Tag Archives: Aging

Deconstructing A Life

So it’s been a couple of days since I’ve last been here. What, you think it’s been more than a couple of days? Really? Maybe you’re right. I’ll have to count on my fingers to check. Sometimes life gets in the way or I get distracted.

My mother in law passed away this past fall at the age of 93 and so we spent the rest of the year going through her home and preparing it for sale. Not an easy task. My father in law passed away twenty-six years ago and so she’s lived in this home for the last sixty years. Up until recently she was able to take care of herself but the last year and a half required some help. Her home was always meticulous, even at the very end. The only problem was, she never threw anything away. I think that’s somewhat common for that generation, who came from a time when everything had value. Nothing was wasted or discarded needlessly. Nothing had a shelf life. It’s something I understand but it didn’t make the process any easier.

We sometimes didn’t know, going through her belongings, what had real value, sentimental or otherwise. Did it have special meaning to her, was it worth something, or was it an item that was given away for free at gas stations back in the day. Some things were obvious, some not so much. And what about the photos of people from so long ago that we didn’t recognize. Did the people in the photo hold special meaning to her? Did they remind her of a special time? What do we do with them now?

And here’s where deconstructing a life comes into the conversation. Here are the decisions we had to make, whether they seem logical or not. We kept quite a few things, as did our children, who wanted remembrances of their grandmother. We donated quite a bit to various charities. We sold a few things. And unfortunately, we ended up tossing some things. For some reason, the photos were sometimes the toughest decisions to make. It seems sacrilegious to throw them out but why keep photos of people we don’t know, and if we do keep them, you just leave it for the next person to deal with when we’re gone.

The whole thing was just so surreal. I’ve known my wife since third grade and have been going to that house for over fifty years. I spent more time there over the years than in the home I grew up in. I knew every corner and almost every story. To take it apart seemed like a violation of her life. Every day another piece was gone, until nothing remained but the shell. Until the home became a house. A property to be sold.

But it seemed even more than that and I’m not sure it’s easily explained. It’s like someone who existed a short time ago, no longer does. Her “stuff” is gone. I understand about the memories we”ll have to hold onto and the items we have to remind us of her life, but there is a big difference between the body and the soul of a person. In certain homes, filled with years of love and memories, I believe the same holds true. Strip away what made it special, and the deconstruction is complete. Emptying that home was like emptying a life. It’s a strange feeling and I’m sure many of you have gone through similar moments over time.

When we were done, I joked with my wife about what our children may think or say when their time comes to do the same thing. What questions they’ll have that may remain unanswered. What photos they’ll find and wonder who those people were. What decisions they’ll have to make and if sentimentality or practicality will be the deciding factor. Probably a little of both.

I just know that a few days after we finished up we started going through our own home. If we can make it a bit easier for our children when the time comes, all the better. I just don’t want to make it too easy. After all, what fun is life without leaving  some mystery and unanswered questions about your parents. I might even plant a few things around just to keep the conversation interesting. I wouldn’t want them to forget us easily.

It’s nice to be back.

 

Scattering Love

                   It’s not what you gather but what you scatter that tells what kind of life you’ve lived.
Helen Walton

I was thinking about my childhood the other day and trying to remember how far back my memories went. I settled on somewhere between four and five years old but there were only a handful that were clear to me. That bothered me, especially when I took what was then and applied it to now.

Making memories with the people you love or care about is one of life’s greatest gifts. Some of the times we’ve laughed most were with our children and grandchildren, especially during their early years, when everything is on the table, learning is a daily adventure, innocent words  are a sound byte and your sense of wonder sometimes equals theirs. Those are memories that we’ll keep with us forever. Unfortunately, it’s all one-sided. Because in those early years it’s not anything they’ll remember. Influenced, yes. But all the things that were said or laughed about until there were tears in our eyes will not be a definitive memory for them.

