may not have been able to pet a sloth this time around, but I had a new experience. I held a macaw on my arm. That was pretty cool. Instead of worrying about the scheduling short circuiting while my dolphin played keep away, I enjoyed the extra time in the cool saltwater surrounded by a whole navy of dolphins. When I realized that I had forgotten my credit card, I stopped to strategize about how I could overcome the problem. In the past, I know I would have panicked, mournfully declaring immediate defeat. I would have been all woebegone over my inability to buy stuff. This time, I remained calm and brainstormed some ways I might still be able to charge merchandise. In doing so, I figured out how to use Apple Pay. While the loss of my sunglasses was a little more difficult to push away from my overactive nervous system, I was able to do so. I remembered that these glasses were the same prescription as my old ones, which were in the glove compartment of my car. I didn’t love that I lost the glasses, but it was not a tragedy. As if to reward my determined Zen-ness, someone found my sunglasses and returned them to Lost and Found by the end of the day.

So even though my day’s activities were pretty much the same during both my visits, each visit was a very different experience. Both were the “best day ever” while I was living them. Maybe this most recent visit felt even more like the “best day ever” because I have changed enough to immerse myself more deeply in the present moment.

Nothing is ever exactly the same. The earth keeps turning and the soul keeps growing. I think every experience is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

What do you think?  Have you ever done something that seemed very different than a time when you did it before because you were different?  Please tell us about it!  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a one-of-a-kind day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

REMEMBER: You can order your copy of Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement by visiting: https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076

EXTRA, EXTRA, READ ALL ABOUT IT!  If you would like a second helping of Terri, I am guest posting on another retirement lifestyle blog this week. If you’d like to read my post, The Dream Is In The Doing,  please visit:

http://retirementandgoodliving.com/the-dream-is-in-the-doing/

 

Summerwhine… And The Living? Not So Easy!

It is time for my mandatory annual Florida summer weather rant.  I admit it’s a bit early, as summer officially started only a few weeks ago.  However, summer did not get the memo in central Florida.  Summer weather started early this year and visited our home in a particularly diabolical way.

It’s kind of ironic.  Just the other day, I mentioned to Max that I thought I had finally come to terms with summer in Florida.  After three summers in the Land-Where-You-Drink-The-Air, you would think I would have realized resistance is futile before now.  I am a slow learner.  I think the heat and humidity short circuits the synopses in my brain, impairing my ability to process information.

When we spent our first summer in Florida, we were concerned about protecting the nation’s resources.  Less altruistically, we were also concerned about the electric bill.  We ran the air conditioner only when the temperature in the house hit 84 degrees and we typically only brought it down to about 79 degrees.  Why those numbers?  I have no idea.  The next summer, I quietly reset the threshold to 80 degrees and would let the air conditioning run until we hit 74 degrees.

This year, Max apparently realized that I am a much nicer person with whom to live when the temperature is regularly below the boiling point.  He started turning the air conditioner on at 77 degrees.  I found myself able to sit comfortably watching television in shorts and a tank top.  Max put on a jacket and brought a blanket out from the bedroom.  I don’t know which of us has a faultier internal thermostat.  The bottom line is that he can keep putting clothes on, but there comes a point when there is nothing left for me to take off…. And nobody wants me to reach that point.

So, this year, when the temperatures climbed, the humidity soaked through the sky, and the thunderwowers surged, I felt slightly less tetchy than in past summers.  We had a very active month of May, filled with exciting events, including a trip to Texas to visit a cherished friend, the publication of my book (which you can order at https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076 hint, hint, nudge, nudge), and a visit from another cherished friend for my launch party.  By the time late May rolled around, and summer with it (no, don’t consult a calendar…. Believe me, summer started in late May this year!), I felt content to stick close to home in my comfortably cool house.

Then, all that changed.  The air conditioner died.

Max and I were watching television in the midst of a crackling storm.  There was wind, thunder, lightning, and enough rain to drown the cats and dogs.  All of a sudden, we heard a loud crack.  At first, we figured the noise was thunder, but it sounded different enough that we both noticed it.  The electricity went off for a second or two but came back on even before the clocks had time to stall.  We continued watching television until it was time for bed.  We noticed the house seemed a little warm and checked the thermostat.  The temperature was higher than it was before we started watching TV, even though we could hear the whirring of the air conditioner fan.  We soon realized that  the fan in the garage was still going, but the air conditioner unit outside was not.

