Aging in America

How can I help you say goodbye?

We will all ride the same train eventually

After my Mothers death I heard this country song on the radio.  It really had me thinking about how well she and I said goodbye.  How I would and can say goodbye when my time comes.  Family’s don’t want to talk about death or leaving.  Yet it is one thing that will happen to everyone.   As an unwell person I am very aware I may not live out the natural longevity that runs in my family.   Yet it is a subject I can’t talk about; even with my husband.  People want to smile and laugh and say, “Oh stop being so dramatic… will live a long life.  You are only as old as you let yourself feel!”

Family and friends are afraid to say out loud that their loved one is living a life that is running down and coming to an end.  Is it partly fear about their own departure from this life?  Whatever the reasons, it ends up being selfish.

I walked with a friend while he died of colon cancer.  His extended family would not allow him to talk about this dying or death.  Instead they wanted him to shut up and only talk positive life-things.  I have often wondered how censored he felt.  And alone.  Not allowed to even talk about the very thing that was happening to him in the NOW!  Horrible idea of dying that alone…….where what you are living is off-limits in all conversations.  We think dying alone means you had no family or friends to be with you during that time.  I think it is more a reflection on how brave and loving a family is that can allow the person to talk all they want about where they will be going soon.

Did you know that in Europe the dying/death experience is treated with great care and dignity….some cultures firmly believing the person is getting closer and closer to God and therefore will have wisdom to share.  You won’t find families fighting over how their loved one dies, but rather they gather together to honor, reminisce with laughter and fondness.   A grand sendoff indeed!  The United States seems to be the only culture that rails against death, almost treating it as a failure; demanding the unwell person get up from their deathbed and ‘beat this thing’.  What a horrible burden to put on someone you love.  Most cultures (except ours) accept that there is the beginning, the middle and the end of life.  It is just the facts of reality.  They accept it and honor it.

Love this country western song.  It says it all for me.  It is not negative to me.  In fact I would rather do my dying out loud and full of laughter and insights and sharing memories than become so isolated I am forced to pretend it is not happening to me.

Here are the words to the song………

Never waste a goodbye with your fears!

How Can I help you say good bye?
Through the back window of a ’59 wagon

I watched my best friend Jamie slippin’ further away
I kept on waving ’till I couldn’t see her
And through my tears, I asked again why we couldn’t stay
Mama whispered softly, Time will ease your pain
Life’s about changing, nothing ever stays the same
And she said, How can I help you to say goodbye?
It’s OK to hurt, and it’s OK to cry
Come, let me hold you and I will try
How can I help you to say goodbye?

I sat on our bed, he packed his suitcase
I held a picture of our wedding day
His hands were trembling, we both were crying
He kissed me gently and then he quickly walked away
I called up Mama, she said, Time will ease your pain
Life’s about changing, nothing ever stays the same

And she said, How can I help you to say goodbye?
It’s OK to hurt, and it’s OK to cry
Come, let me hold you and I will try
How can I help you to say goodbye?

Sitting with Mama alone in her bedroom
She opened her eyes, and then squeezed my hand
She said, I have to go now, my time here is over
And with her final word, she tried to help me understand
Mama whispered softly, Time will ease your pain
Life’s about changing, nothing ever stays the same

And she said, How can I help you to say goodbye?
It’s OK to hurt, and it’s OK to cry
Come, let me hold you and I will try
How can I help you to say goodbye?

How can I help you to say goodbye?

Aging in America


My Father who is 89 now is ‘old school’ and on top of that English!  Very proper and has firm beliefs in what is right and what is wrong.  Born in the middle 1920’s he came from the Churchill family that migrated from Nova Scotia to Tacoma, Washington.  Youngest of the 6 children, he had 4 sisters that babied him all of his life.

His Brother was a protestant pastor all of his life.  I am painting the picture of what era’s my Father was raised in and lived in all of his life.  All of them very staid in some ways coupled with the most outrageous and spontaneous sense of humor found only in the English. Dry humor they call it.  


