A Little Bit of This & That on Aging

We visited Mission Point Peninsula going north from Traverse City (the pinky part of the Michigan mitten) a few weeks ago. One of the stops we made was to walk around the lighthouse that used to guide ships to either the east or west forks of Grand Traverse Bay. As we were getting in the car to leave I noticed these sandals that some child took off but didn’t pick up when s/he got in the car. Someone had hung them on the tree sapling, a flag signaling to the parents who may return to the scene of the crime. A silent giggle worked its way up from my tummy and I took a photo. In post processing I decided to use an aged photo color filter that had a warm tone, reflecting the warm feeling this scene elicited of memories past. No wonder I sometimes have a hard time remembering a word I need to express myself, my brain is filled to overflowing with the memories that are woven together to make my life story.

We cleaned the deck today, scrubbing off an accumulation of dirt and green stuff growing where the sun doesn’t reach, rinsing away dropped bird seed and bird droppings. At first we scrubbed side by side, feeling clumsy and awkward as we almost seemed to be working against each other, no pattern or plan. About the time that I felt tired and thought I would have probably stopped if Jim wasn’t working with me, we seemed to settle into assigned tasks without saying a word. He continued on the rails as I scrubbed the floor. We worked, usually in silence, until it was almost completed – when we could look around and tell each other how good it looked. Our aging bodies had grown tired, pain building in my hips and back, and one of us said s/he was going in to rest for a while and the other followed. I am thankful that fifty-some years of marriage has resulted in a dance that allows us to glide through our life tasks with a functional grace.

I feel late summer in the air, and this week we have a delightful break from what could be the dog-days-heat of late summer. The daytime highs have been in the low seventies with a cool northern breeze and nights in the 50’s. Some of the annuals in the pots on the back deck are getting leggy or died from either too much rain or too much heat. Many of the perennials in the front garden are finishing up their blooming so I need to spend some time each day deadheading to keep things looking tidy so the fall blooming plants can strut their stuff to full effect. The front beds are pretty big and I’ve been wondering how much longer I will be able to tend to them. The beds are now planted mainly with perennials with a few bushes and shrubs for winter interest. I think I may start gradually changing the balance so there are more evergreens and flowering shrubs, with perennials as accents. But not this year because I added several new perennials and have some mail-ordered iris coming sometime this month. My aging strategy tends to be a combination of staying engaged to the extent my body will allow while planning for how I can make life simpler for when I have to give some things up.

One of my new coneflowers. What a delicious color.

Kindness

I wrote this post in 2012 after reading a creative essay in a professional journal written by Dr. Scholten, entitled Kindness. This essay was especially potent because she has experienced being both the doctor who is appreciated by patients and then a patient who feels gratitude towards her doctor. So often we wish that our doctor could be in our shoes, could experience the emotional turmoil we experience, that can only be touched through kindness. Sure we need doctors that are competent and capable but there are times when these qualities don’t go far enough – we need something more. We also need kindness.

Dr. Scholten provides healthcare to refugees in Canada and she begins her story by saying that she had helped an Eritrean couple who were new refugees to Canada and facing an unplanned pregnancy. They came to her office for the last time before continuing with an obstetrician and the husband expresses his deep gratitude to her with a small speech. Obviously she had touched them deeply with her caring and help. She writes, however, that she is “embarrassed that I’m thanked for dispensing something that cost me nothing: no education, no honing of skill, no effort. I’d rather be thanked for diagnostic prowess or a deftly performed procedure.” It is clear in her statement that she underestimates the importance of her kindness and she believes technical skills and intellect are much more important. She writes that she forgets their gratitude as soon as she ushers them out. What happens next in her story, however, gives her a new perspective:

Seated in my doctor’s office, I’m in the chair tucked right next to his desk. This is the first visit that I haven’t sat casually on the exam table with my legs dangling over the side, the first time I haven’t popped in for something routine like a vaccination or contraception or a prenatal visit, where we talk shop and I ask about his daughter, a medical school classmate. This time, I’m here to follow up a disastrous ending to a second-trimester pregnancy. He knocks on the door, steps in, gives me a long, sober look as he slowly closes the door, sits down. He sits in silence. I can’t look at him. Finally I force myself to talk, exhausted, crying, despairing and he listens. He leans over his desk, arms folded on it, looking down. Eventually I look at him, at his solemn white-bearded face, and I note that he is flushed. His eyes are damp. And I realize that he is moved by my distress, and I am completely taken aback.

