Longevity is Blue

We finally caved and bought a new mattress set. Okay so to be completely frank, Rocket-man caved. Me thinks he had grown pretty damned tired of my complaining. He wanted to wait until after our move (is that laughter I hear?!)  Anyhow, that would make darned good sense: Tempur-Pedic® mattresses are quite heavy (ours is a king) not to mention expensive. Getting rid of the old one before our move and purchasing one at our new destination would help keep moving expenses down (I’ve been shedding stuff for months now).  However, as you all know I’ve been sitting on packed boxes waiting for my house to sell for eleven months now.  My patience has grown wafer thin.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that my resolve to smile more and complain less (as was my original intention in writing in this-here blog space) has not been going swimmingly well lately. In fact, my record for the past couple of months has been abysmal…perhaps even borderline dangerous.  Naturally, I’m not happy with myself about that. My only defense?  I’m definitely a work in progress.

So in my grumpy state I’ve been carping on about piddly stuff including my lower back pain for some time. Okay, that’s arguably not piddly but I usually muscle through things of this nature.  Some of it could be due to working out. Certainly I cannot bounce back as quickly as I did in my forties or even early fifties! Epsom soaks are now a weekly occurrence as opposed to a once-in-a-blue-moon thing. Make no mistake…. I do love them! No complaints there! But I’m fairly certain the culprit has been our aging mattress. It’s nearly 15 years old….a good five years past it’s prime. So we took advantage of Labor Day specials and made the purchase (heaven arrived on my doorstep three days later precisely at 10: a.m.)

As we drove away from the mattress store to continue on with errands, a thought popped into my mind. As we wound our way over the mountain heading for Home Depot I shared my thoughts with Rocket-man who was immersed in Word With Friends on his iPhone.

“Wow. That was an expensive buy!  But you know, most likely we’ll only have one more mattress expense after this.”

“How do you figure,” asked Rocket-man still playing his game.

“We’ve got a good 20 years left on this planet. If we’re really lucky maybe 30.”  I’m not trying to be morbid here….just realistic.

“Ah. I see what you mean,” came his soft reply. With that, he placed his hand over mine.  “But you’ve been reading about life hacks for longevity. We could have two more mattresses in our future…maybe even three.”

It’s true.  And with that, I’ve found that longevity is colored blue.

 

Blue Zones: Where people live the longest and in relatively good health.

Blue Zones: Where people live the longest and in relatively good health.

 

The other day while perusing the stacks at Barnes & Noble I’d picked up a National Geographic special edition magazine devoted to the topic of Blue Zones…areas around the globe where people live measurably longer lives… especially compared to Americans.  A team of researchers literally circled in blue ink the places around the world where they found the highest concentration of centenarians (folks age 100 and older). For those who are interested, check out books by Dan Buettner, the founder of Blue Zones, an organization devoted to helping Americans live longer. He’s written several books on the topic (and yes….I purchased one).

I ordered a latte at the coffee bar and took a seat to flip through the magazine. The first country that was listed as a Blue Zone was Okinawa (for inquiring minds, there were five Blue Zones covered in the magazine: Okinawa, Sardinia, Loma Linda California, Ikaria, Greece and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.

Okinawa.  Hmm.  Ah yes!  I vaguely remember reading The Okinawa Program, by Bradley J. Willcox, M.D., M.S., Craig Willcox, Ph.D., M.H.Sc., and Makoto Suzuki, M.D., Ph.D. some years ago while studying for my Masters degree. I suppose—as I often do—I did a brain dump after reading it!  But, as I read, knowledge bits were coming back to me, aided I am quite sure by the grande-sized caffeine jolt.

A bullet point list of Okinawa’s longevity foods includes: bitter melon, Tofu, Sweet Potatoes, Garlic, Turmeric, Brown Rice, Green Tea, Shiitake mushrooms and Seaweed (Kombu and Wakame).