The Highest Honor

I remember many stories of living with my proper Father that to my teenage ears was hysterically funny and odd to say the least.   I was moving into rock n roll and the ‘rebellion’ years so it was even more pronounce when living next to my Dad.   For example one day my girl friend and I were sitting on the front stoop talking trash about everyone we knew.  We were using words like butts and boobies.  Those were the words for those parts of the body.  Finally my Father could not stand it anymore and came out to the porch, drew his shoulders straight back and announced to two 16-year-old girls: “Ladies.  It is buttocks and breasts!”   I mean my girl friend fell straight into the bushes she was laughing so hard.

 Another time I called my Father telling him I would be late coming home for dinner because I was staying with my girl friend who was recovering from an abortion at the YWCA.   There was total silence on the other end of the phone and then my Father blurted out, “Diana!  Have you gone bereft of ALL reason??”   Since I didn’t really know what the word “bereft’ meant……..I didn’t answer but I knew I had displeased him immensely and raced home as fast as I could.  

However, in my 40’s this wonderful, old-world traditions, standards and deep sense of honor ended up making me feel more loved than at any point in my life.  I had driven up to Seattle from San Diego to spend time with my dying Mother.  Of course I was also able to spend time with Dad during the visit.  (they had been divorced for years).  On the day I was going to start driving home, I stopped by my Father’s house to say a quick goodbye early in the morning.   He walked out of his house to talk to me in my car.  I was startled to see him dressed in a suit jacket, tie and dress pants.   I said, “Dad, are you going somewhere?  Why are you all dressed up?”

 He looked at me with that one-eyebrow-raised look that said “To anyone smart to think this through  it is quite obvious why  and answered,  ” I am saying goodbye to my daughter.  Why would I do that in my gardening clothes?   I love you and honor you more than that.”   My jaw dropped and my eyes filled with tears.  I was speechless.    My Dad dressed up for ME!   To say goodbye to me……no other reason.   A short 10 minute goodbye in a driveway warranted a suit and tie.  To show his love and honor.   I drove away with my head spinning.   Powerful stuff; this honoring people.   His dress code to say goodbye to me was more powerful and full of more love than any long speech.  Words could not hold a candle to this amazingly simple act.  

     Dressed up as if he were greeting a very special and important person.  To him, I guess         he was!




Aging in America

Birthdays are a private affair

Today is the start of my 69th year.  I just completed 68 years…..well today at 3pm.  I have done the traditional celebrations for this day according to what others wanted for me.  NOT this year!  I am doing it my way; no presents……no obligatory family dinners or gatherings.  No being taken out to dinner or any half-deflated balloons hanging from the ceiling and birthday cards on the counter.

YAHOOOO!  Today is mine to do whatever I want and my family agreed.  No wrapped presents, no plans whatsoever.  Even my husband is out having lunch with his friends so I can be alone with my own self all day.

For me birthdays should be like New Year’s Eve.  In the sense of taking stock of the past year and setting goals or ideas for the coming new year in my age.  What am I going to do during this year while I am turning 69?  Is there anything I would like to accomplish?  Change about myself?

I am a health-nutI have always been uncomfortable sitting around accepting presents from folks, unwrapping them…..finding the correct words of thank you.  I hate that part.

I also have resented any hopes of what I might get for my birthday and being disappointed. Plus I have never really liked surprizes.

Today feels so great here in my room, talking on my blog, listening to my new TV.  Oh didn’t I mention my new birthday TV from my husband?

Did he break my birthday request?  Yes, he broke it sort of………but he did it in a wonderful, romantic way.  He did not wrap it.   He just brought the box of my new flat TV into my room, woke me up and confused me by telling me that it was a brand new type of board game.  I was barely awake as he left the room, trying to focus enough to read the print on the box.  Why would I need a USB port for a board game I was wondering.

I went out to Fred and asked him what kind of board game it was again?  Laughing, he told me it was a TV.

Men very seldom hit it on gifts but my hubby hit the jackpot with this new TV.  Number 1 I didn’t need or necessarily want a new TV as I am not much of a TV watcher except for lately while not feeling well.  It wasn’t wrapped.  He didn’t make a big deal out of it.  And it was highly impracticable!  And it had nothing to do with what HE wanted too.  It was all for me.  So all that made the gift one of the most romantic I have ever received.

