REALITY CHECK

 

ssa

This is where I found myself last week, registering for Medicare. Yes, that program for OLD people; the one my grandmother was on for as long as I can remember. The whole process felt like a dream that someone—anyone–else should be doing but me. And yet? Here is where I find myself: almost 65. It’s not that I don’t own the years. I just can’t quite come to grips with the fact that now they own me.

 If you look at the statistics—and I do—they are sobering: 63% of folks over 65 are in need of long-term care. The probability of my becoming disabled or cognitively impaired is 68%. Finally there is this: 69% of us will develop disabilities before we die and 35% of us will enter a nursing home! ‘Not me,’ I can hear you saying. Well, I’m saying it, too, but talk is cheap.

 It’s hard enough to face one’s own mortality without having to sign on the dotted line about it. I also have to, “Choose a plan from A to N.” What that really means is: do I pick the Pollyanna plan which says that I’m healthy, will live forever and nothing bad will ever happen to me? Or, do I pick the plan that has me covered if I break every bone in my body, contract cancer and have only 6 weeks to live?

 In times like these, I often refer to the wisdom of noted neurologist and philosopher, Viktor Frankl, who wrote, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” It is a book that I read in my youth and one which speaks to me still.       

 “The pessimist observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. The optimist removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it carefully away. He reflects with pride and joy on all the life he has already lived to the fullest. What does it matter to him that he is growing old? What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that a young person has? ‘No, thank you,’ he will think. ‘Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered.”

 Ah, clearly I should face this new reality with the spirit of possibility and carry on.   N’est-ce-pas?

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PRESERVE YOUR MEMORIES

 

Scrapbooks! 

More than 40 years ago, Simon & Garfunkel recorded a song on their album, “Bookends.” It was a minute and a half piece about a photograph that said, “Preserve your memories. They’re all that’s left you.” How were they so wise at only 27?

I am a hoarder of memories. For 50 some years, I have lugged boxes full of photos and memorabilia from as far back as 1880 when my Great Granny was born. I have newspaper clippings from the 1920’s, all the way through to my youngest’s recent 21st birthday. Right now, I figure that there are 140 years on my dining room table. I even found the receipt from my first dinner date with my husband! That’s a lot of ‘baggage’ to carry around and yet? Mostly, it’s a treasure trove of lives fully lived over many generations.

 For the last several weeks, I have culled through the photos, letters, articles and cards of those many years. I am making scrapbooks so that my children might enjoy looking at them one day. Yes, they’re old fashioned but there is something about holding a moment in your hand: the tiny tooth my child first lost, a sketch my grandmother drew of her horse at 16, the letter my great grandmother wrote to her daughter when she married.

 Of course, there are many pictures of people that I do not recognize at all. There are even pictures of ME that I don’t recognize as me. There are also cards and letters from people whose names I don’t recall either. But I’ve decided that it really does not matter what you can’t remember. It is what you cannot forget that is important. So, capture and hold your memories for the generations behind you yet to come.

 Don’t wait until dementia sets in to tell your story. These days, there are many ways to preserve your past from homemade videos to personal historians who can capture your life stories for generations to come. Here is one site from a friend of mine: https://www.perfectmemoirs.com. Bob Dylan once said, “Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them.” Well actually, if you make a scrapbook, you almost can!

TURN HEADS…CHANGE HEARTS

helen-tennis-t-shirt

About 15 years ago, an older fellow that I played tennis with gave me this T-shirt for Christmas with my picture on it. At the time, I thought the gesture was sweet but was too embarrassed to actually wear a shirt with my own face on it. Seemed downright silly.

 Fast-forward all those years and I’ve changed my mind. I love looking at that shirt now. I even remember the day the photo was taken: I had just emerged victorious from an arduous match of mixed doubles! In fact, that younger picture of me makes me so happy, that I want ALL of our elderly, particularly those in homes, to have one of themselves!

 I think that all of us should give the older folks in our lives a T-shirt with their favorite photo from ‘back in the day’ on it. If they can’t choose their own photo, do it for them. Plaster their younger self on it to remind all who come into contact with them that they were young once—that they had a life—and that they are not just the wrinkled, bent over creatures they may have become since then.

