Perseverance

Perseverance is almost universally considered a strength, something everyone should strive for.  But what about when it isn’t? What about when that tunnel vision of perseverance hits the brick wall of reality. My mother’s brick wall was her advanced age (96) and her quickly growing frailty. She was strong willed or, as Dad used to say, bullheaded and determined to stay in her home until the end. No discussion.

Her kids, myself and five others, watched in dismay as she courageously held out against the certainty of time.  It was puzzling why someone so determined was so lax in doing the small things that might have made a difference. Instead of changing the low battery on her hearing aids and keeping the medical alert buzzer on her body at all times, she was both careless and unconcerned.

Her constant talk of being lonely could not be assuaged by suggestions about assisted living. The value of better and regular meals, company and activities were brushed away with distain. I asked her, why would such a people-oriented person as yourself who has the money not take  advantage of these services? Mom’s angry reply was that she’d spent her whole life taking care of her children and now it was their turn to take care of her. This only intensified hard feelings and frustration on both sides.

I admired how each day she took her walker outside and traveled the entire block, greeting neighbors who came out to say hello. But then she was insulted when my sister told her of the worried phone calls she’d gotten from Mom’s unnamed neighbors down the street. That’s when denial set in. And more perseverance.

As winter approached, the fear of Mom being all alone in her big house escalated; we worried even more as unattended pots were left on the stove. Spoiled food was found in the refrigerator and mysterious piles of “very important” papers cluttered every flat surface. It became more common for Mom to be out of reach for hours when the phone was inadvertently left off the hook. Twice,  police arrived at her door when she’d pressed the wrong button.

My sister, her main caregiver, seemed to keep hoping that Mom would wake up one day and suddenly realize it was time. In the end, what finally made the difference was the written list of pro’s and con’s conspicuously placed on the dining room table. My brother and sister went over the list, point by point, each time they visited.

Now that everything is over (assisted living with very poor adjustment, her death a few months later) I can see that Mom used up all her perseverance trying to stay at home. When it came time for transition she had nothing left.

Sometimes the most valuable lessons are learned by observing the behavior of others and coming away saying I’ll never do that or I’ll never act that way.  And while I greatly admire Mom’s strength and her passion, I’ve developed a more refined plan to persevere in the later years of my life. I fully dedicate myself to what I’m able to do each and every day. But I also consider new circumstances and allow myself to change my mind.

 

Bad Ass Partay

I have a sister who calls a fancy party a “partay,” so it seemed apropos for me to throw a bad ass 71st birthday partay. You may ask, why such a big deal for a 71st birthday? Don’t people usually make a fuss around milestones such as moving from one decade to another?  So why such a flurry for the 71st?  It began so innocently.

I turned 70 in March, 2015 and my friend Betty turned 70 in November. I commented that 70 is so momentous. How great that we’d made it this far and maybe, just maybe that meant we should celebrate every year from now on. From here on out, they’re all milestones, I laughed. I gave this no more thought until I got a phone call from Betty a few weeks before my 71st birthday. What about that pledge you made? she asked. And that’s all I needed.

Betty is part of a group of girlfriends I’d celebrated my 70th birthday with. With this group, I have a long history of fun vacations in Door County and many parties together. But partay planning excitement got the best of me this time. First, I added my family to the guest list. Then it expanded to others. Writing friends. Friends in the building I lived in. Other unrelated groups of friends. Before I knew it I had a list of over thirty people.

party 002I wondered if these various groups, whose only common denominator was me, would hit it off, would get along,  would like each other as much as I liked each of them. This worry left my mind as I became engulfed in partay planning.  Being one who, over the years, had ignored birthdays I was out of my element. But determined to be the best hostess possible.

After multiple shopping trips and checking things off my list, the day was finally here. As my guests arrived, I made sure to pull up the cuff of my pants to show my bad ass socks and explain they had been an actual birthday gift from my friend, Julie Schuppie. I then explained how she and Stephanie and I had become the Stankin’ Ho’s. It’s a very meaningful-only-to-us name for our friendship. Silly perhaps, but we’ve been members of this exclusive cult for over twenty years.

The room was full of non-stop chatter. What had I worried about? The Door County group rekindled memories of bean bag competitions at the AC Tap in Bailey’s Harbor. I vividly remember how the elderly bartender once commented: I’ve never seen people your age have so much fun. 

party 003We quickly recalled how sides were taken as we declared our height designated team loyalty; either you were a Giant or a Munchkin. Trish proudly stated how she, not too tall or too short, would cross over to either team when there was a shortage. Little Patti’s legacy lives on due to her team song: “Mighty, mighty munchkins!” We’ve been doing this for over thirty years.

Colorful family characters such as my youngest brother Kent asked to be introduced to the Door County group and allowed me to tell the story of his childhood nickname: “whiney-wet-his-pants.”  He also took it pretty well when I revealed how the family called him “Corky” due to his physical appearance and general attitude so similar to our rambunctious father’s.

When announcing the social work scholarship for non-traditional students I’d established, my niece, Kristin defended the wisdom of her decision not to be a non-traditional student.  Hearing of my donation,  my family now knows they aren’t inheriting anything! I loved the reaction when names and faces came together: “where is your sister Karla: I want to meet her” “Oh, this is your niece, Julie, who I’ve heard so much about.”  “So, this is Betty.”

party 006The thoughtful cards and gifts included a cookie with my name on  it, flowers and plants, decadent chocolates, apple pies, candle and earrings, wine and TWO bottles of Korbel (some of my friends  know me so well!). I’m so thankful for set-up help from Laurel and niece Julie, and clean-up help from Kris, Keith and niece Julie.

But the greatest joy was simply the presence of so many of the important people in my life. All in the same room. This day made me feel incredibly fortunate as we recalled memories of past and present good times that signal a rich history for which I am so grateful. Birthdays, especially after 70, are milestones indeed and should be celebrated. I’m doing this again next year!

 

Compression

One chapter of a life-long adventure
Becomes twenty-five words of a poem

One essay of a family disaster
Becomes twenty-five words of a poem

Ten hours of writing mania
Becomes ten lines of a poem

Twelve chapters of a memoir
Becomes twelve stanzas of a poem

A thousand word description of betrayal
Becomes twenty-five words of a poem

Twenty-five words of a poem
Becomes seventeen syllables of a haiku

 

 

 

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