Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Aging

Unexpected Gifts

I’m just back from a long morning walk. Gorgeous sky, just-right breeze, birds singing, at least 5 nannies or moms out with tots in open-air limousines (strollers), and a far-off sighting of Rita walking her dog. And that was just the beginning.

Most wondrous was a sudden realization. For years I’ve been fearful about turning 78, even though I still have just over two years to go before that happens.

My Mom died in February 1999. She was 78 years old. She had a stroke (brain bleed) that she couldn’t overcome because of her already compromised body. Three months after the stroke, she died peacefully in a wonderful hospice facility.

That same year, my fear of turning 78 was born. Magnified by fear that I might not even make it to 78 years. Never mind that my father was nearly 97 when he died. My problem would be getting to 78 and beyond without dying.

This morning, for the first time, I realized I no longer fear turning 78 or not living long enough to celebrate 78 years. Why not? I’m not sure.

A second unexpected event was seeing one of my neighbors when I was almost home. She had just finished a novel she thought I would love. She was right! I carried it home and will begin reading it today. It’s a murder mystery set in the marshlands of the North Carolina coast. Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens.

And finally, a third exciting reality: Our painter is beginning work on our bedroom! After which the carpet will be replaced, and we’ll start putting it all back together again.

More than enough to fill my happiness cup for today, with some left over for tomorrow.

Happy Monday to you!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 September 2019
Photo of North Carolina Marsh found at ncwetlands.com

Forget the third day | Our 9/11 Wedding

11 September 1965
D and I on the right; Sister #2 and J (now deceased) on the left

It’s already the 4th day of our bedroom and den updates. Yesterday was chaotic, at least for me. Our painters/carpenters got down to the nitty gritty. Translation: lots of noisy pounding, trips up and down the stairs to bring in supplies, and prepping the new den and bedroom ceilings for paint.

This morning they removed heavy old furniture from the bedroom, installed new baseboards and a bookshelf, and who knows what else. Lots of up and down the stairs again, plus sawing and pounding.

Yesterday was our 54th wedding anniversary, marked by the absence of any big celebration. Partly because of tributes to all those impacted by the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks 18 years ago. Sadly, we’ve inherited more problems we never saw coming, and seem to be without resources to address long-term. That would be ongoing fallout from long-term health and well-being issues.

So what about our 54 years of marriage? On the day we married, D and I inherited challenges we never saw coming. So what has it taken to survive and thrive? Here’s some of what it’s meant for me.

  • Learning to ask for help from trustworthy people
  • Learning to tell D things I don’t want to talk about because I feel embarrassment, shame or humiliation
  • Learning to listen to D without jumping in to have my say before he’s finished with his say
  • Overcoming my fear of being female in a male-dominated world–without making D the enemy
  • Making painful mistakes in my relationship with D and starting over–small steps, one at a time
  • Learning, especially now, to let D do what I might be able to do for myself, but don’t have energy to accomplish
  • Forgetting about perfection in anything–housecleaning, playing the piano, keeping to a schedule….
  • Taking time to be together away from home–Longwood Gardens, the Zoo, church, visiting neighbors and family members….
  • Ending each day together, relaxing with Smudge on our laps sound asleep!

All this and more, of course. The bottom line is still the same: Marriage has been hard work and a form of dying. Not in a morbid way, but dying to My dreams for us, My way of seeing D’s world, My brilliant ideas….and finding there’s life in creative thinking together about even the most difficult problems We face.

Thanks for visiting!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 September 2019
Photo of the lovely couples; taken 11 September 1965 in the church basement following our double wedding ceremony; Savannah, Georgia

I Worried | Mary Oliver

Here’s a prose poem from Mary Oliver, written in her later years. My brief comments follow.

I Worried

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And I gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

© 2010 by Mary Oliver
Published by Beacon Press in Swan: Poems and Prose Poems

Ironically, I found this poem in the front pages of Katy Butler’s book, The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life. It seemed a strange way to begin a book that helps navigate end of life decisions. Are you tired of working on this or that document, or making choices about things that may or may not happen? Just go out into the morning, and sing whether you think you can sing or not!

Which is exactly what I’m learning to do. No, it doesn’t come naturally. Worry comes naturally, sometimes dressed up as Work I must accomplish today. Not for a paycheck, but perhaps to ensure my peace of mind?