That shouldn’t bother me because it’s just another cycle of life, but it does. I remember things that we did with our children and now our grandchildren that were special moments, and though we can relay the stories, it’s not the same as being there in our mutual minds. I sit and have conversations now with our grandchildren, play games, tell stories, laugh at the silliest things, hold them if they cry and sit back and wonder if they’ll remember any of it.

I’ve always understood this but I suppose as I’ve gotten older, Helen Walton’s quote has taken on a different meaning. You want those you love to remember every last laugh and cuddle and hand holding because you know that time of innocence, like life, is so short. Eight or nine comes too quick and soon they’re moving on. Parents will always be more invested in the lives of their children/grandchildren than the other way around. That’s just the way it is. It’s not a matter of loving or caring, it’s just the emotional investment that begins long before they open their eyes and never goes away.

So selfishly you want them to remember it all. Every amazing moment. Big and small. Hoping that you’ve scattered enough love and joy into their lives that one day they may laugh at something silly for no reason at all. You may not know it or even be there. But if it brought them happiness, then maybe something in their two year old lives stuck, and you’ve scattered enough.

And maybe, just maybe, the shade of a memory will not only be yours.

 

On Loneliness

I’ve always associated loneliness with people who don’t have anyone. Older people. Those whose spouse has died or who live alone without any real friends or family for support. That can be a difficult and depressing way to get through each day.

But I read an article recently which surprised me a bit. It said that loneliness peaks at three key ages in our lives. According to their research, people reported feeling moderate to severe loneliness in the late 20’s, mid 50’s and late 80’s. The 80’s didn’t surprise me but the other two age groups did to varying degrees.
The article explained that loneliness doesn’t mean being alone, nor does it mean not having friends. Loneliness is defined as “subjective distress, ” or the discrepancy between the social relationships you want and the social relationships you have.

I never thought of loneliness that way.

Apparently, people in the late 20’s feel a sense of stress or guilt about their life paths and how it measures up against their peers. This added stress increases feelings of loneliness or isolation.
People in their mid-50’s sometimes go through a mid-life crisis. Health sometimes becomes an issue, friends may have died and you realize that your life span is not forever.
The 80’s is where I always felt loneliness manifests itself more. Sometimes the older you get the more alone or detached you become and it never seems to get any better.

There were two other things about the report that surprised me. The first is that the reduced life span linked to loneliness, is similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The other is that there is an inverse association between loneliness and wisdom. People who have high levels of wisdom don’t feel lonely and vice versa. Wisdom should not be confused with intelligence. More times than not, they are mutually exclusive.

I don’t know if it’s always been this way or if it’s a reflection of todays society, but while we all know people who we believe are lonely, there are many more who are having difficulty dealing with life. People we see each day.

The holidays are a happy time of year for many of us. We get together with family and friends to celebrate love and share our lives in a meaningful way. But there are many who will be alone, either physically or emotionally. If we can help one person this holiday season with a phone call or visit, maybe that will extend into the new year and beyond. Then maybe another.

For all in life that is beyond our control, this is something we can affect. One hand at a time.

I pray you all have a Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday and healthy New Year.

 

The Lives We Live

When I was young, and even as I grew older, I believed we had one life to live. I suppose, in a literal sense, that’s still true, but I’ve come to understand that there is a difference between life, and the lives we live within that life.

The transitions are so gradual that we don’t always know they’re happening. But one day, when we choose to stop for more than a few moments and look back at the different phases our lives have visited , we realize the person in that photo may not think or act the same; may not believe what he or she once did when they were innocently smiling at the camera.

When we’re young we live a life of innocent freedoms. Days that never end, summers that last forever, years that we trust will always be there. School is a double decade that gradually introduces us to less freedom, some stress and relationships with family and friends that have the power to shape and influence our lives forever. We were born into these first twenty years and when the transition into “adulthood” happens, we head into it as a continuation of what we know, combined with changes to our daily life and schedules, but never really looking back. Well, maybe when loss rears its ugly head, when we find that we have to navigate the future without someone we always thought would be there for us. We may take a moment to look back then. To remember what was.

