You gotta be tough to be a senior

Growing old is not for the wimpy, the weak, or whiny. Aging is tough.  It steals your dreams and ambitions and saps your energy. It is simply stinking hard work.

I don’t know how my mom has lived through it. She is 88 years young, and suffers from severe osteoarthritis. She’s had two new knees and a hip, and is way overdo for more.  But alas, a few years ago she aged out.  A victim of the system, she was passed off again and again, told to come back next year – that her pain was simply bursitis.  Never mind that the arthritis that was the root cause of it.  Month long waits for calls simply to make appointments seeped into more weeks, then months before even being called to get on the list for an appointment.  Slowly, painfully, the time leached into two years before she even was taken seriously for a replacement.  But by then it was too late. She was too old and too weak.  Those years of inactivity lead to extra weight, and more joint problems exasperated by the extra burden. Soon high blood pressure reared its ugly head and she was doomed to an endless cycle of “You’re not quite bad enough yet. Come back in 6 months and we’ll see if you are ready. Although the doctors never came out and said a flat out “no”, we all knew she was being passed over. That her quality of life was measured by standards of statistics and numbers – that younger patients would get priority in an over-stressed health care system inundated with again boomers and their parents.   Now,  well over 10 years later the new hip is now old, the other hip is totally shot, and the knees are due for updates.  She is left with increasing low back pain, a horrible lop-sided limp that creates even more imbalances and pain, and no hope for any real relief.

Yet every day she gets up, plans what she will make for dinner, does some cleaning around the house, and takes part in her many volunteer activities.  She still drives the ladies to the monthly CNIB meeting, making sure they all get at least one outing each month.  She takes part in CWL activities, making phone calls to organize things when she can’t actually do the physical work anymore. This year she sent out almost 100 Christmas cards.  She checks her Facebook regularly on her “gadget” – the Samsung tablet we bought her last year.  She still makes family dinners – and would not hesitate to prepare something for anyone who stopped by.   Each day the arthritis robs a little more of her body, but never her spirit.  I rarely hear her complain. When she does, I know she must be in agony, 0r she wouldn’t say a word.

I want to have her spirit, but not her arthritis, when I “grow old”.  But I don’t think I can grow old as gracefully as her.  I don’t think I will have the stamina to tolerate the pain, the hopelessness, and the slow, ebbing away of my body.  I already feel somewhat hopeless. I know I have to downsize my grand adventure dreams to smaller, simpler goals such as making sure I exercise every day so I can face a set of stairs without fear.  So much for hopes of long, glorious hikes in the mountains.  My goals will now be a casual, relatively painless walk around our property.

Perhaps this is the adventure of aging – learning to accept the outwardly small accomplishments that are actually extremely monumental.  Mom’s daily journey in life is far more brave than any extreme athlete who strives to climb to the top of a mountain peak, or the runner who just completed an ultra marathon.   I am starting to believe that making dinner for a large family, or completing daily household tasks, or some days, simply getting out of bed when you hurt so bad that all you want to do is stay asleep.  Or putting on a smile and not  whining all day long about every ache and pain.  Yep, I am starting to re-define strength, courage, and physical stamina.

Right now I say the words, but am not sure I have fully accepted this new reality. But I’m trying. Today, while taking part in my curling game I began to realize that I need to cherish each time I am able to slide down the ice, or throw a rock from the hack and come slightly close to making my shot.  Pretty soon the arthritic pain I feel from activity will become greater than the benefit I get from curling – or other sports.  So, I need to learn to take each stride for what its worth.  Let my body learn to remember the feeling of gliding across the ice, of being part of a team success – of just being active.  You never know when it will all evaporate.

curlng
Hurry Hard!
10865805_10152517351573045_3805404347596828530_oSo here’s to you, Mom.  You have taught me that growing old is not for the weak of heart.   May I have even a tenth of your strength and courage as I travel down the toughest adventure ever -growing old.

 

Another memory blast

I am definitely in a nostalgic mood – perhaps I’m cleaning my memory bank – spurred by my need to clean the pantry and cupboards at home!  I stumbled across some speeches I gave while acting as Trustee for our local school board.  This one was my first speech given to a grad class – the class of 2011.  Here it goes!

I am very honored to be here.  I’ve known many of you for several years, and it’s been great fun watching you grow and journey through adolescence and into adulthood.  I’ve been with you on field trips, track meets, volleyball and basketball games,outdoor ed trips, band trips, and more, and have loved  every minute of it.  It’s been a great pleasure to be there with you.  So tonight it is my true privilege to bring you greetings on behalf of the school board, and to wish u the best as u leave here to start the next grand adventure of your lives.  