Hmm.  I’d say I do a fair job of incorporating most of these longevity foods although I am not inclined towards tofu…blech.  Apparently, according to Buettner, Okinawans eat tofu like the French eat bread!  After my last sip of coffee I made a new resolve: let’s put some excitement into our diet and try some new things.   I decided to start with one thing in the list that would be new for me.  Seaweed.

Next stop?  Whole Foods of course.

No problem finding seaweed at Whole Foods.  For example, in the cracker aisle there were a number of seaweed snack products.  I pulled three different seaweed snack items from the shelf.  One brand had “Strangely Addictive” printed in bold red letters.  Into the cart it went.  I also picked up more sweet potatoes and green tea.

"Strangely Addictive?" Not so In My Humble Opinion!

“Strangely Addictive?” Not so In My Humble Opinion!

Later that evening Rocket-man and I talked about this whole longevity thing.

“I mean realistically…do we honestly even want to live to be 100?  And what about the money?  How can we afford to?”   If I could reach the age of 100 enjoying relatively good health with Rocket-man at my side (yes, the man who often makes my eyes roll to the ceiling in exasperation over one thing or another!), without being a financial burden on anyone, I could see the merits.  Despite the world being such a topsy-turvy place, there is much that is wonderful to behold all around us (yes….even in middle-earth Alabama!).    All that is required is an open mind, which admittedly, seems to become harder to achieve the older one gets.  Add to that the joys of remaining close to my sis and her family.   I’d include my children, but while I do love them to pieces, at this writing I think they’d much rather push me over a cliff well before I reach 80!

As Rocket-man and I sat down to catch-up on Outlander I brought out the snacks I had gotten hours before at Whole Foods.

“I’m trying a new longevity hack for us.  It’s seaweed.  It’s touted as being one of the excellent low-calorie, nutrient-rich choices for longevity according to the Okinawa diet,” I told Rocket-man as I handed him the bag of seaweed chips.

Rocket-man eyed me suspiciously.

“What?” I said in mock innocence.   I pointed to the label on the package.  “Look, this says these are “Strangely Addictive.”  You know….we thought we wouldn’t like crunchy Wasabi chickpeas, and now we’re totally hooked.  How bad can these be?”

Having said that….

“Here Mikey…you try it first,” I joked.

Rocket-man picks a chip from the bag and tentatively takes a bite.  Then he pops the rest into his mouth.  Well…he did not gag but that isn’t saying a lot.  He’d eat two-week-old left-overs if left to his own device.

“Well?”

“It’s palatable.  I’ve had worse,” was all he said.

Then I take a chip.  “Interesting,” I say as my nose wrinkles in mild disgust upon a tiny nibble.  Still, I was determined to give it a good go.  Perhaps another one would set better in my mouth.

Nope.

Now comes a gag. Blech.

“It’s terribly fishy tasting.”  The explosion of fish taste in my mouth felt one hundred times stronger than burping up just one fish oil capsule.

Rocket-man laughed.  “It’s seaweed….from the ocean….silly woman.”

I went to the fridge scavenging for anything to take out the taste.  I selected Fage yogurt with mixed berries.  Twenty minutes later I could still taste an ocean’s worth of seaweed in my mouth.  So, I fixed myself a chunky peanut butter sandwich, slathering on more peanut butter than usual.

Are you freaking kidding me?  Not only have I already consumed an extra 400 calories I’ve now made it worse as fish and peanut butter together battle for superiority in my mouth.

Suffice it to say that seaweed is one diet longevity hack that won’t be implemented in this house.  I hate the thought of throwing out the other snacks I had purchased. Perhaps I can donate the unopened bags to the food bank?  Rocket-man thought that was mighty funny.  We are in Alabama after all; seaweed chips wouldn’t be considered a holiday staple.

So folks,  I think I’ll stick with what I know and love (that would be the Mediterranean diet).  Luckily it turns out its fairly close to another Blue Zone diet; Ikaria Greece.  What’s not to love about a diet rich in extra-virgin olive-oil, potatoes, feta cheese, almonds, chickpeas, wild greens, coffee and wine!  That, along with their lifestyle practice of a daily nap seems like bliss to me.