So he respected my requests for how I want to celebrate my birthdays from now on and threw in a little private love thing.

Now I am going to just flat enjoy this first day of my 69th year.  What do I want to happen this year?  How do I want to live?   What do I want to do differently this year?

I have a lot of work to do today!!

From now on, my birthdays will be private affairs.


Aging in America

The Title of “great” in front of my name

First I was a Great-Mom……..according to my kids.  (mostly when they wanted something?)  Then the day I saw my first grandchild.    I was Grandma.  I did not mess around trying to find another title that would not give my age away.

Besides,  I actually was sorta young to be a Grandma so what the heck?  Now 22 years and 6 grandkids later, disaster looms.I was just Grandma from the beginning. I have been told I am a GREAT Grandma in the emotional sense.  The kids have loved my snack plates and cub drinks and I am considered the Queen-of-cozy.

Grandma the Queen of Cozy

There is a big chance I could become a GREAT-Grandma before I go to the big housewife kitchen in the sky!  I am not happy about this at all.

Oh sure,  I will be a sorta young for a GREAT-Grandma; that is not the point.  I don’t want that title so soon.  It should be posthumously awarded  or something.

GREAT Grandmother??  Say what?   And some of you doe-eyed women out there dreaming about the day your kids, grandkids and great-grandkids will gather around you sitting at your feet honoring you?  Well you have been watching too much Oprah or you are addled at an early age.  Ain’t gonna happen.

Why?  Because by the time the Title of GREAT comes your way, the people who made you that are scattered to the winds.  Moved to places you can’t even spell.   This title enters me into the category of the obligatory Sunday phone call and tacky greeting cards sent twice a year.

So my 21 and 20 year old grandson are in love and you know what that means!  If they marry young and multiply like their parents did……..I will be screwed.   I will be a GREAT-Grandma!!

Maybe this explains why old people become child-like in their old age?  The urge in me to go backwards—right now!— is very strong.   Don’t want that title.

Aging in America, The 2000's: Hot Flashes & Grandkids

I am too old to be grounded

And that's my point

I was out to dinner with family at a restaurant I hate. (yes it’s Soup Plantation) My family loves it though, so I was trying to tolerate it one more time.  Later I finally put my salad-bar-foot down and refused to ever go there again. I don’t think it had anything to do with my acting up at the dinner table that night though.

My grandson was in his early teens and for some reason for a couple of years there I loved getting his goat.  I loved poking his sensibilities of what an old person should act like.  He was just so poke-able I could not resist,  so that night at the restaurant was no different.

I had obviously done or said something totally outrageous in the teen eyes of Austin because he blurted out, “Grandma, you can’t do that here!”

I looked at him and said, “Austin look at me.  I am an old lady.  What are they gonna do?  Ground me?  Take away my allowance?”  His eyes got wide as he saw that there would come a time in his life too where peer pressure would have no sway in deciding what he could say or do either.

There simply is no more peer pressure after age 60.  It is a freedom that I love and it makes me laugh.

Aging in America

AARP is a very rude company

On the exact day of my 50th birthday, AARP sent me a Happy Birthday notice.  They sent it in a gigantic, loudly colored envelope with the tidings printed in huge letters right on the outside of the mailer.

I was weeping to my brother who is five years younger than I am.  I told him it was terrifying to see it in print.  And that others saw it in print.  It felt like AARP came in the night and spray painted my age in ten foot tall numbers on the side of my house.

He laughed and minimized my feelings.  What’s the big deal?  You are only as old as you feel ya’ know.   This spoken by a man still a spry 45 years old.

So I waited.  I waited five years.  Patiently.   As I crossed off the days before his big day, I became more pleased with myself.  HE didn’t know what it felt like.  Turning 50 was still an intellectual concept to him.  But his day was coming.

Later I heard that when he got his mail on August 31st and saw the obnoxious AARP envelope he bent over and beat his forehead on the kitchen counter.   Love it.

He knew he was turning 50.  He just didn’t know how it would feel.  And your day is coming too reader.  Oh you think it won’t bother you because you have taken care of yourself with exercise and healthy food.  Oh I wish I could be in your kitchen when you get your notice from AARP on your 50th birthday. Then you will know what I am talking about,