Changing Leaves

It is not a coincidence that fall foliage is the same color as the sunset.   

I learned something about the changing leaves during my recent trip to New England.  Autumn leaves are simply breath-taking.  We describe them ubiquitously as “vibrant.”  Merriam-Webster’s first definition of “vibrant” is “pulsating with life.” Despite that perception of vitality, the changing leaves are more about death than life.  The process by which leaves change colors is not as much about creating something as it is about destroying something.  Time’s weathering strips the tree of the chlorophyll that allows the life-giving green color to flow into the leaves. It is scarring that robs these trees of green… of life. The colors we see during the autumn are the “real” colors of the trees.   The fall leaves are the essence of the tree, all that is left visible and beautiful in the aging process.   

Before my mother’s illness and death, I never used to think much about my own mortality, nor, by extension, my own aging.  I never felt terms like “old” or “elderly’ or “senior citizen” applied to me.  Even when I retired, which is probably our cultural definition of “aging,” I never felt myself to be “aged.”  I saw my retirement as simply compensation for fulfilling a contract. I knew that there was an age qualifier on that contract.  I simply chose to concentrate on the fulfillment of 30+ years of hard work that I promised to complete for the government as opposed to the number of years in my age.   

After my mother died, I think that changed.  Suddenly, the idea that I will die within the foreseeable future came sharply into focus for me.  I began to lose interest in dreams because it seemed like nothing really mattered- I was going to die anyway.  My gut turned over and threatened to escape whenever I contemplated life events and opportunities that I will likely never get to experience or experience again.  I will never be a parent.  I will never get to live in an environment, like New England, completely different from anything I have ever known.  I will likely never see some of the places I have visualized going.  When I start thinking about major purchases, like cars and computers, and vacation trips, it disturbs me greatly that I can see the “lasts” in my future.  I am getting nauseous just writing this.  It feels really terrifying.   

I am only 59. I am sure some of you are wondering what right I have to be so morbid at such a comparatively young age.  I don’t know, but my mother’s death seems to have been the catalyst that reminded me that my life, like every other life, is limited. I still feel some futility and impossibility when I look at the future. 

I think this is the scarring talking.  I am a Christian.  I believe this life is fleeting for all of us, regardless of our age.  I believe that the life to come will be eternal and eternally joyful.  There should be no terror in contemplating that future.  Still, it saddens me to think of what I will be missing.  When I was younger, it always seemed like there was plenty of time to start again.  There was plenty of time to pursue my dreams.  There was plenty of time to travel the world.  There was plenty of time for new experiences.  It saddens me that I now see that there is not plenty of time.  As the song from The Lion King says, “There is more to see than can ever be seen and more to do than can ever be done.”  

I am pretty happy with the priorities I have set in my life.  I’ve had wonderful experiences and beautiful relationships.  I always have joy somewhere in my heart. The problem now is learning to accept that I won’t have everything and to believe once more that whatever life I have left is valuable and meaningful and rampant with possibilities…. even though that life is going to come to an end.   

Just as the trees are losing their green, I am losing my youth in this autumn of my life.  Still, autumn is pretty wonderful.  The mosaic of reds and oranges and golds and browns is certainly more interesting and more eye-catching than the landscape of green.  My own landscape is more colorful, more interesting, and warmer than it was in my youth.  I don’t have to concentrate on the fact that my snapshot of the world is fading.  I can concentrate on the beauty that snapshot captures. My activities and dreams are not moot because the chlorophyll is dimming.  They are still precious and wonderful because they are made up of the stripped-down, primal essence of the beauty that is me.   

I’m trying hard to avoid dismissing the joy of my life because the day will come when that joy will cease to exist. First of all, I may not know what joy will look like in God’s kingdom, but I know it will be there. Secondly, I think we were meant to experience our lives fully, not ration some happiness “for later.” Thirdly, gifts are gifts, no matter when they arrive in our lives.  An awareness that those gifts are finite can increase our appreciation and enjoyment of them.  Also, the timing of those gifts can make them even more precious to us.  After all, we do not mourn the loss of the green when we gain the beauty of the fall foliage.   

Yes, the colors of the autumn foliage are the same colors as the sunset.  They do represent a loss. However, they are also brilliant and joyful and lovely.  They beckon me to immerse myself in life and create joy.  Fall is a time when I can experience some things I can experience in no other time of the year… or of my life.  

You know, the colors of the autumn foliage are the same colors as the sunrise, too.  And that is not a coincidence either.

How do you think about death?  Have you experienced any losses that have also helped you gain a richer perspective about life?  Are you living a sunset or a sunrise? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a colorful day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

 

 

 

 

The Skin I’m In

My body is beginning to betray me as I age.  Oh, we all know that our bodies do tend to get less dependable as we get older.  We see enough television commercials to convince us that our bones are brittle, our eyes are squinty, and our sex lives are lukewarm.  On the other hand, I didn’t really think about the little things that decline as the years advance.  For me, my body seems to have become a bit testy about substances it formerly tolerated with no complaint. 

