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Oh the subtle changes in life!

How do you deal with changes in life? All the little, annoying changes that take place—you know, acquiring back fat when you never imagined such a thing existed. When I see myself in pictures, I am often taken aback. Who is that person? Sometimes I recognize her, but other times I see only my mom. And even though I still feel 30-something inside, I see an older woman staring back at me. Not all of that makes me happy, but I refuse to let it be something that stresses me out.

Maybe now is the time to take a quick inventory: am I accepting, fighting, or ignoring changes in myself? Lately, it’s been a royal mix. I’m okay with the additional grey color in my multi-colored mane. The wrinkles…well, I’ve pretty much had dry skin all my life, so wrinkles have been a part of me. Okay, there are more and they are deeper, but there isn’t much I can to do about that. I’m not pleased with the overall shift in my weight, or to put it more bluntly, the sagging. But (pun intended!), everything else seems to work fine and I have accepted my overall appearance.

Me and one of my amazing mentors

So what do I do with this inventory? How do I move from acceptance to comfortable, and finally to at-home with how I look on the outside and feel on the inside? I lean on my mentors—the women who are older and that much wiser than me. These women have developed a stability and freedom that I yearn for. They are sassy, funny, smart, engaged, and real. My mentors have struggled and learned how to navigate life’s rough waters, emerging with a stronger sense of self after every storm.

If I can learn anything from them, then it is to move gracefully and purposefully ahead. Instead of yearning for the past, I aim to dance into my next stage. I’m sure I can do this…with a little help from my friends. Will you join me?

Walking on the edge of my foot

Just shy of 10 years ago, I fell off a 6-ft ladder helping my then husband finish a remodeling job. It was supposed to be relatively simple: I was to climb the ladder perched in a closet, and check on how evenly the insulation was being sprayed in. When I headed back down, the ladder collapsed and I fell with all my weight on my right foot.

Over time, I noticed increasing pain and weakness in that ankle. Dancing wasn’t as fun anymore. Hiking and then simple walking became painful. I started favoring the edge of my right foot, instead of employing the heel-middle-toe flow of a normal gait.

I tried numerous therapies for my ankle, and eventually a physical therapist recommended an MRI to see just what was going on. The MRI showed that the cartilage between my subtalar joint and main heel bone had all but disappeared. No wonder I was in pain: it was literally a bone-on-bone situation under my foot! I finally had surgery at the end of January this year to insert two large screws that would help fuse the bones together. After eight weeks in a cast, flat on my back following surgery, I started the long process of re-learning how to walk.

Me and my crutch

I felt similar to my friend Jan, who told me years ago that she felt “old” because she had to use a cane to walk. My physical therapist took one look at my limping and my evident pain right after my cast came off and said, “Use one crutch. You have to take off the pressure on your heel and retrain your foot how to move from heel, to middle, to toe again.” This felt like a setback to me, until I realized that by using one crutch, I was able to concentrate and be deliberate about how I was using my foot. After all, due to the pain, I’d been walking incorrectly for over 10 years. Retraining takes time…and a whole lot of patience.

A single crutch became my “companion” for several weeks. At the same time, I felt older, as if I had suddenly aged several years overnight. Was it because I was moving slower than usual? Or was it the darn crutch? Even though I knew that without the one crutch, I would not have been able to focus on re-learning how to walk properly once again.

The combination of slowing down and using an assistive device certainly served to remind me I was not getting any younger—and I don’t see this as a negative, but a fact; we’re all aging, Using that one crutch was crucial to my recovery.

I hope that some day soon, we will view slowing down or using assistive devices as positive, rather than negative. Just because we may need to rely on canes or crutches to help us does not mean we’re “old” in the traditional, stereotypical manner that accompanies aging. Sometimes growing older just means we may need a little help. After an accident we may also need help. Neither are negative, but simply facts of life.

A message from my heart:

To all-housekeeping staff, food service workers, aides, nurses, office workers, and everyone else who provides care to others:

I want to see my parents!

When you want to visit your parents, but they’re in Corona Virus lockdown…as are you.

You thought making the decision to move your parents into senior living was tough? Not being allowed to visit is ten times harder. Most senior living communities are locked down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. No visitors, which includes family members. The original reasons for having your mom or dad move into senior living haven’t changed, but since then, the world has changed. The idea of not being able to visit feels unfair, even mean-spirited, yet it is imperative during this pandemic.