I know that everyone is this room is thrilled to be here to help you celebrate tonight.  Although tonight is about celebrating your success, it is also important to thank the many people who have helped you get here … The teachers and staff of St. Patricks,  who are always very happy for you, their former students , and are proud of the part they played in helping you get here.     The teachers and staff of St. Marys, also played a big role in your lives, as did  the coaches, bus drivers, the youth minsters, and other parish members. And most importantly, your parents and family.

To those of us “non-grads” here tonight – we can be assured that this is a great group of young adults ready to take on life’s challenges.  We have apex award winners and nominees, star athletes -zone winning golfers, basketball  league MVPs, provincial volleyball champions, an outstanding swimmer,  scholarship winners, musicians – whether it be in band or youth group, youth with excellent survival skills learned out outdoor ed trips (and let me tell you – if you’re ever stranded in the woods – you’d want to have any one of the students who went on an outdoor trip with you – because they can take good care of you!), cardboard boat race winners, and more – future historians, chefs, carpenters, and other tradespeople, office administrators, business managers, multi-media experts all around – this graduating class is just a great group!

It is true it takes a village to raise a child, and as part of that village, I can guarantee you that we are all very proud of you, and want the best for you as you leave our school and perhaps our community.  

You have an exciting future ahead of you.    Technology has opened doors that weren’t even dreamed of a few short years ago.  The career you choose may not even exist yet today.  So you may find it challenging to say what you are going to be “when you grow  up”.  And that’s OK.  Statistics indicate that the average Canadian will change careers at least four or five times. So no worries. You will figure it out eventually.   Some of you have a good idea of what you are going to do right away – I’ll see some of you at the College (where I work).  Others are just beginning to explore the opportunities.  The first few years away from here are all about learning who you are, and what you want to do.  So enjoy the journey, but try  to stay true to yourself and the values you have learned while here.  

And we can be assured that this is a great group of young adults ready to take on life’s challenges.  We have Apex award winners and nominees, star athletes, scholarship winners, future historians, chefs, carpenters, and other tradespeople, office administrators, business managers, just an all around great bunch !

Know also that you will always be a part of St. Mary’s and the Holy Spirit School Division, and that you have a “whole village” here, wishing you the best, and holding you in our hearts.  

So, on behalf of the Holy Spirit Board of Trustees, congratulations, good luck, and know that you are in our thoughts and prayers as you journey forth.  And, don’t forget to come back and visit!

Blast from the Past – Down memory lane

I am on a “blast from the past” mood.  A couple of days ago my mom, niece Susan, nephew Jesse and I headed out to my brother’s farm to renew the family tradition of Saskatoon berry picking.  My mom, despite being so crippled with arthritis she can barely walk, insisted on stumbling around the shrubs to seek the perfect berry.  Alas, we all failed. It’s been a dry year and the birds beat us to whatever berries were ripe.  Nevertheless, we had a grand adventure.  Mom decided it was time for a road trip.  So, off we went.

Saskatoons are almost ready
Saskatoons are almost ready

We drove past the old haunts – the “5 hill road” named by Susan for its roly-poly gravel laden hills. Yes, hills do really exist on the prairies.  They may be few – and small, but nevertheless, they are hills – and these hills are packed with memories.  If you hit the one hill at just the right speed, you can get a stomach-dropping thrill as you rush over the peak and head down to the coulee bottom.  Of course, you have to have looked for the tell-tale sign of dust to indicate someone was coming from the other direction, as the road really is meant for only one lane.

We drove past Sherbune Hall, the now abandoned social gathering place for 3 generations of Kinniburgh area residents.  Many family reunions, family meals, family gatherings, and family fun events were held at that tiny hall.  The kids kind of grew up there – it was only a few miles from home – and it was so much easier to meet there for family gatherings than to over-run Mom and Dad’s house.  Of course the family functions also often morphed into stellar moments of family dis-function.  It comes with the territory when growing up in large families.   The hall was also the meeting place for many community groups – the TOPS group that held annual “mystery dinners”; the community Turkey Shoots and Pancake suppers, the weekly badminton games, community dances, and more.

The hall, like so many prairie places, is now empty.  The community no longer exists.  The families have moved, the farms have been sold to larger corporate entities. Many of the remaining farmyards are now owned by acreage people willing to trade a 30 minute drive to work for an endless prairie sky and solitude.  The school is gone. The Kinniburgh airport with it’s tiny runway – just big enough to land a spray plane – is overgrown and has almost vanished.