Just thinking about my lunch of chickpeas and greens with olive-oil and lemon has got me feeling younger already.  Then a short nap.

Bliss… times two.

 

Feeling VAN-tastic!

I’m not a vain person (at least I don’t think I am). I aim to strike a good balance; not spending inordinate amounts of time or money on my appearance.   I don’t leave the house without first applying a bit of mascara and lipstick. My attire, though perhaps too heavy on the casual (read REI) and not enough high heels and dresses, is on-trend. I keep regular hair salon appointments and I’m in the gym at least four days a week fighting to keep the pounds at bay in these post-menopausal years.

Honestly folks, up until about five years ago, I considered myself a “moderately attractive” woman. I suppose I based this in part on being able to turn a head or two in my twenties, thirties and even into my forties. But on the heels of sixty, heads aren’t turning.   I will admit here and now that, on occasion, it feels rather nice to turn a head…or two. Come on ladies…be honest…it feels good, right?!  And yes…I am keenly aware that our existence is but a blip on the radar screen in this universe; lamenting on one’s fading looks is supremely frivolous given the insanity that is going on around the world.  Still, it’s what’s in my head at this given minute….so there it is.  I’m human.

So, it’s not surprising that I’ve been feeling mighty invisible lately.  I might even go so far to say….irrelevant.   I’ll opine on something– or share a feeling–and I may as well be talking to a brick wall.   It could just be me, but I don’t think so.  Rocket-man disagrees with my assessment but he is hardly objective when it comes to the subject of moi. He says I’m as beautiful as the day he met me and he does value my opinions.

Ahem…really?  I say to the man who needs every light on in the house to read the newspaper. Clearly his vision isn’t what it used to be (nor of course is mine to be fair).

“My queen, this invisibility feeling is just your imagination,” he says as he dons a shirt that he absolutely knows I don’t like.   I remain resolute in my feelings. Case in point, on this recent trip to Europe I didn’t get so much as a glance from man or woman. No chatty attempts during long flights nor train rides. Not half a wink nor even a hint of a body scan.  You know what I’m talking about: that fraction of a second of eyeing a person up and down…checking out attire, hair, jewelry, gams… and well, everything.  I got nothing.

Sigh.  In 2008 when I was in Italy I turned a head and got one whistle. Or at least I think that whistle was for me. It could very well have been for my sister who was with me at the time. By the way, my sis is still turning heads today with her long blonde locks, beautiful blue eyes, and her porcelain-pretty skin.

So, I know why this feeling of being invisible is happening.  It’s the age thing.  It is not even the elephant-in-the room anymore.   It’s a well-known phenomenon as we get older, from say our 50’s, on.  We become invisible, and irrelevant, to the more youthful world around us.  Naturally, it seems to hit women harder than men.  For instance, today Mick Jagger is definitely not feeling invisible.  He’s becoming a father for the eighth time at the age of 72!  His girlfriend is 29.  Someone should break the news to her.  Her visibility days are numbered.

In an effort to keep this phenomenon from sending me over a cliff, I’ve been doing what I can as I get older to keep my mind from turning to mush.  Though my Christmas card list is shrinking I am striving to maintain (and develop) connections.  I consider myself fairly adept with keeping in tune with the times via social media and, even though I’m not employed, I get out of the house and out into the world everyday.  In other words, though I struggle to maintain a state of grace with this aging thing, I am still doing what I can to make certain life adjustments, checking off as many boxes as possible to slow the inevitable….that fade into the deep, dark abyss.

So imagine my glee when not once but twice in the last month I’ve been on the receiving end of a split second of attention. The first time I had to look right and left and over my shoulder.  Hmm.  Is this person actually talking to me?  And then it happened again, just yesterday, while standing in line at the grocery store, of all places.

What could be making me visible you ask? Well it isn’t my fading good looks. It’s my shoes.

Yes. Shoes.

Here I am standing in line with a basket of odds and ends for purchase when the fellow behind me taps me on my shoulder: “Cool shoes,” he says with a smile.

