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  • Review of Home by Marilynne Robinson

    HomeHome by Marilynne Robinson
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    I loved Gilead by Marilynne Robinson so much. The review is here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....

    But with Home, I had a different experience. I wasn't compelled through most of the book. At about the three-quarter mark, things started to happen and I felt my interest quicken. But here's a summary of my impressions, and my apologies to those who loved it so much they recommended it to me:

    1. I was disappointed to see this other, peevish, nasty side of Rev. Ames.
    2. I didn't like the Rev. Boughton very much at all.
    3. Jack is tedious and pathetic.
    4. Glory almost breaks free but then doesn't.

    Robinson really makes me wait for it, building my conflict between compassion and resentment for Jack. And just when I lose faith in him, there's a scene where the old misogynist/bigot Rev. Boughton asks to see Jack and his brother together in his room, and Jack insists Glory be included. As if he sees her as an equal to the men, rather than just the servant her father expects.

    In this, I felt Jack himself was a Rorschach test for the reader, in that while he seems almost feral, a man born without skin with which to hide himself from the world, easily wounded and always untrusting, you want to abandon him, but can you? If so, who are you? What are your values - what are your limits?

    So now Glory has decided to stop being codependent with her "fiancé", and switch her ministrations and self-sacrifice to her dying father and her feral brother. This is an arc? This is growth? What is Robinson's meaning, at the end of the story, when Glory decides to stay in a town she has said she hates, in a house she agrees to preserve as a monument/mausoleum to the family? It can only be read as failure to respect oneself in favor of service to others! This troubles me deeply.

    I apologize for the length of this next excerpt, but I have to reproduce it, because it's so telling:

    "(Glory) had tried to take care of (Jack), to help him, and from time to time he had let her believe she did. That old habit of hers, of making a kind of happiness for herself out of the thought that she could be his rescuer, when there was seldom much reason to believe that rescue would have any particular attraction for him. That old illusion that she could help her father with the grief Jack caused, the grief Jack was, when it was as far beyond her power to soothe or mitigate as the betrayal of Judas Iscariot. She had been alone with her parents when Jack left, and she had been alone with her father when he returned. There was a symmetry in that that might have seemed like design to her and beguiled her with the implication that their fates were indeed intertwined. Or returning herself to that silent house might simply have returned her to a s state of mind more appropriate to her adolescence. A lonely schoolgirl at thirty-eight. Now, there was a painful thought.

    "She recalled certain moments in which she could see that Jack had withdrawn from her and was looking through or beyond her, making some new appraisal of her trustworthiness, perhaps, or her usefulness, or simply and abruptly losing interest in her together with whatever else happened just then...She found no consistency in these moments, nothing she could interpret. He was himself. That is what their father had always said, and by it he had meant that Jack was jostled along in the stream of (the family's) vigor and purpose and their good intentions, their habits and certitudes, and was never really a part of any of it. He had eaten their food and slept beneath their roof, wearing the clothes and speaking the dialect of their slightly self-enamored and distinctly clerical family..."

    God! Who hasn't known people like this - men like this, children like this - who take and take and take from an ever-hopeful spouse or family and yet never seem quite able to be satisfied, or fulfilled, or happy! When all the sacrificial loving family member ever wants is for that feral person to be happy. Or at least safe.

    Like I said, Rorschach.

    And in this, I have to admit, Robinson delivers again, most profoundly, in pulling back the curtains and showing us, right down to the faint beat of a pulse along a pale wrist, the impact on a family of such a lone wolf. Not that the wolf doesn't suffer. Not that we don't all feel empathy as we struggle to surface from this mire, gulping and gasping air, sorry for Glory who remains below, yet intent on saving ourselves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

    The Beginner's GoodbyeThe Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    After reading some of the reviews, I felt a bit off-kilter, as if I'm seeing something that wasn't intended by the author.

    Nevertheless, here's my impression: this story is about a man who, because of his physical limitations, resists closeness with other people, to the point that he marries a woman who seems certain to want the same, arm's length relationship. It's only after she dies that he begins to sense that he was wrong about that. During the grieving process, he comes to realize he's been living an arm's-length life.

    I love stories about people who come out of a fog and change their lives, empowered by the realization that they've been missing something important - that their reasoning was flawed, but it doesn't have to remain that way. And Anne Tyler is such a great wordsmith, anything she writes is wonderful. This book is perhaps a bit too subtle to win the raving applause it deserves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

    Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    As I read Lean In, I was intrigued at being able to get inside the head of a dynamic, smart woman who is one generation younger than me, and see the corporate world through her eyes. One of the cultural questions she answered for me was this: why are younger women so averse to the terms "feminist" and "feminism"? Apparently, Sheryl Sandberg and her contemporaries believe(d) the following:

    1. Equality having arrived, there's no need for feminism anymore
    2. Feminists are man-haters who resist makeup and the shaving of one's legs

    Okay, #2 was a bit tongue-in-cheek. However, having observed conditions in the real world for a few years now, Sandberg has come to see that the playing field is not and will not be level until more women occupy positions of power in the corporate hierarchy. She doesn't suggest that this is due to any malicious intent on the part of men, but rather it's simply a matter of ignorance.

    To illustrate, she describes having to park far away from her office door when hugely and uncomfortably pregnant. When she designated preferred parking spots to accommodate pregnant workers, no one complained. It was seen as logical. But prior to her taking her place in the C-suite, the issue hadn't been raised.