If we have a chronic illness or a serious diagnosis, we can understand her experience. We have sat before a doctor in all our emotional nakedness, overwhelmed by a mix of sadness, fear, shame – feeling very vulnerable and helpless. At that moment we appreciate “diagnostic prowess or a deftly performed procedure” but it isn’t all we need. At that moment what we also need, what helps us heal, what has a lasting impact on us is “kindness.”

This encounter had an impact on Dr. Scholten because she thinks about it repeatedly over the next few weeks. She continues to feel comforted by the fact that he just sat there giving her all the time she needed, that he was moved by her distress. She goes on to say, “His kindness is more dear to me than anything he’s done for our family over the years, even his delivery of my daughter.”  Dr. Scholten seems to have been humbled by her experience as a patient, recognizing that she has “been wielding something powerful without any respect for it.” This power is the impact that doctors can have on us when they allow themselves to be drawn into our emotional pain for a few minutes.

We are deeply touched when our doctor hears and understands when we are experiencing the fear that comes when our body has failed us and we don’t know how to fix it – or maybe fear that our painful, broken body will never be fixed.

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I found this post as I was reading some of my earliest post when I started my blog ten year ago. This was written when I was experiencing the fear, pain, sorrow and frustration of having fibromyalgia and struggling to regain a somewhat normal life. I was reliant on my doctor for medical help with medications and life-style advice but also for understanding and emotional support. Ten years have passed and I have learned how to manage FM, but Jim and I are now struggling with medical problems due to our aging bodies. I wrote this essay to help me better understand my experiences at the time, and it feels like I wrote it to help me express what I am needing now, ten years later, as I am dealing with aging.

I am also thinking that this isn’t just about the doctor/patient relationship but about all relationships. We need people in our lives who listen and hear us, who care. Neighbors Connie & Steve stopped to chat last night as they were doing their evening walk around the block and we were doing some work in our yard. They asked about Jim’s surgery on Wednesday and we continued to talk about health issues, ending with a laugh about how that is all we talk about when we get together with friends. Yes, we do talk about health issues because health issues are scary, and the older you get the more health issues there are. What we are looking for is kindness. The kindness that happens when people listen, understand, and care. The kindness that comes when people make themselves vulnerable before others by sharing what is making them feel vulnerable. These interactions involve needing emotional help and having others understand and respond in a way that says “I care.” What I beautiful gift we received from Connie and Steve, in our driveway as four old people chatted about life. It was a gift that made our life beautiful.


Scholtens, M. (2011). Kindness. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 467-478.

Copyright © Patricia A. Bailey and I Miss Me, Too/imissmetoo.me 2012.

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Sunday This & That

We just returned from spending four nights in our travel trailer midway up Michigan’s Lower Peninsula over towards Lake Michigan. We didn’t go for any particular reason except to be away from home for a little bit in a place that we enjoy visiting. On our second day we decided we wanted to go over the Big Mac Bridge to St. Ignase to get a pastie (short ‘a’ as in past} from Bessie’s – they make the very best and we have been known to plan vacations so we go through St. Ignace at the right time to go to Bessie’s. It wasn’t a short drive – two & a half hours each way but we knew it was worth it. Problem: Bessie’s wasn’t open when we got there early afternoon. Maybe they weren’t open for the season yet, in the U.P. June can sometime feel like very early spring, or (Good-God-No) they were closed for good. But they weren’t making pasties and we didn’t have a plan B because we (or I) knew they would be open. We were hungry so we pulled into a restaurant back on the main road that had outside seating. They had pasties so our plan was for Jim to order one and I would order the white fish basket and we would share. The waiter said they didn’t have white fish (this is a restaurant just a couple of hours south of White Fish Point on Lake Superior – how could they not have white fish???) We both ordered pasties and had a fun meal even though their pasties weren’t very good. At that point it seemed a very long way to go for a pastie but we had the excitement of going over the Big Mac, something that never gets old for us.