Vans-My hipster-cool Skater Shoes

Vans-My hipster-cool Skater Shoes

I fully turn to face the guy, a clean-cut young man who looks to be in his late twenties.  I’m sure I had a very perplexed look on my face.   “Oh…OK…thank-you,” I reply as I look down at my feet. “Um, they’re just regular old tennis shoes.”

He chuckles saying “Well, ma’am, you know they’re Vans. Vans are hipster-cool.  They’re skater shoes.”

Ahh. Skater shoes.  Clearly I’m not as nearly in-tune with the times as I thought I was.

“Well, obviously I’m not a skater-gal but I do like the casual vibe of these shoes,” I tell him.  Pathetic as it may seem, his words made my day.  I smiled from ear to ear as I floated back to my car.

Who says you need Manolo Blahniks to get noticed.  Affordable, comfortable skater shoes made me visible!    I think I need to make a beeline back to the store and deplete their stock of Vans.  And while I am at it I’ll need to check my favorite on-line shoe source, Zappos.

A pair in every color!  VAN-tastic! I’m feeling an extra pep in my step just thinking about it.

Bliss.

Downward Slide? Maybe…Maybe Not

Downward slide?

Downward slide?

Time is flying.

It seems like it was only yesterday that I was 39.  That was nineteen years ago!  It was a year marked by a painful divorce and returning to the work force full-time. A year later, in an effort to not let my milestone year be defined by failure on all fronts, I ran my first 50-mile race. At work, my colleagues surprised with me with birthday cake the day I turned 40 (chocolate, I recall). On it were 40 candles…all aglow! When I blew them all out smoke-filled the small conference room. We joked that surely the smoke detectors were defective since they didn’t sound off. It was a year of feeling strong—almost invincible— physically and mentally despite (or, in spite of) the storm and immense sadness of divorce.

At 58, I certainly don’t feel invincible. Vulnerable seems a better word.

So, I’m officially two years, minus two days, from another big milestone.  I’m already stressing about it.  In fact, I’m keenly aware I’m on the downward slide.  It’s not news that I’ve been preoccupied with aging for a while and that I’m not taking it very well. Nearly every day growing older (and the obvious implications of it all) is uppermost in my thoughts. I keep paring down my personal items as if I’m leaving the planet tomorrow. Ridiculous I know. With the exception of my knees, I’m in great health.  My rationale is that I don’t want to make things difficult for my children (the trauma of last year with my mother is still fresh in my mind).  Still, it is getting more difficult to escape the daily reminders; no longer can I be an ostrich with my head in the sand.  Reality bites. Each morning I look into the mirror and discover new lines and wrinkles that seemingly appeared overnight…not to mention little hairs that spring up and park themselves where they don’t belong. This would likely escape me if it weren’t for the 10x magnifying mirror I use for applying my eye-makeup. It’s an item in the bathroom that I have a love-hate relationship with (the other being the bathroom scales). I’m most distressed by fat folds that were non-existent when I moved to middle earth three years ago!  I’m fighting this weight gain, kicking and screaming, but I seem to be losing the battle. Some days I’m okay with my changing body, accepting the loss of my once youthful appearance and physical limitations with the wisdom and grace that comes with age. Other days, I’m a two-year-old having a tantrum about it all.  It certainly doesn’t help when social and print media all but slaps you in the face on a hourly basis with images of youth and beauty. Okay, so most of those photos of bikini-clad beauties are airbrushed.  I just thank God they don’t make floor length 10x magnifying mirrors!

The other day Rocket-man and I went to a matinée showing at the local theater. He was keenly aware that I was in danger of wallowing in my own little pity party so an afternoon outing after household chores would surely lift my spirits.  I looked out over a sea of gray heads as we munched on popcorn waiting for the feature film to start. There were so many folks with various walking aids still making their way to seats. I counted three wheelchairs too.

“Aren’t there any young people in the theater,” I whispered to Rocket-man in a low grumble.