IMG_4818Although the area survived only 3 generations at best, it leaves a legacy of rural growth.  The golden years – the 1950s, the 60’s and even the 70s were a time of great growth and relative prosperity.  Communities developed and thrived. Children enjoyed freedoms impossible to be even dreamed of by today’s youth.  Swimming in canals, riding bikes down gravel roads for hours, driving farm equipment without safety training, playing on teeter totters, swings, and  metal slides  belong to our generation’s memories.   I remember snatching a few moments during recess to simply lay on the playground dirt / grass carpet of our rural school yard, staring up at the endless prairie sky, telling stories about the creatures we saw in the clouds, and dreaming. Simply dreaming.  One year Canada had agreed to be a fly-over testing site for American B-52 bombers coming from Great Falls.  During those fly-overs we tried to quickly fly a kite high enough to touch teh low-flying planes (maybe they were learning to fly below the radar?). Needless to say, we never quite touched them. But to our young minds, the planes were close enough to catch.

Anyway, I digress.  But that is what trips down memory lane do. They lead you in directions you haven’t visited for years. They provide rose-coloured glasses to view the past, and seem to ignore many of the unpleasantness that inevitably existed. And that is just what that day did for us.   For just a few short moments – we revisited our past.  We laughed as we remembered so many warm family memories.    That day was made even better because of my mom’s prankster personality.  On the way out we had driven past a roadside sign advertising fresh Saskatoons for sale.  When we drove by, we had joked that we could always go back and buy some of we didn’t pick any.  So, when we realized our pails would be empty. we decided to do just that.  On our way back home we stopped and filled two pails with freshly picked, plump, clean Saskatoons raised on a nearby irrigated farm.  We even made sure our mouths and hands were berry stained to ensure our story was believable.  I chuckled to myself as I peeked through the rear view mirror and saw my Masters Degree, College Instructor, mathlete niece and her brother shoved Saskatoons into their mouth, their eyes crinkling with pleasure.  Most importantly I watched my 88 year old mom remember and become once again my younger mom, able to teach her children and grandchildren the pleasures of berry picking – and the gentle blush of pleasure spread across her face as she realized how much we all treasured the memories she had worked so hard to build for us.

Maybe that’s part of the meaning of retirement – having the time to re-visit the simple pleasures of our youth – and watch those joys being reflected

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in to the next generation. Funny how a simple road trip can be so important.

 

*#$%@) to Arthritis

Up Yours Arthritis!!!  You are my worst enemy. You are a nasty, evil being. You are a slow, insidious predator, seeping into my joints, painstakingly slowly cementing them shut.  You are the quicksand – or “slowsand” of aging. You are worse than a hormonal junior high girl – on a downswing. And I should know – I am one of 7 sisters.  Trust me, there’s nothing meaner than junior high girl.

I hate you for what you are doing to my country. You are robbing our healthcare system, sweeping in with a tsunami of need from us aging boomers as we seek help to outwit you. You are forcing a legacy of debt to our children, who will eventually have to pay the bill for our care. They will struggle to cope with you, but like our grandparents and parents, they will survive too.  They will fight and fight and maybe even defeat you. If not them, then their children will find treatments that work, cures that last, and lifestyle changes that will keep you at bay.

I hate you for what you have done to my family. My husband’s knee – being eaten by you.  My father’s joy in walking and biking – being ebbed away by you.  My sister – crippled from your non-stop presence.  My mother. You have robbed her of her physical balance and strength. You have even taken her body parts. But you are cunning. You crept so slowly  that by the time she needed a new joint, she was deemed too old.  So now she spends every minute in agony. Her movements are slow and guarded, her sleep is disrupted, and her mind is clouded by pain and painkillers.

You will eventually defeat her physically, but you can’t take away her soul.  She wins there.  Even at age 88, her body racked with non-stop pain, she won’t give in to you.  You can’t beat her spirit. She still volunteers, she still cooks for her neighbours, she still makes treks up and down her stairs, no matter how long it takes her.  She won’t give into you. No way will you win.  She is going down fighting you.  In that respect, she will win. Why wouldn’t she?  She raised 7 teenage girls.  Now that’s a survivor.

Mostly, I hate you for what you are doing to me.  You are my OCD nightmare – the one that won’t go away – and step by step becomes reality.  I feel you creeping in while I sleep, coaxing my joints into immobility, cementing them shut while I rest.  I feel you trying to take all of me.  You have taken some of my mobility, and causing me to move differently, taking away some of the activities I so loved to do. You will eventually defeat me physically.  But like my mother, I won’t let you defeat me.  I will keep trying to purge you from my system. I will try natural cures, medicines, and quack cures. I will try alternative therapies, physical therapy, massage therapy, and any other kind of therapy.  I won’t quit.  I am giving you warning – I won’t let you rob me of my soul.