 Can’t you just see the changed look on the faces of all those caretakers in the nursing home when they see a picture of cranky, old, arthritic Doris in pigtails astride a galloping horse? Or hear the amazement in a kid’s voice when he says, “Gosh, I didn’t know Granddad could ride a surfboard!”

 If my Granny were still alive, I’d put that photo of her the afternoon she waltzed out into the backyard, tied on a pair of her old, tap shoes and started demonstrating the ‘time step’ for me. I wish all those who had only known her as an old woman could have seen that!!

 This is MY resolution for 2017: get a T-shirt for everyone over 60 with a picture of their younger self on the back! Add a slogan that says: “This is who I WAS and still AM!” It won’t just turn heads. It will change hearts. I promise you. Help me make it happen. SHARE this and send me your photos!!!!

P. S.  Personally, I would put a photo of me riding my motorcycle up Highway 101, wearing a red halter-top and shorts, with my long hair flying in the wind. Unfortunately, no one took that picture. It exists only in my mind.

MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL

mirror mirror

 There was an article in the NY Times this week entitled, “Do your friends actually like you?” Research shows that only about half of perceived friendships are mutual. The study was done on 21-34 year-olds. Turns out that while those young people were 95% certain that their besties really were their besties that was only true about 50% of the time. Whoops.

 If this research were done on older people, my guess is that the results would be vastly different. We are not so easily deluded. Time has made us infinitely wiser and more humble in spite of ourselves. Once you hit 50, you likely know the difference between the friend who will visit you in jail and the one who will actually bail you out. (Don’t ask me why this particular analogy is right at my fingertips).

 When I was 5, there was a TV show called, “Romper Room,” which I loved. “Miss Sherri,”** was the hostess on our local station and I was pretty sure that she was my friend. She was sweet, loved kids and always taught us to be, “Do Bee’s.” The best part of the show was at the end. She held up her ‘Magic Mirror,’ “So that I can see all of you at home.” I knew that she could see us because she even said our names like, ‘I see Mary and Jenny and Johnny and Tommy and.” But in all the times I watched, she never once said, “Helen.” Not once, although I often yelled at her, “Miss Sherri, it’s Helen! I’m here. Right here. I’m watching, too!”

 Somewhere between then and now I found my very, best friend. She knows everything about me and still loves me. She brings me up short if I stray and praises me when I follow the straight and narrow. We have no secrets and no hidden agendas. She’s not perfect but some parts of her are just awesome!  We understand and accept each other as we are.  No matter where we are, we are there for each other, always and forever.   I don’t even need to call or text her. I just have to look in the mirror. As Granny used to say, “You can’t ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ if you don’t love yourself first.”

**Sherri Finkbine made headlines in the 1960’s when she accidentally took a common sleeping pill containing Thalidomide early in her 5th pregnancy.  Her doctor suggested a therapeutic abortion, but it was illegal at the time.  She and her husband were forced to go to Sweden instead.  It was determined that her fetus was so badly deformed and damaged from the drug that it would not have survived.  Now in her 80’s, Sherri is the mother of 6 children.   

 

  

 

 

 

MAKE ‘GRAY’ THE NEW ‘GAY’

 

grey mare

When I heard that Hillary Clinton recently had a NYC salon closed to patrons while she had her hair colored, it made me feel pretty sad. It wasn’t that she paid $600 for the dye job. It was the fact that she felt she had to do it at all.

 For years, women have been given the message that ‘gray’ is not acceptable. Even my grandmother once fell for the TV ads that encouraged her to, “Rinse away the gray.” When the first rinse didn’t last, she applied some gunk that resembled shoe polish on her gray streaks. I watched her perform the task in front of the bathroom mirror. A few hours later she looked at herself and said, “Oh, dear. I look ridiculous.” And she did.

 Now I have many friends who would not dream of letting 6 weeks go by without a visit to their colorist. They tell me that it makes them feel better, “not to look so old.” But I believe that if we lived in a culture that accepted us as is, we would be lots happier AND richer. We don’t need something superficial to make us, ‘feel better.’ Our culture should make us feel good about ourselves just as we are–at every age.