We are the young people,” Rocket-man replied with wink. Harrumph! He seems to be taking the whole aging thing a lot better. But of course he can; he doesn’t have to look into a 10X magnifying mirror every day.

With everything that happened last year with my mother and currently what’s going on with Rocket-man’s mother, my head is just not into the “grow old gracefully” concept. If you ask me there isn’t anything graceful about aging. I certainly cannot bounce out of bed in the morning and hit the ground running anymore.  Now it takes a good five minutes to get the synovial fluid to wake up and start lubricating the joints.   I sit on the edge of the bed-trying not to slide off of the Tempur-Pedic mattress in the process–doing leg extensions and ankle circles. The snap, crackle, pops—like an out-of-sync orchestra tuning-up —the sounds are loud enough to rouse the sleeping poodle. The knees in particular continue to be exceedingly cranky and yes… I am still being stubborn about scheduling the surgeries.   I read an article just the other day that chronicled a year in the life of a woman who had total knee replacement surgery. Let’s just say it definitely did not make me want to run right out and get it done tomorrow. On the bright side, I’m pleased as punch to have made it yet another year with my original knees. They don’t look very pretty—with swelling, bone spurs and cysts— but at least I don’t have 8 to 12-inch incision scars (yet.).  I’ll happily continue to buy as much time as possible while I down as much fish oil as I can stomach to fight inflammation (burp).  Yes, it’s one day at a time.  And, while I’m on the subject of legs—despite the fact that they are not the thin, lovely gams that carried me through 26-plus years of distance running, this week I was able to pull off five reps of a 155- pound dead lift.  Not bad for pushing 60, eh?

While I’m hanging on to my original knees by a shear thread I’m losing my grip strength. It’s just another minor annoyance to add to my growing list. I know that I can address the issue to some degree by using a hand grip strengthener. However, in this too, I have found a silver lining; it is infinitely more difficult to open a bag of tortilla chips! Now, I have to hunt down scissors when I want to satisfy my salt cravings. And while we’re on that subject, why can’t the packaging industry come up with (dare I say)  “senior” friendly packaging? I broke out into a drenching sweat the other day just trying to open an item I had purchased at Costco. I nearly threw the damn thing in the trash because I was having a devil of a time extricating it from its packaging.  Took me a good five minutes, along with scissors and a box cutter.  Seriously, at this point, I could give a flip about Eco-friendly packaging folks.  I just want to be able to open a package without breaking into a sweat, tearing up my nails, or needing an arsenal of devices to get the job done.  Once opened, I rewarded myself with a lovely glass of Malbec as I wiped the dripping sweat from my forehead.  Sigh.

Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful that I’ve been on this planet for 58 years. It is far better than the alternative of course.  I am working on getting this downward slide notion out of my uppermost thoughts.  After all, negativity is not attractive.  I’ll admit It’s a struggle to keep my mind geared towards the glass half full approach to life.  Negativity seems to be woven into the very fabric of my entire family.

I don’t know much for all of my 58 years. But I do know that I have far fewer years ahead of me.

So here goes: let’s keep marking things off–and adding things to–the bucket list.

Let’s show a little more self-love because the best flows from that.  And, let’s get busy with less sitting and more being…seeing…and doing.

Not a moment to waste.

Cheers to that, I say.

Love thyself and all the best follows

Love thyself and all the best follows

 

 

Old Fogey Kind of Day

I am getting old.

How do I know?  (I am just positive you’re asking!).

I just cancelled my spot in a group exercise class today.

I could post it on Facebook, adding my status there, along with the gazillion other banal status updates that people post–you know….the ones that cause readers to roll their eyes towards the heavens and mutter something like “Who cares” except it probably contains an expletive…or two.

I am well aware that this is not earth-shattering news; and, I’m absolutely sure that no one cares a whit.  But for me, skipping out on daily exercise almost never happens!

