Tag Archives: expectations

My self-care plan

In January 2021, after a couple of years of increasingly serious health challenges, my mom went on hospice. She was ninety-four years old, her heart was getting weaker and she had other health issues. I was still working, and I spent much of my after-work time at my mom’s. I was already a bit worn out, and I knew the most challenging times were ahead.

I worked at a cancer support center and continually encouraged people to take care of themselves, especially those in the care-giver role. I decided to take my own advice.

One self-care plan for me is to have something to look forward to, something exciting to plan for and anticipate.

Several years earlier, I had been to Paris, and I wanted to see more of France, but I don’t speak French, so I booked a land tour of France with Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) for March 2022. It was more than a year away, and I bought insurance so I could postpone if need be, but once it was booked, the trip dangled in front of me like a sparking gem.

I began to read books set in France, particularly books related to World War II and the actions of the French government and the resistance movement. I love history and especially enjoy reading historical fiction.

My mom’s care became more consuming as the weeks and months went on, and my dream of traveling in France helped sustain me.

My mom died in June, and grief replaced dreaming; France settled somewhere in the recesses of my brain.

And then one day last November, I remembered my trip to France. I called OAT and asked where I was in the process. Yes, I had booked the trip; I still needed to do some administrative tasks and book my flights. Once those were completed, I began again to dream of France.

Since I was going to Europe, I decided to add a week at the beginning of my trip to visit friends in Ireland. It was great to see them again after five years, and we had a wonderful time. Then I was on to France.

On the way from the Charles De Gaulle Airport to Fontainebleau (the first stop on my tour) I noticed trees along the highway which had things that seemed to be huge nests in them. I asked the tour guide, and he said they were mistletoe.

He explained that mistletoe is a parasite and if left untreated, it kills the trees.

I had never given any thought to where mistletoe grows or that it might be harmful. This is going to be an adventure of learning, I thought—beyond my expectations or hopes or dreams.

Sure enough, there were surprises almost every day. We traveled for three weeks, from Fontainebleau to Normandy in the north, south to Carcassonne, and north to Paris—the mistletoe in the trees along the highways serving as a reminder to let go of my expectations and be open.

Creating my vision board

I recently created a vision board, something to help me focus during my sabbatical year—travel I am planning, the things that bring me joy and goals I have set.

Vision-wisdom-vulnerability

Even the first step of writing down what is important to me was helpful in identifying what I do and don’t want to do.

Without a job to go to or my mom to care for, I have plenty of free time, and I want to focus that time on exploring the next chapter of my life.

I scoured magazines for pictures to illustrate my dreams, goals and vision; and in the process, I realized how people my age are often portrayed. We are the parents who have memory issues and need care (often shown as an elder with a fifty-something adult child sitting on a park bench). Or we are the empty nesters looking to downsize (which usually means moving to a planned community where everyone is our age).

Where are the pictures of people like my friend Betty, who for her eighty-eighth birthday went on a twenty-mile bike ride? Or my mother who lived in her own home until she died at ninety-five?

Where are the pictures of us hiking at a state park (as I did with some friends a few weeks ago)? Playing cards (our memories still intact enough to remember the rules)? And gardening, kayaking, walking, running and biking?

Where are the pictures of us in classrooms, learning new languages, skills and hobbies?

Or in classrooms teaching younger generations skills that will help them in life?

Vision-wisdom-vulnerability

I am not denying that with age comes decline. I cannot run like I did when I was forty, and I am usually asleep by 10:30 p.m., 11:00 at the latest. I no longer go to bars for nights of drinking (not that that was ever a good thing to do), and I am much more conscious of my calorie intake (I use fewer calories as I am aging).

I do, though, still look forward to the future. I am excited about the prospects of my next chapter and am still discerning where and how I can best use what I have learned in my life. I want to follow my mother’s example and live until I die, open to new ideas and learning new things. I want to keep discovering what brings me joy and where God is calling me to share what I have learned from life.

Vision-wisdom-vulnerability

Watching the horizon

Twelve seagulls sit along the cottage rooftop,

scanning the horizon,

like tiny white sentinels,

poised,

watchful,

alert.

Are they offering a lesson in mindfulness?

Teaching me to sit still,

to linger,

to pay attention

without agenda or need,

without expectation or hope.

Watch the horizon, they seem to say.

Be open to what appears.

In this place, at this time

We have entered Advent, the season to prepare spiritually for Christmas. Advent is a time of watchful hope—think of a pregnant woman in the last trimester, waiting for the birth of her child. Every day, as her belly grows, so do does her anticipation of meeting the child growing within.

One of the women at work is pregnant, and her due date is December 27. Watching her excitement grow as her due date approaches helps me get in touch with the spirit of Advent. She is positively bursting with promise.

Advents invites us to join in that kind of joyful anticipation.

So how do I summon that kind of anticipation in my own life? What new life can I anticipate with a sense of urgency? What is growing within me and bursting to be born?

Good questions.

More than anticipation at this particular time, I am feeling anxious. There is the pandemic, which is spreading like wildfire where I live.

And then I am having my kitchen renovated (you will not be the first to ask why I would undergo a major construction project during a pandemic). The work is going fairly smoothly, but the upheaval is a bit distressing (the contents of my kitchen cabinets are stored through the house, and I have limited cooking capacity).

And then there is my ninety-four-year-old mother. Friends joke that she has nine lives; she is indomitable. While she easily denies her limitations (“no diminishment,” is her mantra) I find myself watching closely for signs of decline, and that kind of vigilance makes me anxious.

When I opened my prayer book on Wednesday morning and read Isaiah 25:6-10 and Matthew 15:29-37, these words jumped off the page—in this place; at this time.

It was a reminder that in the midst of whatever is happening in my life and in the life of the world, I am called to pay attention to God’s work, to what God is doing, here and now.