    Sandberg talks about not slowing down out of consideration for what might happen in the nebulous future. The example she gives, now famous, is of a young woman confiding her fears of not wanting to accept a job with a lot of responsibility due to the impact it might have on her family. The woman was planning ahead - she didn't even have a boyfriend yet.

    With this example, Sandberg makes the point that women, having been highly trained and educated, are waving off promotional opportunities. The jury is still out as to why, but she suggests, and I agree, that part of the reason is this: in corporate America, a woman's decision to go through pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and child-rearing is viewed as a private matter that should not impact her ability to work long hours and irregular schedules, including lengthy and frequent travel as needed. Rightly fearing this may drive her insane, a woman who wants a family may leap off the corporate ladder at a very early stage.

    Sandberg argues that if a young woman stayed on it long enough to secure a more powerful position, she would be able to exert more control over her work life (a perspective the young woman must trust will happen, since at her current low place on the corporate ladder she can only see her lack of power and control.) After a few promotions, she will be able to delegate some of her work to subordinates, afford more help at home, and influence workplace policies that unfairly impact women and families. Who can find fault with this argument?

    Sandberg is honest about her own mistakes, and I found that charming. For example, I was amazed that, for all her intelligence and education, she didn't originally intend to negotiate her starting salary with Facebook. Luckily a nice man (her husband) set her straight, and she made a counter offer to Zuckerberg. Reams of guidance have been written about how this error could have impeded her in later years, both at Facebook and with future employers, yet she didn't know. For other women who have not yet made this horrifying discovery, please read Ask for It by Babcock and Laschever (http://www.amazon.com/Ask-Women-Power...) which in addition to being enlightening and entertaining, offers tons of strategies for preparing yourself to negotiate. And not just for salaries. After reading that book I saved $150 on furniture I was going to buy anyway, by asking one question.

    But back to Lean In.

    I was also surprised that she wasn't well informed about how women can sabotage other women in the workplace, particularly women in power. This is an unfortunate truth with roots in biology, and is brilliantly explained in the amazing book, In the Company of Women by Heim and Murphy (http://www.amazon.com/Company-Women-I...) which I reviewed here:
    http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... This also suggests the reasons Sandberg was hit with such a backlash for the well-intentioned Lean In.

    There is so much more to say about Lean In, but let me close with this: I enjoyed learning how this stellar corporate executive struggled, made mistakes, and ultimately learned some strategies that will enable her, her family, and the women (and men) in her corporation to thrive. It's not perfect, and sometimes it's not even pretty, but part of the lesson is to let go of the need for perfection.

    The other message, younger women, is to get as far and as fast as you can before starting your families. Don't opt out just because it looks too hard from where you're sitting now. The view improves with each rung on the ladder.

    View all my reviews

Elder Wisdom Needed

I humiliated myself, but it wasn’t my fault. It was the fault of my elders, who play things so close to the vest.

One day when I was in my mid-fifties, I was having lunch with friends who are twenty years older. We were discussing a very elderly couple in our writing group. The husband was 90, the wife 85. They still wrote and published, and were incredibly vibrant. “They probably still have sex!” I said.

My friends were appalled. “Well, why wouldn’t they?” one asked.

But how was I to know? Who talks about the intimate details of life in the oldest years?

Okay, now I get the sex thing, but here’s what I really want to know: how do very senior peeps deal with mortality? I apologize for sounding stupid; yes, I DO in fact realize that I, at 58, could go any minute. I’ve almost “gone” three times already (1 car accident at 17, and 2 surgeries later in life). But I want to know how to deal, when I get to be eighty-plus. Getting very old must be existentially challenging. One loss after another, one medical scare after another. How do you manage it emotionally?

We just learned that my uncle, who is 85 and has Parkinsons’, has to go live in an elder care facility. To quote the renowned geriatrician Dr. Bill Thomas, my uncle has been given a life sentence for the crime of frailty. Later today I’ll ask Mom how she’s handling it, because if it were my brother I’d be flattened by grief. But Mom’s been through so much, I suspect she’s stronger than me. Is that the answer? That we grow stronger in old age?

I see all these vibrant eighty-plussers living happy lives. They must have a strategy. I’d like to know what it is.

Recently, my husband, who is 65, said he figured he had about ten more “good” years. A few years ago, I would have bitched at him about that comment, but now I accept the logic of it. Maybe he’ll be wrong but we don’t want to take a chance. So I say, HELL YEAH, LET’S PARTAY. Let’s go on cruises, let’s go on road trips. Let’s golf, make love, go out to lunch and a movie. Let’s drink too much and eat two desserts.

Alice Walker, in her poem “Until I Was Nearly Fifty,” said of this inter-generational wisdom-sharing:

Those who sit
Skeptical
With hooded
Eyes
Wondering
If there really
Is
A path ahead
& Whether
There really
Are
Elders
Upon it.

Yes. We are there
Just ahead
Of you

Looking back
Concerned for you…”

So in that vein, ladies and gentleman of the forward wave, do you have any advice for coping with the upcoming blows to body and heart? Any words of wisdom or strategies to share? I for one would be so grateful, and I doubt I’m alone in my desire to learn.