About ten days ago, I purchased one of those cute little angel pins at the Hallmark store that come attached to a little romance card that shares some sweet, sentimental message.  I bought the angel because the message involved missing a loved one who has passed.  Also, the body of the little angel was made of a tiny white rose. Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while may remember that white roses at Christmas were a “thing” for my mother (for those of you who are newer cyberfriends or would just like a refresher, please visit http://www.terrilabonte.com/2016/05/the-white-white-rose-of-home/). Anyhow, I happily shelled out my six bucks for the white angel rose.  

The next day, I fastened the little pin to the top of a dark burgundy velour blouse.  Even though it was tiny, it was quite noticeable on the dark background.  Several people at church noticed and commented on it.  It gave me the opportunity to tell them about what a wonderful person my mother was and how the pin reminds me that I am lucky to have her love forever.   

Unfortunately, within a couple of days of wearing the pin, my skin exploded into a red, angry, itchy, hivey, whealy rash that covered my whole chest.   Any part of my body that came into even the slightest contact with the pin revolted.  Apparently, the pin triggered some sort of metal allergy that I didn’t even know I had.  As I scratched, I think the rash started taking on a life of its own, independent of the pin.   I started sprouting red bumps from my breasts to my chin line.  It wasn’t particularly painful, but it was pretty obvious that my skin was throwing a temper tantrum.  

I considered having a contest on this blog to name the rash.  However, I was hoping that I would be able to lose the rash before I could organize a contest, so I decided to do the honors myself. Given the season and the fact that my chest was the color of neon infused tomatoes, I decided to name my pet rash Rudolph. For a few days, I spread hydrocortisone cream on my chest.  Rudolph’s color didn’t change much.  The itch might have been marginally less uncomfortable…. for a little while until I thought about it again.  I kept thinking Rudolph was getting a little smaller, but Max looked at me in alarm every time he I wore a blouse that wasn’t a turtleneck so my “improving” assessment might have been wishful thinking.  

Yesterday, I noticed that the cream I was slathering all over my chest was 15 years old.  That may have something to do with the fact that it didn’t seem to be working very well.  I treated myself to a new tube of hydrocortisone cream.  Almost immediately, Rudolph is retreating.  The itch is not as compelling.  Rudolph’s color is more like under ripe tomatoes without the neon now.  Rudolph is occupying much less square footage on my chest.   

So, my rash is almost gone.  However, as I was inspecting my skin in the mirror this morning, I noticed that there was a hidden Mickey formed by three of the remaining hives.  Do you think it might be a Christmas miracle?

Have you noticed small, unexpected changes in your body that have come with age?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Happy New Year!

Terri 🙂

Do Babies Ever Come Installed With Refurbished Knees?

The reason I ask is that I’m pretty sure my knees are older than the rest of me. I don’t know when it happened, exactly, but my knees seem to be protesting the passage of time much more vociferously than any of my other body parts.

I used to kneel in church with relative ease. I enjoyed sitting on the floor and could rise from that position without assistance. I was the designated “get down on my hands and knees” person to plug and unplug various computer connections to reboot them (since that is the only computer troubleshooting trick I know, it stands to reason that I would get lots of practice at it.) I am a fairly clumsy person and had infinite practice crawling around on the floor retrieving things I dropped.

Now, things are a little different. I kind of hope that elderly, immobile people will sit next to me in church services so I can use them as an excuse to remain sitting on the edge of my seat during traditional “kneeling” times in the service. I would never voluntarily sit on the floor unless I intended to die there because I know I could never get up again. If I have to reboot the computer, I either just push the button to turn off the power supply, get Max to pull out the plugs, or consider buying a new computer. As for the many things I drop, I shamefully admit to sometimes using one of those grabber thingies.

It isn’t that I am inactive or shy away from exercise. I do housework. I do yardwork when I really must. I participate in water aerobics classes. I walk over six miles a day. I’m actually a pretty healthy person, all in all. My vital signs and lab work suggest that I’m wearing well. There is just something about activities requiring excessive pressure on the knees that makes me suspicious that I might have come with used knees.

I think, before I was born, maybe God was trying to conserve resources and found a couple of used knees that someone returned knocking around in the body parts bin. He made a few tweaks to spiff them up a little and installed them in the new Terri1959 model baby girl. I’m sure those refurbished knees were “as good as new” at the time, but I think their patina is wearing a bit thin almost 58 years later.

Yes, the extra weight I’ve carried around in the last 58 years may have something to do with the wear and tear. Yes, the bare feet and footwear without adequate support may have contributed. Still, wouldn’t you think the rest of me would also be protesting if the problem was just ordinary depreciation? After all, my knees have had no life of their own separate from my hips, ankles, back, shoulders, etc.

Come to think of it, maybe my hips, ankles, back, shoulders, and my etc. are complaining too. I pulled weeds for forty minutes this morning and felt like I was run over by a truck. Let me clarify…. all of me felt like it was run over by a truck. So maybe my knees truly aren’t any older than the rest of me. Maybe all my body parts are feeling their age. And maybe the warranty just ran out!