 Isn’t it odd that in this day of political correctness, we accept every, conceivable minority group yet still consider aging, graying and the old negatively? And you know what’s really weird? The elderly are not even in the ‘minority’ anymore. We are the majority now. We need to change the lyrics to that ‘old’ song:  “Nope, the old grey mare ain’t what she used to be. She’s even more glorious now.”

 40 years ago I lived in a condo with a walking path that passed by my living room window. Every afternoon, an older lady took her daily walk. As she passed, I always stopped what I was doing to watch her. Her posture was straight and elegant, her stride, long and smooth and her hair? It was solid gray and swept back into a very, long ponytail. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Someday when I am THAT old, I want to look JUST like her.’ Looking in the mirror, I can see that I am well on my way.

 

 

 

 

ENGRAVED BY TIME

old tree 

I think the most wonderful part of aging is owning the hard won character we build that so clearly defines the lives we have lived. One never knows what might become of young saplings or even full-grown trees. A simple downpour might do them in from the roots up. But old trees? You know where they stand. You can see how many branches they have sent out and how many have remained strong through storm after storm. Once the leaves fall, you can even appreciate the arc their paths have taken and the lengths they have gone to keep their balance.

A few days ago, I turned 63. When my grandmother was this age I asked her, “Gosh, Granny, what does it FEEL like to be SO old?” Her reply was shocking: “Oh, I don’t feel old. I feel just like I did in my 20’s. The difference is that other people treat me differently. That’s the only thing that lets me know I’m not young anymore.”

Well, I am glad to now be, ‘treated differently,’ because frankly, I am. Despite the many hats and faces I’ve worn over the last six decades, one thing remains true: my past choices have defined my character. Once the façade of youth passes, what you’ve been is who you are. Time engraves you choice-by-choice, line-by-line and ring-by-ring. It carries a poignancy that cannot be ignored because now you can almost count the grains of sand left in the top of the hourglass.

Shortly before he died last week at age 69, David Bowie told an interviewer: “Age doesn’t bother me. It’s the lack of years left that weighs far heavier on me than the age that I am.” I feel the same. There are fewer years ahead of me than behind. But it is a great and valuable gift to be reminded that nothing lasts forever. It keeps you reaching skyward.

 

‘OLD LOOKING’ YOUNG

Image

Striding into my sixth decade, I have finally accepted the fact that I am no longer 21. Looking in the mirror has not convinced me because I still see my younger self in that reflection. I can do the math: my own daughter just turned 21. That wasn’t the clincher either. Even my husband insists that, “the obvious eludes (me).” So why, have I only come to this realization now? Well, if other people and Mother Nature weren’t constantly reminding me, I might still be oblivious. This week alone, these things happened:

1. the bag boy asked if I “needed help” carrying out the tiny sack that held only grapes and yogurt.
2. Looked at a photo of a trip I took last summer and recognized everyone in it except for ‘that woman with the gray hair.’ Then I put on my glasses.
3. In Pilates, the girl next to me admired my splits and asked for help after class. As we stood facing the mirror, I noticed that I might easily pass for her grandmother.
4. Realized that Menopause is already a distant memory.
5. Beamed to see that my muscles are strong from daily workouts, but frustrated that my skin flat-out refuses to hold on tight! It sags sleepily from my thighs and swings like small hammocks when I wave my arms.
6. Laughed REALLY hard when some dope said that “60 is the new 40.”
7. Realized that my husband and I don’t try to get our kids out of the house so we can have ‘alone’ time anymore. Instead, we strategize how we can see them more.
8. Calculated how many years the dog and I have left together. Wondered also, if she goes first, will I outlive another one?
9. Noticed that my AARP card is wrinkled.
10. Figured out that the “Lifetime Membership,” our gym offers is actually a lousy deal.

However, just as I accept the fact that I’m not a kid anymore, I feel like one again. I’m in Starbucks with my daughter when suddenly, the cute, long-haired barista who often serves me, turns to her and says: “Hey. I hope it’s cool with you that I’m dating your mom.” She goes wide-eyed. I look at him in utter disbelief. He, however, keeps such a straight face that for one brief moment. . .the obvious eludes me!