Leave a comment

63 Comments

  1. A question I have often asked, only to hear the silence in response. I’m going to check back to see what wisdom your readers propose (other than me of course, who has nothing of consequence to say and abundant curiousity about the question you pose)..:-)

    Reply
  2. Very thoughtful post! My mother’s death a little over a year ago brought my own mortality to the forefront. She was almost exactly 20 years older than me. She took much better care of herself than I have. Barring unforeseen accidents of disease, I could hope to live as long as she did…which, at that time, gave me about 7000 days left. Sobering.

    Reply
    • Cindy, you could outlive her by another 10, though. It’s freeing and also frustrating not to know. I am in favor of picking a number and pretending you know it’s true. My number is 94.

      Reply
  3. Joan S

     /  February 1, 2013

    Thanks for writing exactly what my mind could not say Lynne. I too look forward to the responses. Much like a 30 year old feeling “her clock is ticking”, at 53 years, I feel like I need to hurry up and have fun. I started a new lifestyle of eating and physical fitness about 3 months ago to “slow the clock down.” I am not sure if the clock is ticking slower, but I am enjoying how I feel so much more now, and I decided that yes, quality is better than quantity.

    Reply
    • Joan, I read recently that due to good nutrition and exercise, we’re aging more slowly now, and a 70 year old of today is more like a 55-year old of 30 years ago. So you’re on the right track.

      Reply
  4. I have made peace with death a long time ago. I am only 50 years old and I know that someday in the future I will die…like everyone else. However I plan to do everything in my power to live as many years as I can. Each and every day I try to count my blessings.

    I think a positive outlook is vital to living longer, so not dwelling on the inevitable is essential.

    My grandmother recently passed away at the age of 97, my grandchildrens other grandmother recently passed away at the age of 50 (she did not take care of herself)…I made my grandchildren a promise that I would take care of my health, not do too risky of things, and make living into my 90′s my goal. There are no guarantees in life, but you can influence your odds, so stay positive and cherish every morning that you wake up and take a breath.

    Holly

    Reply
    • Oh, Holly, Your last sentence says it all. No guarantees, but we can stay positive and cherish our time. Thanks for weighing in.

      Reply
  5. It is my personal experience and observation the quality of life is more important than the length of life. We are limited to some extent by genetics but we can maximize our experience through diet, exercise, and mental exercise.
    Join a gym or exercise group and participate in stretching exercise plus strength exercises tailored to your level of capabilities. It has been proven we can develop muscle until we die. The important part of any program for any age level is the stretching and it is the part most of us skip. Your mobility can be improved and prolonged at any age level. You can also overcome many existing problems, backache, bending, walking etc. Make it a social event and you will maintain the program longer and add social contact. Whatever you choose it should be fun not work.
    Diet should include a good protein supplement. I make shakes with juice and drink one daily 20 minutes after workout. Most of us do not eat a balanced diet and elderly people (especially those who live alone skip meals) when your body doesn’t get enough protein it feeds on muscle tissue.
    Mental exercise should include writing, social interaction, and some form of cognitive exercise. Luminosity is a very good online service where you play games that improve your cognitive abilities.
    In my opinion the most important beginning of any program is the selection of an activity you enjoy and requires social interaction. I am 73 and still stronger than 90% of the younger generations in the gym because I maintain a lifelong exercise program. The other day at my gym I joined three gentlemen in the Jacuzzi and I was the youngster. They were 80, 81, and 89. All three have another important characteristic. They have incredible sense of humors.

    Reply
    • Jim, your comment is worth repeating as one individual blog post. It’s that important. And since I know you in the “real” (as opposed to virtual) world, I can attest to your fitness and vigor. Thanks for the inspiration.

      Reply
  6. Lynne, the elderly people I know (and love) are travelling fine and enjoying life despite having some issues with their health. My mother (she’s 85) has calmly and matter-of-factly decided which of her 3 daughters and 3 granddaughters will get which of her rings. I get the pearl one!

    My father who lived to the age of 89 had a great outlook on life. He was always thinking, talking and acting like he would live forever. I think that has got to be the best way.

    My thoughts are that if we are lucky enough to reach a great age, it is going to be OK because we are still the same person (inside our heads where it really counts) at 94 as when we were 24!

    When we are really old we can be more and not less contented, more and not less eccentric and more and not less happy. For now, we need to know that being old is actually really groovy and it sure beats the alternative! :))

    Reply
    • Well, that’s everything, right, Lynne! Beats the alternative. But hey, you’ve had some awesome role models. No wonder you have such optimism about it. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  7. Debra

     /  February 1, 2013

    Jim, I really do appreciate your perspective. Recently I had been thinking that going too far down the road can’t do anyone any good. Fear about all the issues (health, financial, family) were weighing heavily. As in, what’s the point? I fight that feeling by realizing I have no control over the future and have to do the best I can in the present.
    This quote popped up on my homepage this morning, and this kinda sums it up:

    Let us so live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.

    Mark Twain

    Reply
    • Debra, Jim is a mental giant. I know he would blush and wave me off, but he practices intense meditation and appears to be quite on top of this whole biz of living, even in spite of challenge he faces too. You can draw strength from him. I do.

      Reply
  8. Lynne, I had to giggle when I read how you stuck your foot in your mouth! No, sex isn’t a topic most elders want to discuss aloud — guess it was a taboo subject in their time. That said, yes, I’ll be interested in hearing how the really old cope with the blows Life deals them. My guess is they share the philosophy my late dad did, What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
    Also, the happiest old people, in my opinion, have something strong and solid to hold on to, whether it’s their faith, their family, a beloved pet or hobby, etc. They don’t just sit waiting to die (unless, of course, bad health necessitates that).