I was sitting at the table one morning drinking my second cup of coffee, working sudoku puzzles and half watching the man camping next to us clean the roof of his big fifth-wheeler trailer. I think they have the site for the whole summer and Randy was up there scrubbing and patching and doing those things he felt he need to do to have a well-maintained summer home. I heard a noise-of-fright from Randy and then his wife started yelling up to him to “Rinse on your knees! Rinse on your knees, Randy!” He snapped back that she was “treating him like a very old man” (they appeared to be in their late 50’s).

I remember those exchanges in our marriage. I remember feeling offended when Jim became overprotective, just wanting too keep me safe when I was doing something I felt confident doing, something a young person would feel confident doing. I remember back a few years ago when I didn’t like it when people treated me as being old. I remember making sure I moved with confidence so people wouldn’t think my aches and pains were because of old age.

I don’t have that problem any more, probably because now I know that I’m old (but not really, really old). I’m old enough where I appreciate Jim’s help and how our children seem to be watching, ready to step in if needed – but I’m not so old that I want strangers to think of me as old. I want to be perceived as active and involved and healthy (for my age). But I did notice that we seemed to be the old couple over there on site #50. Old people seem to be easily ignored, is what I’m experiencing lately.

Wishing you times of joy and fun during the coming week. If you haven’t been vaccinated, please do so for yourself and the people who love you.

Lens-Artist Challenge # 125: Transitions

Japanese Maple leaf between Fall & Winter.

The challenge for this week’s Lens-Artists is really open, asking us to pick a subject to photograph and tell us what meaning it has for us. Tina chose photographs to illustrate her understanding of Wabi-Sabi, “a Japanese concept that recognizes beauty in the imperfections of life and the natural cycle of growth and decay.” Her photos are really beautiful and are an inspiration, but what really resonated with me is thinking about the natural cycle of growth and decay that can be so beautiful, and sometimes unsettling. Observing this cycle as seasons change frequently gets me thinking about how to capture the beauty in dying and death, in decay and decimation. Frequently my photography fails and my images are boring, but usually there are two or three within a file of 100 that excite me with the beauty of the old, of decay, of the degenerative process.

Decaying rhubarb leaves

I have lived my entire life in Michigan where I integrated the nuances of the changing seasons into my very being. When we live with the drastic distinctions of the visual of the dead of winter, birth in spring, lush growth in summer, and degeneration into death of fall, are we also able to recognize the more subtle transitions between early winter, dead of winter, late winter, early spring, late spring, early summer, dog-days of summer, late summer, etc.? Each has a distinctive temperature feel, scent, landscape, air movement and living activities. Sometimes I will state that something “feels like” a season different than the one we are in – but a know this experience is the exception to what is normal at this time of year. I have noticed that in recent years these “feels like” experiences are becoming more common as a result of global warming.

Azalea leaves of Fall, snow of Winter

I really enjoy the transitions of nature in a temperate climate, where our weather is influenced by both the tropics and the poles (North Pole in the case of Michigan in the northern United States.) The transitions of nature and of our human life give us an opportunity to reflect on what has been and look forward to what might be. Usually, for me, looking back involves memories of happy and sad, success and failure, gain and loss. I have found that I feel mentally healthier when I am able to recognize and embrace all that has been – to gently and humbly accept the painful and joyful as what had to be, given who I am, when and where I have been placed. It seems I need to recognize the impact of both my choices and fate over which I have no choice.