But there are things to do. A life to live. Or at least this part of our life. We have jobs, sometimes marry, sometimes begin families and for the next twenty or so years, become that person. We live that life of advancing our careers or attempting to keep our jobs. If we’re married and have children, we run as if the next event, game, concert, field trip, party, sleepover or dance is life altering.  Until it abruptly stops, and children go to college or find a job and hopefully move out.

And we transition again.

Sometimes this change is a little more noticeable. Sometimes we pause a little longer. Our families grow smaller before they get bigger. Family celebrations are different because some of the people at the center of those celebrations are no longer with us. So we sometimes move to other homes and begin different traditions. Our mornings are a little more quiet, our evenings require less running and we find more time for ourselves to enjoy this part of our lives. If we’re fortunate, our working lives begin to wind down and we find time to appreciate time.

If we’re lucky.

These lives we live change us in different ways. Our centers become different or altered at times. Our judgments, mindsets, and beliefs all find different ways or equations to the answers in front of us. Hopefully our core values remain the same but that’s never a given. We may want to believe we are the same person today as we were twenty or thirty years ago, but we aren’t. In truth, how can we be? We’ve lived and lost too much. We’ve gained new experiences, travelled, developed new friendships, learned new ways and came to appreciate the lives we live now, more than ever.

I look back at old photos now and wonder what that boy or young man was thinking of at the time, what his day was like and what he was looking forward to tomorrow. I wonder if he had a plan or dream that day. I wonder what was making him laugh in that moment, why he chose to buy that ugly shirt and when he was going to finally get a haircut.  I wonder if he would change anything if he knew everything.

Personally, I believe he wouldn’t change a thing.

P.S. I’ll be back soon.

 

 

Life Transitions

The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected
Robert Frost

We never really notice them, until we do.

We move through the early years of our lives almost seamlessly, understanding the changes that occur but viewing them as nothing more than another transition. Some are more dramatic than others, even life altering, at times. But we move on, knowing there is something up ahead, another phase in our lives. A transition from childhood to adulthood. For some it may include marriage and children. For others a career, a new business, a divorce, health issues, grandchildren, travel and even loss.

But while we’re young, or younger, there is always tomorrow. There is a confidence of tomorrow that is somewhat tempered as we age. We don’t live in fear because that type of life is not really living. We just understand the reality of life. I’m more aware of my mortality at 65 than I was at 35. That’s not morbid, it just is.

It’s the reality many people refuse to speak about. People think about it but can’t seem to verbalize their feelings. Even if they did, no one would want to hear it.

I was watching a baseball game the other day with my grandson and we were talking about this young player who is in his early 20’s. And it occurred to me that this player might have a career that lasts twenty years. It also occurred to me, though I hope to live a long healthy life, that I may not be around to see the end of his career. That’s not morbid, that a reality I never thought about before. I’ve watched sports my whole life and that single thought has never crossed my mind.

I’ve transitioned from from my youth to adulthood. I married, have raised a family and have been blessed to see my children begin their own families. I was fortunate to have a good career and I’m now retired. I’ve transitioned once again but I understand that what’s behind me is very different than what’s in front of me.

That being said, I know that I will never be any younger than I am today. In many ways, I am living the youth years of the rest of my life. I don’t know if that makes sense to everyone but it does to me. It has to. Because there is much more to see, much more to do. My mind understands the number and how many trips I’ve had around the sun but it continues to rage against the machine.

I don’t know where the next transition will take me, I only know my eyes are always open.

Just know that if I become famous in my still unknown second career, I will remember everyone who hits the like button on my posts.

 

 

 

 

The Art Of Simplicity

“Voluntary simplicity means going fewer places in one day rather than more, seeing less so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, acquiring less so I can have more.”
 John Kabat-Zinn

I was watching the Grammy Awards the other evening and aside from the fact that it seemed to be a requirement that all women wear an outfit that was cut open from neck to naval, the ceremony was pretty much as it has been for many years now; part talent, part extravagance and part freak show.