    Reply
    • Debbie, I read that we are happiest when we feel we matter to someone, something….We have to feel we matter. So I agree with you.

      Reply
  9. dhaupt3

     /  February 1, 2013

    Lynne, A wonderful post and Jim what a great outlook. I can only aspire to keep my positive self as I become elderly or more elderly. My husband who is 70 has a very negative outlook, this only happened as he aged, now he’s always complaining, being a poor me-er and I know it’s due to a depression that he won’t get help for, but what they say about leading horses to water and making them drink is true. I can only be there for him try to make him see the bright side, all the things he should be grateful for and in the long run just keep my own sense of humor through the good, the bad and the ugly times of life.
    Deb

    Reply
    • Wow, Deb, that’s tough. I’ve always heard a negative person can pull a positive person down more easily than the reverse. Stay strong.

      Reply
  10. Oh, I forgot to add earlier…regarding the “elderly couple still having sex”…I use to work at a nursing home and I can tell you that the sight may go, the hearing may go, as well as their memory and the strength to push their own wheelchair down the hall, but their sexual desire is still very much intact!

    We had residents ‘coupling’ for mutual sexual gratification or those who ‘went solo’, yet the still needed assistance getting on and off the toilet.

    Holly

    Reply
    • I guess, Holly, it’s a drive that almost won’t stop until we’re dead, since it has its roots in survival of the species. Wow, talk about the basics from the front lines! Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  11. Reblogged this on SSpjut | Writer's Blog | Stardate and commented:
    I love Lynne’s wit and candor, particularly about aging and whether to do it gracefully or full tilt ahead. I’m for the full tilt ahead idea…but that’s just me.

    Reply
  12. Kathryn Jordan

     /  February 1, 2013

    What a great topic! Coincidentally, I just started a memoir about my mom who is 94. For 20 years she’s lived in a wonderful “elder facility,” Claremont Manor. I love visiting her there every few weeks. It looks more like a college campus with stately red brick buildings from the 1940s and grounds to die for (sorry, I couldn’t resist) – tall trees, flowers everywhere and a rose garden where residents pick their own bouquets. Mom is terribly bent over with arthritis and her walk is scooting her feet along at a snail’s pace, but she’s sharp as ever (she still beats me in Scrabble sometimes, and her hearing is better than mine – curses!) and, thanks to her scooter and walker, she’s still active. Chair of the Spiritual Life Committee, attends Living With Change, church every Sunday, and sings in the Manor chorus. She can no longer see well enough to read even large print, so she goes down the hall to a friend’s room, and they listen to the songs on the computer and Mom memorizes them!
    Mom has had 50 surgeries in her life, appendix, gall bladder, back, neck, a few lumpectomies, etc. Also knee and hip replacements, and replacements of the replacements. Her last knee job was less than a year ago. She keeps a list of surgeries in her purse so she doesn’t have to recite them on doctor’s visits. But she could!
    I sometimes think these past 20 years have been some of her happiest. Having been a preacher’s wife, she’s loves people and there are some fascinating ones in the Manor, a woman oceanographer, lots of WWII veterans, university professors, a couple who spent their career building schools for U.S.A.I.D. in Nepal, Afghanistan, Iran, Thailand, etc. Conversations in the dining room are fascinating. Sometimes I take notes.
    I could go on, but you’ll have to wait for the book. :-) I’ve watched Mom shrink and get slower and slower, enduring pain she’s fought most of her life. Yet she is indomitable. And funny. She has a new joke for almost every visit.

    Reply
    • Oh, Kathryn, that would be a book I’d love to read. And what a great example she sets and will set for so many others once it’s published. Sometimes all we need is someone to model the behavior, and then we can take it from there. She’s lucky to have you as a daughter – and the reciprocal, too, of course!

      Reply
  13. I have more to say about the sex issue, but gotta run for now. Wonderful discussion.

    Reply
  14. Where to start? This is The Big Question all of us ponder. If I have a philosophy about aging, it’s based on acceptance–not denial, not resignation, but acceptance.

    Acceptance helps me to manage my own health. For example, I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes ten years ago (related to gestational diabetes during two pregnancies). I manage it by diet and exercise–no meds. So far, I’ve had no long-term damage. Along with acceptance, I think being skeptical and sort of stubborn helps too.

    Reply
    • Agreed, Madeleine. Skeptical and stubborn. At this point in my life I’ve had some maladies leave on their own, after having baffled docs for a few years. Now I just say, oh, that? That’s nothing. And I distract myself until they disappear.