What do you think?  Do you have a certain body part that seems to have aged way beyond the rest of you?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a great day!

Terri 🙂

Growing Up

My relationship with my mother has changed since we all moved. 

I knew about the phenomenon of role reversal that many adult children experience with their parents.  As the parent ages, the adult child becomes the caregiver.  The parent becomes more and more dependent on his or her child.  I have seen that happening gradually in my own relationship with my mother since my father died suddenly about twenty years ago.  The velocity of that role reversal has certainly increased since our move.  In our old home, my mother needed a lot of help with even simple physical tasks, but was very independent and competent when it came to arranging her own life and making decisions.  She always made her own medical appointments, decided on her own purchases, and even untangled problems like a glitch in her credit card billing on her own.  Up until a year before we moved, she was even preparing her own tax returns.  Since our move, she has had something of a crisis of confidence.  She is still perfectly capable of making her own decisions and arrangements, but seems reluctant to do so.  I am making her doctors’ appointments, overseeing her home improvements, monitoring her health insurance coverage, and, at her insistence, reviewing any research she does prior to making any decision. 

 At first, I was a bit disconcerted with this, as I thought it meant that her move across country had somehow triggered a decline in her general ability to cope.  After all, if she was doing all these things on her own and working full time for several months a year and doing substantial volunteer work while she was in her old home, why could she suddenly not trust herself to decide on a medical insurance plan once she moved across the country?  Then, a friend of mine suggested that it was very possible that my mother was managing all the routine tasks of her life the best she could simply because she had to do it herself.  My friend was absolutely correct.  My mother might not have been comfortable or confident in what she was doing, but didn’t feel she could ask for help because I was working fulltime at a very stressful job and lived 70 miles away from her.  Once I retired and we were living 15 miles from each other, she felt freer to show her vulnerability.  In reality, she has not declined.  In fact, quite the opposite is true.  She is feeling well and her blood pressure is under control, even without medication.  She admits to feeling happier and less stressed.  Now, my challenge is finding the balance between helping her continue to feel well and making sure she retains her sense of independence and competency.

 So, the real change in the relationship is not the role reversal.  It is more related to that living 15 miles from each other thing. 

 When I was living 75 miles from my mother, it was easy to seem like a supportive, compliant daughter.  I talked to my mom on the phone a couple of times a week and saw her every three weeks or so. I’m sure she thought I was pretty close to perfect.   If I made a mistake or did something of which I thought my mother would disapprove, it was easy to just not mention it.  Once we started seeing each other four or five times a week, it was more difficult to keep things from her.  She knows when I buy something she thinks is frivolous.  She knows when I give a homeless person money just because I don’t want to deal with his annoyance if I refuse.  She knows when I agree to something that Max thinks we should do just because I’m tired of arguing.  She also sees me get snappish and sarcastic when I am tired or hungry.  I am pretty sure she knows now that I am nowhere near perfect.  Even though she only voices her opinions gently and occasionally, I know her well enough to know when she disapproves.  If I basked in the sunshine of her approval for 55 years before our move, I fear I am now in danger of sinking into the mire of her disapproval.  And I care way too much about that.

 It has been an uncomfortable transition.  When I first noticed the shift, I felt sad and empty.  I mourned that, in trying to do a good thing by taking on my mother’s caretaking, I seemed to have lost my relationship with her.  I knew my mother still loved me and appreciated who I am and who I try to be.  She probably has a much better grasp than I do on the fact that it is perfectly okay that she disagrees with some of my decisions. Still, I tended to become overcome by anxiety by the fact that my mother might not always agree with me. 

If I am not the “easy” daughter who is never a cause for concern, do I cease to be lovable?

Of course not.

As more time passed, I remembered that love is a verb.  And so, in some weird non-grammatical way, is “relationship.”  It moves and changes and grows.  As I went about my regular routine of helping my mother and trying to maximize the joy in her life, I realized that I was starting to enjoy the same closeness I used to share with her.  As my mom and I “relationshiped,” we surfed through the turbulence.  While we may not always pull in absolute tandem, we do respect where each other wants to go. 

I learned that parental disagreement, even disapproval, is not a catastrophe.  Growing up should teach a child that it is safe to disconnect from a parent and live her own life without losing the love of the parent.  This education happens to everyone.  It is just that, for most people, it happens at around age 15 or 16.  It took me until I was 56.

 As my mom and I continue to come face-to-face with disagreements and no catastrophe happens, I think our relationship is becoming more authentic again.  Perhaps even more authentic than it used to be.  We are both coming to terms with the fact that we are each complicated, real people and not just our respective roles- perfect daughter and perfect mother.  Or more likely, we are just redefining what our “perfect” means. 

So what do you think?  Have you taken on additional caretaking responsibilities?  Has it changed your relationship with your loved one?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

As a side note, we had a bit of a “power surge” of new visitors this past week.  Welcome to all! I hope you enjoy enough to continue visiting, reading, and sharing.  I have been posting every Wednesday.  If you would like to be notified when there is new content, please send me an email at terriretirrement@gmail.com. 

Have a wonderful day!

Terri 🙂