But what caught my attention the most was how simple it is for real talent to be expressed. If you possess the gift of a pure voice, you can captivate an audience without thirty-two dancers, extravagant costumes, pyrotechnics, gimmicks or relying on the shock factor.

If you can sing, people will stop and pay attention. It’s that simple. Everything else either detracts from the talent or attempts to cover up a lack of talent.

Then I thought about how that same principle applies to our lives. As Confucius once said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

I think age sometimes allows us to understand that concept more clearly. Because at its core,  life really is simple. it’s our individual choices, decisions, influences, words and attitudes that complicate things. We just can’t seem to get out of our own way, even when someone hands us the directions.

We are infatuated with the accumulation of stuff. The brilliant mind of George Carlin did entire routines on this very subject. We laughed because we understood he was talking about us and yet we were incapable of stopping.
We think and over think. We accumulate and store. We find the easiest path and decide there must be a better one. We look out the window and want that color grass. We strive to achieve without considering the cost. We find peace in the simple beauty of a sunset on a quiet beach and decide it would look better if there were thirty-two dancers performing in extravagant costumes on a party boat just off the shore line.

Somewhere, Thoreau is dying a thousand deaths.

The most amazing moments we have all experienced in life; the ones that stay with us forever, are never planned and usually the most simple.

We each have a voice and a song to sing. How we choose to live that song, is entirely up to us.

On Growing Up

Whenever I’ve traded childhood stories with anyone or discussed what it was like growing up, I always tell them the same thing; if anyone had a better childhood than I did, I’ve never met them.

I always said it but never gave much thought as to why I felt that way. I suppose, as a child, you live life a certain way and take so much for granted that you never consider that others may not be as fortunate.
As I grew up  got older, the reasons didn’t seem important enough to spend time thinking about it. I was busy with work and helping to raise three daughters; living in the present. I never understood until years later what made growing up so special for me.

It was family.

But it was more than just family. It was having immediate and extended family around me all the time. I never realized how blessed I was as a child. Aside from having terrific parents who worked hard, respected and loved each other and set the right examples, my brother and I were surrounded by our grandfathers, aunts, uncles and cousins every day.
We lived in an Italian/Jewish neighborhood which was only a few blocks by a few blocks. My parents owned a small grocery/meat store and we lived behind the store in a small two bedroom apartment. It was the classic neighborhood corner store, where every one congregated. We didn’t have much monetarily but I never noticed or thought about it.
My aunt and uncle lived around the corner, my cousins up the block, another aunt who was like a grandmother to me and was always around, lived a few miles away. Both of my grandmothers had died but my mother’s father, who had originally owned the store, was there everyday. He came each morning and left before or after dinner. My friends and I would play cards with him, pitch pennies, play handball, listen to his stories and tell jokes.
My dad’s family lived in Brooklyn. They came to visit every other Sunday. Aunts, uncles and my other grandfather. That grandfather would take me to the park to hit baseballs, play basketball and stop at the candy store on the way back for an ice cream soda. Every other sunday.

Life was different then. Families didn’t move away as much as they do now. They remained a part of the neighborhood. They stayed close. They made memories. The kind you can only make when you can walk down the street to your aunt’s home and know there will always be something in the oven or candy dish for you. Where you can walk into their yard and help pick the figs or pears off the tree and leave with a bag of fruit and veggies. Where your grandfathers became two of your best friends.

It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never experienced those moments, all that they’ve missed. The weekly sunday dinners, the loud card games, the laughter, the knowledge that you can never wander too far without someone you love looking out for you. Someone right there in your backyard.

As you get older, you begin to lose those pieces of your life and childhood. Stories that only a select few people knew are not told as often. One day they will fade completely. Places you went for sunday dinners now have other families sitting in that same kitchen. Sometimes when I pass by, I want to knock on the door, just to peek in and imagine everyone again, as they once were.
Change is always part of life’s eternal equation. That’s just the way it is. But what made my childhood so special remains with me today. No amount of change can change that.

Because you can’t take away family.