      Reply
  15. Kathryn Jordan

     /  February 1, 2013

    Thanks, Lynne. Yes, I’m grateful for my mom, although she does have her cantankerous side – part of being indomitable, I guess. I’m excited about the memoir because it allows so much. I can shift to her child raising days now and then, and a heroic story from when she taught a class for pregnant teens.
    I can tell about my father too, who had a series of strokes and became silent and docile and, I think, depressed, the opposite of my mom. And she wasn’t very nice to him in the end (part of the story). The irony is, she wouldn’t be able to afford living at the Manor if not for Dad’s retirement check. The Methodist church voted that the widows of preachers would get the exact same amount as the retirees. What company does that!
    I can also add the terrible loss and pain she bore when my older brother was killed in a car accident at 18, and my younger brother… well, a different kind of grief.
    Now about sex. After my dad died in 1995, my mom talked about her yearning for cuddling, and yes, sex. (Before he died, actually, as he had grown distant and silent). She was 76 then, and even at that comparatively young age, her legs and hips (well, her whole body) was stiff with arthritis, and I doubt the logistics would’ve worked but could hardly remind her of that. I got her a certain device and somehow mustered the courage to give it to her. OMG. Problem solved, sort of. When she met a gentleman friend at the home, she would pine for him, wishing it could be more than friendship, wishing he would touch and hold her, but he’d had a happy marriage and wasn’t interested in more than friendship. They are friends still. She doesn’t mention her yearnings much any more, but I bet she still has them. Hmm, passion. Maybe that’s one of the keys to avoiding the reaper.

    Reply
    • KJ, every vignette in this comment deserves a story. And what guts you had! Good for both of you. We need more stories just exactly like this. I know you have a full plate but it will be exciting to hear of your progress as you write it.

      Reply
  16. Mary

     /  February 1, 2013

    This is my very first post, ever, on any site. I’ve read and enjoyed Lynne’s blog, as well as her debut novel, Dakota Blues (which I wholly recommend.)
    It always surprises me to hear mid-life adults pondering the inevitability of mortality, as though it’s only of recent interest.
    From my earliest recollections, I have been aware of the temporary nature of this physical life. I remember losing loved ones at ages 5 (close family friend), 6 (favorite aunt), 7 (my mother), 8 (maternal grandfather), 9 (maternal grandmother), 13 (paternal grandmother/ caretaker), followed by most remaining aunts and uncles, and 2 first cousins under age 50. Then came a long-time friend.
    In the past several years, I’ve lost my stepson, and the three elders whose care I managed–my uncle, stepmother, and my father. As many of you know, becoming an orphan makes a big impact at any age.
    Within the past 3 years, I’ve lost two of my best friends. Now, at age 55, I truly can’t believe I’ve made it this far! My inner wisdom tells me that I’m in the “home stretch,” the final fifth leg, the last 20 yards, with ten (hopefully good) years to go. Hopefully is the operative word, since I’ve been severly restricted from chronic illnes over the past five years, and was forced to leave my career prematurely.
    What I find most surprising about this series of comments is the focus on physical health as the way to stave off the inevitable. Of course we should take care of our bodies, and strive for good health. Still, we must acknowledge that death comes to all– unannounced, unpredictably, unexpectedly.
    For me, it is only the certainty that the spirit lives on, simply transitioning to a higher state, leaving behind the body like a worn-out coat, which allows me live in acceptance, grace and gratitude. I do believe that gratitude is the true fountain of youth, as it sustains and enlivens one from the inside out.

    Reply
    • Mary, I’m honored that this is the first site you chose as the recipient of your thoughts, which are moving for sure. So much loss at such early ages. No wonder you have existentialist leanings. Except for the fact that you do believe in a form of afterlife. That is what I hope for as well, and I can’t imagine it any other way. Where else will all that hard-won knowledge go? Thanks for writing. Hope to hear from you in future.

      Reply
    • Mary, In terms of focusing on physical health as “the way to stave off the inevitable,” that’s not why I work hard to manage diabetes. The reason is that the long-term damage it causes involve parts of the body which get the oxygen and nutrients they need from extremely tiny blood vessels. Namely, the eyes, kidneys, and feet and lower legs.

      Over time, damage to those tiny blood vessels causes blindness, kidney failure, and infection of the feet or lower legs which necessitates amputation. Death is evitable, but I can prevent these conditions by eating healthful food and exercising.

      Reply
  17. Interesting that this came up today since I was just ruminating on this subject this very morning. I was watching a tape of Super Soul Sunday (Oprah’s program on spiritual matters, which I highly recommend). On it there were some awesome quotes of Joseph Campbell and it got me thinking….. When I was a child I was involved in “being.” In my midyears I was involved in “striving”…. Now, in my 60′s I am back to “being”. In my opinion “being” is better. It allows you to transcend all, or many, of the clutching parts of life. You enjoy what “is”. I don’t remember who said, “Life is painful, suffering is optional,” but I think that is part of the wisdom of age. The thought of dying is comforting to me and has been for a long time. I am not necessarily wanting it soon, but it signifies ultimate peace to me. In the meantime I am grateful for every sunset, every touch of my dog’s fur, every meal, every moment spent with loved ones…. every moment of being.

    Reply
    • Nanci, a comforting comment. Thanks. I’ve heard it said that when you get past menopause, you’re more like you were when you were eleven. I think that’s true, and it reflects some of what you’re saying.

      Reply
  18. Morgan

     /  February 2, 2013

    Hi, Lynne –
    If the question is how to deal with the prospect of loss, illness and death sooner rather than later, I come at it from the opposite perspective. I’m working now on how to look ahead and plan for a future which I now believe I might actually have.

    I’m only 51, but it’s a hard-earned 51. In the last 9 years I had acute kidney failure (which became chronic and complete), a kidney transplant, kidney cancer (so that now the only kidney I have is the transplant), and a “minor” heart attack. I didn’t give a damn or a thought to planning for the future because I honestly didn’t think I would have one. Retirement would never matter, because I simply wasn’t going to live that long.