The coronavirus will pass and my kitchen project will be finished—these are passing things. My mother will be my mother—a force who lives on her own terms and will die on her own terms.

More important than what is happening outside is what is happening inside. Like the baby growing in the womb, God invites me to look inside, to see if my heart is aligned with God’s work of wiping away tears; of tending to the lame, blind, deformed and mute; of feeding those who are hungry.

Shifting my focus from the details of everyday life to the expansiveness of God’s view, I asked God, “What am I invited to do in this place, at this time?

When my friend Jim got brain cancer eight years ago, I asked God that very question, and the response was that I was to love unconditionally, to forgive without limit and to let go.

When I live like that, I will be non-judgmental, merciful and free—and ready for Christmas.

Wearing purple

I was still young when I read the poem,

When I am old,

and I wondered why anyone would wait

to wear purple.

My wardrobe was saturated with purple—

shirts, jumpers, hats, coats, scarves and gloves.

Even purple shoes

(because life is too short to wear black,

my sister said when we were shoe shopping).

Is purple the color of old women

the way pink is the color of little girls?

Was my love of wearing purple a sign

that I was old before my time?

I wondered about other parts of the poem, too.

Why wait to gobble up samples in shops…

And learn to spit?

Perhaps it is an insight into my upbringing that

I thought store samples were for me and that

I learned to spit as a girl on the farm

(we had contests to see who could spit the furthest),

and I kept on spitting as a women runner.

No, wearing purple was never a sign that

I had become an old woman.

But when I was out for my walk the other day

(wearing my purple jacket, by the way)

and tripped and fell,

I knew I had crossed the a line

and had become

an old woman.

Raising my sights

A local summer tutoring program offers middle school girls the opportunity to visit college campuses so the girls can see themselves at college—literally. These girls will be the first in their families to attend college, and physically being on a campus helps them to visualize college as part of their futures. These visits plant a seed and create both a memory and a dream.

Growing up, college was not in my future. My parents forbade it, believing that education was wasted on a girl. In their worldview, the best I could hope for was to marry and have children.

When I moved to Virginia after high school and people at work asked me about two well-known universities in Michigan, I had nothing to say. I did not even know which school was where, because those schools were not part of my life and no one had taken me to a college campus to help me see myself there. I had neither a memory nor a dream.

When I was twenty-six, after working at the FBI for seven years, I enrolled in college to get my degree so I could become an FBI agent.

After graduation, my FBI plan fell apart, and I felt I was back where I had started—without a dream of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I landed in the nonprofit sector, which has been a good career that drew on my talents and developed new skills.

Last week, I was talking with my spiritual director about my future—as in what am I going to be when I grow up.

Ok, so maybe I am already grown up chronologically, but since my mother is ninety-four and still independent, I figure I may have another whole career ahead of me.

Some of my friends retired in their fifties or early sixties, but that was not financially feasible for me. Some of them are spending their retirement volunteering at nonprofit organizations that serve people who are marginalized and vulnerable. My work has been about helping people who are marginalized and vulnerable, so I feel like I have spent my working life doing what they are doing in retirement.

My spiritual director is encouraging me to discern my next steps with an eye toward where God is calling me and to ask, “What is it that only I can do?”

I am starting to dream about my future in a new way. I want to raise my sights and be open to the vocation God is calling me to, even if it seems farfetched.

I have started to pay more attention to what catches my attention—new words, phrases or ideas that give me pause or that inspire me to follow up. I am exploring options with the awareness that I have nothing to lose by reaching out and asking questions.

It is exciting to think about my future as a blank page, just waiting for me to dream a new reality into being.

Don’t judge

“Don’t judge, Aunt Madeline,” my teenaged niece said to me. Although I don’t remember what her mother and I had been talking about or my exact response to her, I can imagine I claimed—perhaps somewhat defensively—that I was not judging. I do recall that my niece rolled her eyes in that knowing ways teens can have.

I admit that I can be judgmental, and even as I defended myself with my niece, I knew she was probably right.

This encounter was at least ten years ago, and her admonition has stayed with me and helped me to be more aware of when I am being judgmental.

Recently, I have found my niece’s phrase, Don’t judge, coming to my mind on a regular basis.

I am trying to honor my mother’s wishes about how she wants to live and die, and I feel judged by those who think I am not doing right by my mom. Don’t judge, I want to say to these well-intentioned people.

“Everyone has an opinion,” I said to a friend after hearing from yet another person offering suggestions about my mother’s situation.

The truth is that I agree that my mother’s situation is precarious, but she is ninety-four years old and she is not a threat to anyone. She wants to live and die in her own home—something I think most people can understand. Who wants to live in a nursing home? or to die in a hospital?

But sending elderly people to congregate settings has become such an accepted practice in our country that the idea of someone staying at home or living with family is considered unusual or even abnormal.

Yesterday, a home health worker told me I need to put my foot down and make my mother leave her home. “Stop harassing my daughter,” my mother said. “I am fine.” She knows what she wants.

I know how difficult it can be to take care of someone at home—I cared for my friend Jim at home when he had brain cancer. Everyday was a lesson in accepting the reality of our situation and letting go of expectations.

I felt judged then, too, by people who had lots of ideas of where I should take Jim for treatment and what kind of food I should be preparing for him and on and on.

I believe that people die the way they have lived. My mother has always been fiercely independent, and she has also always been suspicious of doctors, medicine and congregate settings. My dad, too, avoided doctors and when he had a major stroke, my mother did not call 911. Rather, we called hospice and kept my dad comfortable at home until he died three months later.

I have known several other people who died at home, including my friend Ted, and my neighbors Domenic, Margaret and Mary. A hundred years ago, most people died at home.

I am doing the best I can, so please don’t judge me.