Tender new growth facing the freezing temperatures of Winter

Transitions also kindle the need to look forward – the dread of winter months to come or the anticipation of the flowers of summer to bloom. As I am aging I am learning that I need new skills to navigate this transition between my productive mid-life phase and ultimately my death. I have studied aging and death but was unprepared for how to look to a future that won’t be better, physically, than what is right now. How can I integrate into my self-image the fact that my future may not be something to look forward to. Maybe my remaining years are similar to facing the dead of winter. At this point I am cognizant of this reality but I don’t feel demoralized by it. I just know that I need to find a way to navigate this transition just as I have every other I have made. Stay tuned for the rest of the story as I blog my way through.

Living in the Age of COVID-19: 4/19/2020

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A Spring Evening View in Michigan

We have anguished over the decision of when would be the best time to travel from our winter home in southern Florida to our summer home in southern Michigan. After talking with a friend who drove from Florida to Michigan a week ago, we decided that we could do it safely and we are ready. I have begun the process of packing up half-finished quilt projects to finish up north, have put away my sewing machine, and am starting to sort through and organize the small piles of papers and books, some to leave here and some to take with us. I’ve even begun the difficult task of deciding what clothes to leave and which to take north. There is a sense of peace in making order and getting ready to leave in a week.

My life seems to be characterized by a huge and constant sense of disconnect. I watch the news on TV throughout the day and see how communities are being devastated by the virus and people are loosing loved ones. I see the suffering of health care workers who aren’t able to physically protect themselves because PPE is in such short supply while at the same time have to help people die who are separated from families. Health care workers trained to save lives have to live with the knowledge that refrigerated trailers are sitting outside holding the overflow bodies, the bodies of someone’s loved one that can’t be claimed.  I watch journalists trying to bring us facts of sickness and death in nursing homes around the country and wonder how they deal with the weeks of emotional battering they have endured from looking for and making sense of human suffering without having a melt-down on camera.

And I feel a disconnect as I live my life with just some frustrating inconveniences, that’s all, just some inconveniences like not being able to go to our favorite restaurants or getting together with friends to play cards and laugh and eat snacks. Inconveniences like not being able to get a hair cut, exercise at the gym, or go to my favorite fabric stores. I go outside and see blue skies, spend a little time in the pool talking with friends as I exercise at a safe distance from others, and no one I know is in immediate danger unless they choose to put themselves there. None of my inconveniences are life threatening, in fact they are only inconveniences to me because I want to do certain things – going without isn’t a matter of life and death. I think about how my life with all its inconveniences is a thousand time better than most of the world’s population on their best days. There is a disconnect, a lack of congruence, between my daily lived existence and the carnage that the COVID-19 virus is causing across our world. I sometimes feel like I can’t get my head around what is happening.

But I know that I am getting my head around it because I am in a constant state of fear, of fight or flight. I am so in tune to social distancing that watching commercials on TV causes anxiety because the people on the screen are way too close. I feel the dread of contagion, of death. This reaction makes me laugh, but I know my fear is no laughing matter. It is real and appropriate because I am old, my husband is old, and most of my friends are old, even our children are getting old. If we get sick there is a greater likelihood of dying than of recovering. Usually I don’t embrace fear because I make decision that keep me safe, but with this virus I am keeping my fear active because I need it to stay safe while a virus that isn’t understood or controlled is knocking at my door. I need to keep fear close and active so that I don’t do something stupid that will lead to panic. Only when our government produces more testing and tracking and isolating of those who are carriers will I start to let my fear relax.

In the mean time I am going to continue to socially isolate myself and take precautionary measures even if government officials decide to put the economy ahead of saving human lives. I have so much to say about this but most of it isn’t nice or appropriate to say out loud. So right now I will think about safely getting some necessary provisions and get out some of the quilt squares I have packed to take home. I want to cut them down an inch so that they are better proportioned for the wall hanging they are destined to become.

Please, please stay safe and put aside your own needs if getting those needs met endanger others. It won’t be forever and in the grand scheme of things even two years isn’t much over your whole lifetime. If I can live with inconveniences for a year or two at my age, so can you. And all of us, together, can become creative in helping those who have lost incomes make it through. Jim and I will be using our government check to support our local food bank. What can you do to help yourself and others? We can do this, together, but at a safe distance!