    My question is how to approach life now, and embrace the prospects of living, when I know what I’ve already been through. There are times the emotions all come rushing at me at once: fear of pain, fear of loss, fear of pain and loss for those I’ll leave behind. I can barely think about it for my partner, who gave me one of her kidneys. I can’t read articles or watch videos about pets left behind who stay faithful to their departed human companions. Heck, I’m getting teary-eyed just writing that sentence. There are times that I scream, and cry, and shake my fist in anger that “it wasn’t supposed to be like this, this is not what I signed up for!”

    And the universe, if it bothers to respond at all, says “So what? You think anybody did?”

    I think my response to that cosmic shrug breaks down into two parts, for the long-term and the short-term.

    In my long-term view, the universe’s response is not as bleak as it may sound. It tells me that this is life, this is what I’ve got, and it will last as long it does. One day, it will end. That’s just how it is for all of us, and I can accept it. I can not only accept it, I can shrug at the thought. I don’t fear death for myself. I’ve been too close, too many times, too recently.

    What I really fear, for the long-term, is not being recognized for who I am and how I lived, and not being remembered for what I’ve done. I’m transgendered, in man-to-woman transition, and I’ve fought long and hard to get to this point of living true to myself. I hope it’s all been worthwhile, and of use or benefit to more people than me alone.

    For the short term, the here-and-now and day-to-day dealing with life and death and everything, I think my business of life is just about living it. Living one day at a time, even one hour or one minute at a time, and enjoying them for what they are. Dandelion seeds to blow in the wind, petting one of our cats or playing with the dog: these are all good things and I enjoy them.

    Beyond all that, I think these last few years have sharpened my perception. I’m in my life, and living it, but in a way I’m also observing and appreciating it. One of my personal subtle pleasures is that I carry a small digital camera in my purse everywhere I go. Here and there through the day I see small moments of composition, contrast, irony, or beauty. Because I have the camera with me, I can capture them to enjoy again later and to share. Things like seeing the pattern of frost on a fallen leaf, or finding a broken umbrella in a trash can while it’s raining. A couple summers ago, after a summer thundershower, I was impressed with the quality of the sunlight, and set out to walk around my block and take pictures of the flowers in my various neighbors’ yards. It took me two hours to walk around the block, and I considered the time well-invested and well-spent.

    I believe the only meaningful purpose of life is the one we give it. The meaning we give is the one we really believe, because it’s etched into our hearts. For me, the purpose of my life is simply four verbs: “to live, to love, to laugh and to learn.” Not necessarily in that order.

    That’s just how it is, and I really do try to be just that matter-of-fact about it. And so it goes, one day at a time, until I run out of days and return to the arms of the Goddess who birthed me at my life’s beginning.

    Reply
    • Morgan, nothing I say can match your words. First, I offer my gratitude for your thoughts, for taking the time to comment. Second, I don’t think there’s any better guidance than that which you’ve offered today. Third, I once read an essay called “The Silence of the Sky,” wherein man shouts to the universe, “I EXIST!!! (damn you!)” and the Universe is silent. Which in theory allows us to create our own reality, was the point of the essay. Fourth, you’re an inspiration. For all you’ve been through, you’re still undaunted. Best wishes for many, many years of walks, photos, and joy.

      Reply
  19. Another thought provoking post, Lynne. I loved your friend, Jim Parrish’s the advice. My life has been compromised by health issues for so long that I have learned to seize the day. Each new 24 hours can be seen as a gift or a burden. I choose the gift. Even on days when I feel too achy to exercise or too tired to socialize, I can connect with others. I listen to music, read, telephone, email and write. One. Word. At. A. Time. And I think about all the people who love me just because I am!

    Reply
    • Pat, I know this about you. I remember the first time I met you on the web, your story of persevering in spite of great difficulty so inspired me. I think at the time you wrote about being sensitive to sunlight so had to live nocturnally for a while, and I don’t know if anybody thought it was temporary. And yet you’re still here, making jokes and sharing Switzerland with us in your blog. You’re wonderful. http://pattymackz.com/wordpress/?p=2770

      Reply
  20. I just turned 66 last week. My formula for aging is to add 30 years to current age and that is my life’s expectation, ninety six.

    On the other hand, I think along the lines of your husband, I have another ten “good” or productive years, so that is 76. For me that means less parties (which is easy since I tell everyone I don’t like parties except to be invited, so invite me even if you don’t like me, for it makes me feel better and I won’t be there anyway} and more writing and reading time.

    As a chaplain, I have been with a dying person more in my last seven years than ever before. In fact, before, the count might have been zero. This has enriched me in at least two ways. To be with folks who have wonderful attitudes and to give me a kick in the pants.

    Final advice: visit someone in a nursing home. Someone you can connect to and someone who has few visitors, and make that be one person. Be the interviewer, show interest in their responses, and listen, and listen, and listen, and listen…..

    Reply
    • Bob (“Fitz”), thanks for this. I agree that taking yourself out of the daily routine and helping with a situation that’s tougher than our own will do wonders for a person’s sense of gratitude. Seems a bit selfish, but when I help out as you describe, I think maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be; it’s education, not voyeurism. It’s a cosmic exchange of knowledge. I offer my greater physical ability to someone in need, and in exchange I receive a greater sense of appreciation for my present circumstances. It makes the world go round. But as a chaplain, do you see why I might feel guilty about my feelings of relief? Any further thoughts?