Skyping with my dad

You have the same feeling as when you were little; you want your mom or dad to be with you in times of uncertainty. Of course you want to see them. I want to see my dad, too, but because of Covid-19 travel restrictions, I won’t be making my regular visits in the foreseeable future. This means I won’t be able to see or hug my dad, or resume our cribbage tournament. We have had to find new ways to “see” each other. Although he resisted Skype at first, we are now enjoying our electronic visits. During one call, I was eating chocolate and my dad said, “I’d like a piece, too.” To which I answered, “Too bad; it’s all mine.” We laugh and talk seriously. We share programs we’re watching, books we’re reading, and walks we’ve taken. It’s not the same as in-person visits, but as my dad always says, “These are the cards we’re dealt.”

We’re all navigating very uncomfortable times, and to top it off, the care of your loved ones is in the hands of the senior living care team, people who may still feel a bit like strangers. How can they love your parents the way you do? They’ve only known your parents for a couple years, while you’ve known your parents for a lifetime.

I’ve worked as a manager in all levels of senior housing and I know that the professionals who look after your parents grow to love their residents—your parents—unconditionally. They become a second family. The news often reports on the negative aspects of senior housing, and there are issues, I understand that. What is not reported are the mundane, day-to-day interactions that staff members have with your loved ones. The countless smiles they exchange, the warm greetings heard in passing, and the endless patience in listening to familiar stories shared, perhaps many times. The list goes on and on.

Senior living is not perfect. Home care is not perfect. And certainly, you taking your parents into your home at this point would not be perfect, either. It’s too easy to question everything during a crisis, even decisions that were soundly made.

When we come out on the other side of this pandemic, we probably won’t be returning to normal. As with any change, we will create a new normal. Connecting with my dad electronically will be part of that. I see senior care communities also using technology, or doing something as simple as setting a chair by a window, so that family members can visit with only glass between them.

For someone with dementia, this type of virtual visit can be complicated or confusing. Before the crisis hit, I helped move a man into dementia care. His loving wife had reached the end of her ability to provide care, and even though she knew this was the best decision, it was still extremely hard.

Now she can’t physically visit him. Both she and the community where he lives are in Covid-19 quarantine. One of the creative ways she has been communicating with her husband of 60-plus years is sending large-font emails, complete with pictures, to the activity director. The staff then prints off the emails and after reading them aloud to him, leaves them by the bedside. This allows her husband to “hear” her words as many times as he chooses. Because of his dementia, he may not always understand his wife’s words, or why she isn’t physically there, but I trust something reaches him. Hearing her familiar words will touch an emotional cord even if he’s unable to acknowledge their effect, out loud.

We don’t know whether or not people with dementia understand lockdown due to Corona virus. It’s not a very digestible concept for many of us either. There is no need to “make them” understand or explain why you can’t visit. What is important in these trying times is to trust that the team of people who we consider essential, is caring for your parents. They are taking necessary precautions to keep your loved ones safe and disease free. And most importantly, many of them love your parents. It’s not the same love that you have for your parents, but it is a kind and patient devotion.

We will get through this, even if the “new normal” hasn’t yet been determined. In the meantime, it’s important to remember that something as insignificant as a phone call to your loved one can make a world of difference for both of you.

Surrendering to the Magic of life

My daughter just suggested we start a petition to “remove February and even the first and last weeks of March.” I imagine living in one of the sunnier regions of the world would make life easier during the winter months, but still, February and March seem interminable. The festivities of the holidays are long behind us, spring seems like it will never appear, and frankly, life feels sluggish. Winter seems endless. In a nutshell, this is how long-term caregiving can feel, like you’re stuck in a ‘never-ending February.’

Instead of fighting the February blues, I have been inviting surrender into my life. I returned to one of my favorite poems to remind me once again of how to “be helpless, dumbfounded, unable to say yes or no.” The poet Rumi talks of allowing “a stretcher of grace” to scoop us up, trusting that when we surrender, “miraculous beings come running to help.” I think a little magic is just the ticket, especially in the ‘February times’ of our lives.

Zero Circle

Be helpless, dumbfounded,
Unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come from grace to gather us up.

We are too dull-eyed to see that beauty.
If we say we can, we’re lying.
If we say No, we don’t see it,
That No will behead us
And shut tight our window onto spirit.

So let us rather not be sure of anything,
Beside ourselves, and only that, so
Miraculous beings come running to help.
Crazed, lying in a zero circle, mute,
We shall be saying finally,
With tremendous eloquence, Lead us.
When we have totally surrendered to that beauty,
We shall be a mighty kindness.

Rumi, 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic.

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