I decided this catastrophe must have had something to do with the storm or a power surge when the electricity restarted.  I went googling around to figure out possible remedies.  Max spent many years working as a manager and dispatcher for a company that worked on commercial heating and cooling systems.  He is only marginally better than I am at home repairs, but he is very good at knowing what questions to ask and diagnosing probable issues.  Max believed that the cracking noise we heard was the death rattle of the air conditioner compressor. I, of course, gave a lot of weight to his opinion because of his experience.  On the other hand, Max is also a bit of a fatalist and tends to imagine the worst case scenario in every case.  In my heart of hearts, I knew that there was at least a 75% chance that Max was correct and the compressor was deceased.  However, I really tried to live in the other 25% of my brain- the part that was in denial.

The next morning, I went outside to look at the air conditioning unit.  I saw no charring or melting.  I tried a few tricks that I learned in my googling, to no avail.  Max also looked at the equipment and found nothing that would explain its sudden demise.  The 25% denial part of my brain in which I was living started to get more claustrophobic.

Of course, when the air conditioning people came to look at the unit, they announced that the compressor in our 12-year-old air conditioner was grounded (which I guess means “should be six feet under ground”).  We could fix it for $2000 or replace the whole system for $5700.  I opted to replace the system, which I believe was the right financial decision.  However, opting for replacement meant that we had to wait for reinvigorated air conditioning for nine days.

So much for coming to terms with Florida summer. I “slept” with two fans blowing on my bed.  I actually forgot what it felt like to be not sweaty. I rarely turned on the hot water in the shower.  I changed clothes several times a day.  We went to the beach so I could remember what it felt like to breathe.  I fell asleep in a movie theater, lulled into slumber by the novelty of air conditioning and recliner seats.  I actually enjoyed going to jury duty because the temperature in the jury assembly room was set below “par-boil.”

I think it is remarkable that I did not lose my mind during those nine days. A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Leaving mine to soak in the pot of boiling water that was my home surely wasn’t good for it.   I think surviving this challenge qualifies me for honorary native Floridian status.

Now that we have a whole new air conditioning system, our house is more consistently comfortable and energy efficient.  It is kind of amazing how much better the new one is performing.  It is set at 75 degrees.  When we go out, we turn it off and the temperature does rise…. because it is freakin’ Florida and it is summer…but we are comfortable very soon after flipping the thermoset back to “cool.”  With the old system, once the house was warm it was probably going to stay warm until October.

It is still early days to declare victory over my summerwhine blues.  There is plenty of time for me to worry about another hurricane.  There is plenty of time for me to go stir-crazy because thunderstorms and torrential rain make it perilous to undertake leisure outings.  There is plenty of time for me to dissolve into a pile of goo while out doing errands.  There is plenty of time for my joints to stiffen from the humidity and inactivity necessitated by summer heat lethargy.

Still, for right now, I’m okay with summer.  Today, I am blissfully grateful because the only thing that is overheated in my house is my credit card from paying for the new air conditioner!

What do you like best and worst about summer?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Stay Cool!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

REMEMBER: You can order your copy of Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement by visiting: https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076

 

 

 

America The Beautiful (A Prayer)

Oh, beautiful for spacious skies,
(Help us to keep them clean and blue.)
For amber waves of grain,
(And remind us, when we reap the harvest, to nourish others, too.)
For purple mountain majesties
(Sometimes we struggle to the crest)
Above the fruited plain!
(But, with Your grace, we’ll reach Your banquet when at last we come to rest.)
America! America!
(Help us love our people, one and all)
God shed His grace on Thee,
(And heal us, Gracious Father, at the times when we will fall.)
And crown thy good with brotherhood
(Open our hearts to Love and Right)
From sea to shining sea
(So, as our nation changes, it changes towards the Light.)

What will you be doing to honor out country on Independence Day?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a great 4th of July!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

REMEMBER: You can order your copy of Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement by visiting: https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076

PS  How do you like the red, white, and blue action?