      Reply
      • Lynne….and Holly, responding to guilt or ulterior motive. I say of course there is an ulterior motive and in truth I get back as much or more than I give. I love stories and I like interviewing; it has proven to be a helpful combination in chaplaincy. Younger, I thought I liked to talk…. and did. Second half I have learned I like to listen, and do. So much so that when I went out to lunch with a friend (a listener) I have know since college, he said after much silence, “Bob, we better invite a third or we won’t have anyone to listen to.” Lynne, now, after having read Dakota Blues, I come away thinking your listening comes naturally. In some nursing home there is someone waiting to talk. If you connect, the only problem you will have is to find time for writing. That and reading are my biggest writing obstacles.

        Reply
        • Lynne: I was already thinking this is a post all its own…already working on it! :-)

          Bob: I love that sentence “In some nursing home there is someone waiting to talk.” Such a wonderful thought. I am going to use that in my post ;-)

          Holly

          Reply
        • Bob and Holly, I have enjoyed our little sub-conversation today. Sleep well, and happy Sunday.

          Reply
    • fictionfitz that last bit of advice is the best. As I mentioned earlier, I worked in a nursing home before, and there are so many lonely elders who have their full faculties mentally that would be so thrilled to have a friend to share about their lives. For some their families do not live near or they have just let their own busy lives take over so the don’t take the time to visit anymore. If you could spare an hour or two a week to visit them you would make the remainder of their lives so full.

      It is really simple to get start ed too. Just go to the nearest nursing home, talk to the nurse about who might benefit from company. Let the nurse know you want to find a person who communicates well but doesn’t get many visitors…believe me the nurse will know who. Ask the nurse to make the introduction for you…this will make the elder feel more comfortable.

      While working at the care home I knew exactly who needed a little more love to shine. I went in on my day off or came in early or stayed over to visit a few special ones. They would look forward to my next visit. And you will never know how good it made me feel to walk in her room and see a smile spread across her face when she saw me…talk about feeling loved! Sometimes I would read a book, or bring a crochet project I was working on, or bring a special scented hand lotion and give her hands and feet a good rub, or brush her hair…and always have such fantastic conversations about what her life had been like.

      You get back way more than you give in this gift of interaction.

      Holly

      Reply
      • Holly, you’ve laid out a really accessible structure for offering help. I can’t do it now because of my fulltime babysitting commitment, but when I finish that in June I am going to try exactly that. I’ll go to the place Mom stayed, and check in with the head nurse or activities director for a referral and introduction. But now that I think of it, I have one more concern (also maybe for Bob): Are you sure the patient won’t feel condescended to, or like a charity case? I mean, you’re so clearly there as a kindness…is there some kind of explanation you’d offer the patient? If you were the elder, and a youngster walked in saying, “Hi, I’m here to visit even though I don’t know you…” How is that received? Thanks.

        Reply
        • I had a little advantage because I also worked there, and I just opened by saying I was looking for some company, would she mind if I visited. The nurse or activities director knows the residents pretty well and can usually think up something to break the ice.

          Introduction Examples: One resident had trouble reading because the words were just too small for her to see. She had mentioned this to the nurse. When I first visited her I said that I loved reading and offered to read a book for her. Another time I brought in some flowers and told the resident I thought she might like to have them in her room. Of course she accepted them. While setting them up on her bedside table I told her how I picked them from my garden. I asked if there was anything else I could do for her. We only had a brief visit that first day but before I left I asked her if it would be okay if i came back for another visit. She said yes.

          Now, not all people are going to want you to visit them. Some have become so lonely and bitter they won’t let anyone in and that is okay. Just give them more than one chance to see you care before writing them off. Try popping by with flowers, or a small holiday specifc gift like a $1 heart shaped box of chocolates for valentines day (but first make sure chocolates are okay with the nurse, you don’t want to bring chocolate to a diabetic).

          Just get creative with the nurse or activities director.

          Holly

          Reply
  21. sally

     /  February 2, 2013

    Wish I could help, but everytime I think I have it figured out they change the the lines and the rules, I look for simple and get complicated, if you say or do something not so smart it’s all over the news or utube.

    So, I guess if you have a good day, try to get some things done, a bad day give yourself some slack. If you’re to nice you’re a sap, to honest you’re mean, so just try to do your best. love saz

    Reply
  22. Your post sure generated a lot of interest! I enjoyed reading all the comments and wish I had something profound to add. I definitely like your outlook. LET’S PARTAY!

    Reply
  23. Great post Lynne. I learned a lot from my grandfather who stayed active and interested in life right up until he died at 98, and my own father who is turning 80 in April, still going camping and volunteering and enjoying life. His balance of service and personal enjoyment is a great model for me on how to appreciate life now, not just as an elder! Two of the role models I also look to in the larger world are Maya Angelou and Clarissa Pinkola Estes. They both write about aging and wisdom gained, and they are both still active in the world in meaningful ways. They are both sassy and sexy, and they both have a sense of humor, another invaluable asset for life. I also admire Jane Fonda for her focus on fitness, her honesty and her philanthropy. I also expect HiIlary Clinton to inspire us all as she ages.