So up yours arthritis!  IMG_1924

Do I have a tribe?

I’m sittingIMG_5135ng on my deck, sipping at a cup of tea, looking at the mountain view to the west, and listening to – of course – CBC Radio. Today’s interview with Sebastian Junger explaining his new book “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging” gave me a couple of ah-ha moments.  Sebastian writes about the experience of soldiers, first aid workers, emergency workers, and others when they arrive home after a traumatic experience. He suggests the sense of belonging arises from being a part of a team or sharing a common experience and ultimately results in a sense of tribalism within that group.   He posits that once we leave these situations, we lose our sense of self and aren’t sure of how to behave. He shared a story of a soldier who came home after a very intense posting overseas. He was with his wife in the grocery store, surrounded by a plethora of choices. If I recall the story correctly, the soldier was so overwhelmed he couldn’t even pick out his cereal. He didn’t know how to make that choice.  I know I haven’t captured the full meaning of that conversation, but it made sense to me. I will need to listen to it again to fully “get it”. Perhaps I will even read his book!

The interview continued to discuss people’s experiences from events such as World War II, the Springhill Mine Disaster, and more.  My first “Ah-ha”moment – that’s why I remember so many of the seniors talking so gleefully about their World War II experiences.  These were young adults, sent off to “save the world” – and fight for their country. Yet when that fight is over, what is next?  Where do they belong?  How do they fit in and find their new place?

Fortunately I have not been through any such traumatic and life-changing experiences.  But his ideas did resonate.  Do we form our own tribe at work?  Is that sense of belonging developed from being with colleagues, employers, and others involved in our massive world of work, suddenly disappear when we retire?  I’d say yes.  I miss the sense of being part of that work tribe. Perhaps  I, and others like me, stay in somewhat unhealthy work relationships longer than we should – because we see no alternative tribe to join.  Carrying that deeper – I come from a big family – a tribe of 8 children and a large extended family.  Although I cherish my alone time, I still have always felt a need to belong to some group. I do better overall when I have a group activity or event to go to, even if I need my quiet time and space while with the group.

I think this interview gave me some better insights as to  why I feel such a need to join an adventure, belong to a club, and seek out a new tribe.  All part of the journey, isn’t it!img_0405.jpg

Fort Mac Re-entry

Alberta Emergency Re-Entry Plan

The Government recently set out a very careful re-entry plan for Fort Mac citizens. Unfortunately, now reality will begin to set in.   I looked through the endless steps needed simply to carry out basic cleaning of an evacuated home not directly harmed by the fire – wow.   These poor folks are in for days of hard work simply to become functional again. Those whose homes were damaged further, or left without electricity have even more hurdles to jump.  And, of course, those who lost everything, well. Not much needs to be said.   It’s been incredible emotional watching Albertans – and Canadians step up to try to help.  Let’s hope that this positive support continues once the reality of re-entry hits hard.

I’m sure many feel their lives are turned over – that the shadow of destruction may never lift.  But it will. Life will begin again –  one step at a time.

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Fort Mac Fire

Christmas movies – from a 55+ perspective

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I’ve had lots of time to watch sappy Christmas movies. Although I still enjoy them, I am just about off my junk-food for the brain diet.  Almost every single show had the same plot – A woman leaves her small, welcoming home town to head off to the big city for a career.  She either is single or in an unhappy relationship.  The inevitable moral is that she should be much happier at home – changing her career dreams to settle for what is available back in her home town. If she’s single, she’ll find the love of her life a few days before Christmas – and Voila – either she’s getting engaged on Christmas Day, or she’s getting married.  Recipe for a successful life, isn’t it. I guess I should be happy we’re seeing some greater equality in the Christmas shows of today.  In the past – it was usually the man who had the career – and the epiphany that he needed to be home with the little woman and the kids more often.  In the 21st century, the woman have become the failing protagonist.  A couple of shows actually allowed the woman to keep both her career and supportive lover.  But only after she went through an intense period of self-doubt and trauma.

What kind of message do we want to send to our youth through this programs?  That success usually means failure in your persona life?  That women (or men) should settle to find fulfillment? That only true family happiness can be found in our small towns and country-side – because, of course, there everyone welcomes you and accepts you for who you are.  Bah Humbug, I say. We all deserve better than the formulaic dime-a-dozen drivel available now.

Yet somehow I am still hooked on this trash. It’s like crack for the TV brain. Once I start, I can’t stop!  I am not yet sure why, but I know I’ll figure it out someday. In the meantime, I’ll just rant about the problems….