Full disclosure:  this is not the first time in the last couple of months I’ve been lazy, which is why I am mighty perplexed with myself.   After all,  I did Jazzercise (Aerobics) classes up to a week before my daughter was born.  I ran a 50-mile race, after falling during the treacherous trail portion, on a swollen knee and without eating anything during the ten-plus hours it took me to complete the race.  I’ve run in 19-degree weather, through ice, sleet, and snow.  I was nearly forcefully restrained by two grown men trying to prevent me from continuing a cycle ride while cycling in the Canadian Rockies  (I had no idea that I was completely blue and dangerously close to Stage 2 hypothermia).  It took passing out from heat exhaustion, literally near the bottom of the Grand Canyon, to get me to stop and rest my body.  I woke to water being thrown on my face at the hands of one of my dearest friends.  My reward to him for “saving me?”  Shamefully, I yelled at him.  “No, No…not our water!  We need the water.”  It was June people!  I was clearly delirious from heat exhaustion.   We were in the bottom of the Grand Canyon and, as God is my witness, it had to have been hotter than Hell itself…in fact, I believe He, God himself, told me so while I was close to seeing THE white light!

All kidding aside…the point is….I am not predisposed to “giving up” when it comes to physical activity.    I muscle through…onward and up.  I’m not bragging, mind you.  Many folks think (and they have voiced as much) that I’m nuts.  Truthfully, sometimes I’ll admit to over-doing it…but just a wee bit.  And yet, looking back on the last thirty years of my life I can honestly say I wouldn’t change a thing.  Through all these years of many physical trials I’ve learned a great deal about myself and I’ve discovered what I am made of…not just physically…but more importantly, mentally as well.

Except now…or more specifically, during the last year.  The physical and mental toughness that has been part of my identity, is waning….considerably… and I am not too pleased about this turn of events.  I‘m not sure if my malady is owed to a mild form of depression because of failing knees (and chronic pain) or a result from moving from the paradise of Southern California to insect-infested “middle earth” Alabama.    It also could be  that I’ve got too much time on my hands now that I am not gainfully employed!

Still….whatever it is….

I skipped an exercise class because it is 15 degrees outside with a windchill of 2-degrees and there is a whisper of snow flurries on the ground. 

For a moment after I called to cancel, I felt pathetic.  Why am I letting cold–OK, FRIGID–temperatures and a dusting of snow affect my psyche?  I’ve pushed myself through far worst weather days and through days when every free moment was a precious commodity (while working full-time and taking college courses or looking after children and a myriad of household chores).  And yet, today…as I looked out the window at the dusting of snow all I wanted to do was curl up on the sofa with a book and a cup of tea and call it a day….at 9 o’clock in the morning!

My brain…or the “central governor” as  Dr. Tim Noakes terms in his book, The Lore of Running, is growing mushy and weak-minded.  Quite simply, at the risk of offending anyone, I’m perilously close to becoming an old fogey.

There is no bliss in that.

OK.  I need to get my head out of this old-fogey brain and smile (which is the whole point of this blog, right?!) because I am starting to look like an old fogey too!  That makes sense….think old…feel old!

Tomorrow is another day.  Let’s hope for a ray or two of sunshine and with it, a flip of the switch in this old-fogey brain.  I’ll take comfort in a quote that I happened upon while reading an on-line article today:

quote “Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It means you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.” ~Unknown

Lord knows, I’ve got many imperfections…too many to count. So in that spirit….the explanation of today’s lethargy is simply because it was a FRIGIDLY cold day and smart folks stay inside and cuddle with poodles…significant others, or in the absence of either… a good book and a very good glass of red wine.

Salute!

Need a new mantra….

It was about 3 in the morning when I was roused by my “your sister is calling” ringtone…

I thought it was a dream at first until my usually dead-to-the world husband nudged me saying that I’d better pick up the phone.  “There must be something wrong,” he was saying.

Sure enough.

Sis apologizes for the wake-up call.  She says that she’s just learned that our step-father of eighty-plus years had left the house at 10 a.m. on his grocery run and still wasn’t home by late evening.  Worse yet, our mom didn’t contact anyone about the situation until evening.  Ay, yay, yay.