    Reply
  24. Oh, I agree Lynne- she offers a mixed message for sure. But I’ve come to learn that everyone is a complex assortment of flaws and wisdom, so I try to take what I can from her example, while being admittedly very disappointed in her over-the-top need to look younger. It just made her seem very vulnerable, to me, in the end, still seeking that approval. I guess some elders are a kind of anti-model for us, showing us by their choices not just what we want to emulate for ourselves, but what we don’t.

    Reply
  25. Great post, and great Question. What DOES lie ahead? In my blog, Geezerhoodguide.com, I’ve been whimsically suggesing some stuff that’s happening. We all contain more wisdom than we think. When we can chuckle at our anxiety, pay close attention to our foolish foibles, and open our eyes to the humor and the beauty swirling around us, life thrills us with quite a sleigh riide. Please look at geezerhoodguide.com and share your own wisdom. We can all use it.

    Reply
  26. Elder wisdom is always needed, at least that is what I think. I miss the old people in my family who used to get on my nerves with their special blend of life’s knowledge. And now here I am holding that space and needing to go slow when I want to share to help make the young one’s lives easier and they don’t want me interfering. When roots die it’s a sad thing. Love your site.

    Reply
    • Patricia, didn’t those old people seem sure of themselves? I had the same experience. Seemed like they knew everything, which was so annoying to me back then, but now I think, maybe they DID. BTW, your roots didn’t die. They just got transplanted into you, and they’ll survive in the young ones. Glad to see you here. Stop by again.

      Reply
      • A very important aspect of the sex issue is the fact there are two individuals involved and two attitudes. Sex is more about attitude than aging. A healthy couple (baring specific health issues) will continue to enjoy sex as long as they remain physically and emotionally active. The frequency and the acrobatics may decrease but the need for intimacy remains and sexual activity remains a vital component of that intimacy.
        I work out with and socialize with many elderly couples and the ones who stay physically and emotionally active remain sexually active. The exception seems to be when one partner loses interest. Later in life this has a more profound effect on the partner. The odds are pretty good if a couple is sexually active in their 50’s, they will remain active in that specific area of their relationship if they remain active in life.
        I am still pretty young myself and I will let you know at 80 if this changes.

        Reply
        • I’ll put it on the calendar, Jim. One day when you least expect it, I’ll say, “How’s the sex life, buddy?” ;) Thanks for stopping by with your perspective. It’s valued.

          Reply
  1. Elder Wisdom Needed | SSpjut | Writer's Blog | Stardate

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  • Lynne Spreen

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  • Review of Private Life by Jane Smiley

    Private LifePrivate Life by Jane Smiley
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Maybe this book is better than my capacity to appreciate. I don't tend toward writing that is obscure, or dense (or makes me feel dense). However, sometimes it's better to roll along with the storytelling and let the deeper meaning work its way up from subconscious to conscious.

    The ending of this book is extremely powerful. Margaret, due to the traumatic incident that happened when she was five, lived in a fog her entire life, married to a wacko genius, and not waking up until she was in her sixties and everything/everyone is sad and tired. Yet she seems to catch fire, fueled by bitterness, in the very last 3 sentences of the epilogue. It was a long time to wait for the enlightenment.

    I gave the book 3 stars because there's too much backstory too soon, making it hard for me to develop an interest. Once there, I felt frustrated at the repetitious nature of Margaret's obtuseness, even though she's a bright woman, and her deferring to Andrew, even though this is what people - women especially - do.

    It went on for her whole life! That she was living in a cloud due to, I believe, the trauma of the childhood incident, and that she was ill served by those around her, didn't make it any easier to like this story. I know Smiley is a master writer, and I feel like a goof not giving her a better rating, but this is my honest reaction.

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  • Review of Up At The Villa by Somerset Maugham

    Up at the VillaUp at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Very much enjoyed this short book, which I read in one night. The settings are lush, dialogue snappy, and the characters realistic and strong. The plot and writing are compelling. I enjoyed it because a theme might be, "people are not what they appear to be." A character acts one way and you think, okay, he's good and upstanding. And maybe he IS, but the "why" of it is enlightening. Maugham is a respected author for a reason. What talent! A very good story.

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  • Review of Benediction by Kent Haruf

    BenedictionBenediction by Kent Haruf
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Ever in search of stories about midlife and beyond, I set up a page on facebook (www.Facebook.com/midlife.fiction) and asked for suggestions. I got 38 great recommendations, and I hope to read and review every one of them. Herewith, then: Benediction by Kent Haruf. What a masterpiece.

    Benediction centers around an elderly man who is dying, but the story encompasses many rich characters, and their small stories touched me. In fact, I think this is what made the book so special for me: I saw a little bit of myself in each of them. Each one resonated. I felt again what it was like to be a lost little girl, a lonely divorcee, a misunderstood introspective, a grieving wife, a person who is coping with serious illness. I longed for the small-town atmosphere described here (the Fourth of July fireworks over the high school football field is a stellar short story all by itself.)

    Although the central character is dying, the book is not negative. Far from it - Benediction reflects on the everyday goodness (and tawdriness) of people. His characters are beset by the normal difficulties of life yet buoyed by simple beauties and kindnesses.

    Yet, nothing in Haruf's writing is overly dramatic or in the least saccharine. In fact, that's one of the aspects of Benediction I enjoyed the most: being surprised by tears on the completion of a plainly-written paragraph, phrase or description.

    I couldn't stop reading excerpts to my husband, since he also loves beautifully crafted writing. This book put me in mind of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. If I could describe it in one word, it would be "elegiac."

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