I’m sitting straight up in bed now.  I do believe a few expletives flew out of my mouth.  Sis was spitting bullets too, rightly so.  Our mother has become mostly bed-ridden unfortunately largely by her own making (her refusal to move and laying in bed nearly 24-7 has stripped her of nearly all her muscular strength) but don’t ya think she could have noticed that her husband wasn’t back from his milk-run at the grocery store just three miles away well before noon?!  Mom says he called at “some point” to say “I am lost” and then he hung up.  Could you not call him back?  No…she doesn’t have his phone number.  Seriously? Seriously!  Ay, yay…..

Eventually the police were called and eventually my step-father was found.  When all was said and done, he didn’t get home until about 2 in the morning.  He was “as docile as a lamb” said Debbie,  mom’s friend, who picked him up at the police station.  My heart broke at that description.   Our mother was a wreck, but not necessarily for the right reasons.   Oh mom.  I tried to listen while in that  3 a.m. wake-up fog and again, I asked the wrong questions.  Mom wasn’t happy with me.  Debbie said later that it wasn’t the time to ask questions and I will admit to lashing out at Debbie:  It’s NEVER the right time to ask questions with my mom.  We cannot wait anymore…we need a plan.    My sis and I feel totally helpless living nearly 3,000 miles away but even when we are visiting we can accomplish virtually nothing.

Sis and I are both very concerned about what is happening with our aging parents and have been for some ten years now.  They don’t seem to have A PLAN and if they do they certainly aren’t sharing it with their children.  You know the kind of plan…what do you want to do when the time comes that you can no longer take care of yourself or each other plan.   I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised because we aren’t even privy to the alarm code to their house.

Our mother’s abysmal health issues aside, part of our deep concern–apart from the fact that we love our parents dearly— is that our step-father’s health has been in decline for nearly five years now and it seems to be taking a dramatic turn.  He is the only one that takes care of our mother …and to a terrific fault I might add.  He is, I believe, partly the reason why our mother is virtually bed-ridden.  But I digress….
With our step-father, there has been a noticeable mental decline in the past five years as well as changes in temperament… specifically a lot more yelling and screaming.   Part of that could be due to tensions with mom and the fact that he can’t hear worth a damn after years of working with heavy machinery in his architecture business.    Add to that, he’s on blood thinners, he often refuses to wear his hearing aids, he has leg problems and he has faced prostate cancer that required frequent trips to the doctor for treatment. Mom hasn’t really seen him through these challenges; he’s faced them mostly alone and while some of it could be due to his stoic bearing, I’d say mostly its to keep the peace with our mom.  She’s just not “good” with these things if you know what I mean.  Something else is also going on with our step-father’s health which we have absolutely no information about:  he has lost a dramatic amount of weight in a short time.  Naturally, Sis and I know this is just not good and we surmise it’s cancer but we don’t know for sure.   We ask our mother what is going on and remarkably, she knows nothing.  Really? Really.  Call the doctor mom; you need to talk to the doctor!  Sis and I implore over and over again.  But mom says incomprehensible things like “I can’t…I have a dentist appointment.”  Sis is spitting bullets…I am a convulsing volcano. Mom is at once in denial and fearful for her situation; who is going to take care of her?  Sure, it’s understandable…it’s a very frightening time…but don’t bury your head in the sand and expect that the problem will just go away.  Work with us please!   I feel like I am watching a ship sink.  Our brains are about to explode from the craziness of it all.  We want to help but we must be let in….

During our visits we see the changes in our step-father..some subtle, some glaring and we try to weather his intense outbursts.  One minute he’s laughing and jovial and in an instant he’s angry and storming off into another room.

Yes, we all decline.  From the minute we take our first breath as we enter the world, we are dying.  His decline, as for each one of us, is inevitable.  In our family’s case, I just wish there was a kinder and gentler way through this.  As sis and I are trying to navigate through this new chapter…a totally unfamiliar territory with very few tools, we are also keenly aware of the inevitability of losing our loved ones.  But add to that sadness the unnecessary drama of refusing to discuss  a plan of action to smoothly sail into sunset.  It shouldn’t be this painful, should it?    What are we doing wrong?  We are asking questions.   Mom is often the button-pusher in this whole scenario. The minute we ask a question, she explodes.   She causes intense drama, acting still as the queen and we…her children, her husband, her friends…are witnesses to it all on her grand operatic stage.  It is so difficult for sis and I not to react to the drama and nearly impossible to breathe it away with a mantra of positivity.

We are human after all.

So why should my sadness be so great especially since he is a man who I have known only since 1997 …a mere 16 years?  Despite his irascibility and thoroughly German stubbornness, he is a teddy-bear of a man and I’ve grown to love him, quirks and all.  He somehow managed to woo my mother, who after 22 years of a bad marriage, followed by almost as many years of solitude was hard-pressed to like any man, let alone love one.  He has taken care of my mother for more than 17 years now.  He built her a fabulous home, took her on first-class travel adventures, and he’s literally been doing everything for her, from cooking gourmet meals every day, to doing all the shopping and errands throughout all these years.  Our mom has wanted for nothing.

Sis and I were mighty happy, at first, that our mamma was being pampered so wonderfully.  She deserved happiness and I think sis and I were relieved that finally she was not all alone and that she had someone to share her life with.  But his devotion to our mother seemed a bit one-sided at times, at least in my humble opinion.  I think their relationship reached something of a tipping point– exacerbated by a foot injury that mom experienced– seven years ago.  He still pampered her, of course, but now it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to do literally everything for her.  Resentment to mom’s demands and neediness slowly started to creep in.  I think its that resentment that has fueled some (not all) of my step-father’s angry outbursts and the nearly daily arguments between them.  After every visit I’d tell my husband that I do not want us to be like my mom and step-father when we’re in our seventies.  Perhaps it’s because mom got so accustomed to being pampered like a queen that she became so thoroughly lazy to do anything for herself.  Perhaps depression, which runs in our family, has once again snuffed the life right out of our mom… but you’d think that all that our step-father has done for her over the years would have shaken her out of herself and into a new way of thinking and living.  Sis says mom will never change.  I’ve honestly fought that concept for years now because I firmly believe that anyone, until their last breath, can change.   I’m losing faith in a lot of things these days.  I think my sis is right.

Sigh.

So we’ll both go out and see our parents in a couple of weeks.  The fight has already begun because mom doesn’t seem to want us there.  She exploded when sis said we were both coming.  She says that “her heart can’t take all the drama.”  I erupted with laughter when sis told me that.  That’s too funny because despite her inability to walk mom could outlive us all.  She doesn’t want our help to figure things out…she just wants us to be like her husband and do everything.  Sounds wonderful right, but like any drug (you name it) eventually it is not good for the body!  Mom doesn’t want to face the changes that are coming.  I understand, all too well, although mom doesn’t give me any credit for that.  She also doesn’t see past her situation to know that we also want to see our step-father who is declining.  We have every right and reason to come…his days with us are fewer and fewer.  He deserves the show of love, support, and respect even though we are not his daughters and even though his mental state may not recognize that our hearts are heavy knowing that he is slipping away from all of us.

Mom and step-dad on a cruise in 2006

Mom and step-dad on a cruise in 2006

I’m trying not to break down from the craziness of it all and sis is trying not to turn into a purple minion…again….

We are both trying to navigate these uncharted-for-us waters as best we can.  The only support that we have through it all is each other and boy am I ever thankful for that.  Our husbands are here for us…yes….but they are also weighed down by the demands and pressures of work and travel.  It isn’t any easier for them to watch their wives go though this intense drama…

I sat on the yoga mat just yesterday trying to find a measure of peace and calm in the storm.  I’ve overeaten for two days in a row trying to soothe the turmoil in my heart which has in turn caused turmoil in my stomach!    I need a new mantra but I’m stuck in my head.  In some ways, I don’t want to face the changes that are coming either.

So mom… I understand….really I do.