Yet even all the completed medical and other documents duly signed and filed in their appropriate places can never ensure full peace of mind. Sometimes I need to get outside my list-driven environment, enjoy the day and sing.

A calm mind. Most appropriate in a distressed world over which we have limited control.

Happy Monday to each of you, with a prayer for those living in distress this day and night, and calm courage to reach out as we’re able.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 September 2019
Photo found at pixabay.com

Trying to keep up?

Worn out
From trying to keep up?
Face it
This is an addiction
As fierce
As trying to run away
From voices
Calling in the night

Fix it or get over it!
Now!

Or did you lose it
Somewhere back there
Years before you
Took that first fall
Into icy water
And never
Stopped running?

What are you, and what am I? The broken model, or the sought-after model? Does it really matter?

My mother’s plunge into icy water was polio. She was 28; I was 6. She lived most of her life believing she had to demonstrate she was ‘normal.’ Whatever that meant.

Since when did it become The Rule that we must hide our broken bits? Or at least pretend they don’t matter when they do.

I broke my jaw over three years ago. Ironically, it was a gift. A dead stop I couldn’t ignore. Forced changes rescued me from a diet and lifestyle that was undermining my heart and kidney health.

But the gift sometimes feels like poison. Not poison to my body, but to my spirit and my social life. Especially when I come up against limitations.

This morning I heard a John Rutter song on public radio — “Look to the Day.” Rutter wrote the words and music at the invitation of Cancer Research UK for their Service of Thanksgiving in Ely Cathedral, 23rd September 2007. A simple song of hope and reorientation.

Somehow it got through to me. There’s more to life than continuing with things as usual. Especially when they aren’t usual, and life is short.

I found this rendition on You Tube. It’s sung from the heart by women and men who don’t speak English as their first language. I want to learn to sing like this from my heart, especially when I find myself in new or scary territory.

Praying you have a hope-filled Sabbath rest.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 August 2019
Image found at my.vanderbilt.edu

Shades of memories

What will become of today
After the sun sets
And the moon moves on
To other nights
In other places

Will anyone remember
Or care what happened
Just now
When I laid eyes on you
And you on me

Shades of memories echo
From your eyes and face
Just beyond reach
Whispers calling to me
In the dark of dawn

A small poem for a large presence in my life. I’ll never forget the first day D’s eyes smiled at me. Just the way they do today. It was 1961. I was a sophomore in college; he was a junior. The quiet type, except for that sparkle in his eyes. I’d never had a man, or boy for that matter, smile at me with his eyes the way D did. To say I went all weak inside would be an understatement. Now, 58 years later, he still has the gift.

Happy Wednesday!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 August 2019
Image found at creativelive.com

Are we there yet?

What child doesn’t know
the longing to be done with this
Wearisome winding grind of a trip
Everyone said would be lovely
Fantastic and most of all
Life-changing

Sitting there in the back seat
I toy in my mind
with going back and starting over
Resetting expectations and
End goals and a thousand other
Minutia I never dreamed
I would negotiate without maps
or trustworthy guides

Still, there’s this nagging truth —

Even if the trip is life-changing
That’s not what I had in mind
Did you?
I just wanted to be there
Part of the scene without
Calling undue attention to myself
Or others who threatened to undo
Me if I didn’t walk the walk
And talk the walk and stumble
And fall on the walk so I would
Have a really good Once I Was Lost
And Now I Am Found story to tell
To the nations

Forgive me if I ramble
It seems that’s all that’s left —
Rambling through memories
Searching for myself
As I know myself today not
The little girl of yesterday
Who just wanted to be there
And then one day decided
She did not

Yesterday was spent in another doctor’s office with yet more homework to do. This morning D and I went out for an early walk before things get hotter than hot. The sun is relentless these days, sometimes with pop-up thunderstorms that dump buckets of water at will.

Wherever you are in your journey, I pray all is well and that you’re having a lovely if sometimes exasperating ramble.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 August 2019
Photo taken by JERenich, Spring 1947, Seattle, Washington
Sister #2, Elouise, and a friend; Sister and I are wearing Easter outfits made by Mom

On this side of heaven

On this side of heaven
Components are missing
Without which I am expected
To keep functioning
Albeit slowly and with effort
Especially in the white hot
Heat of summer sun
Boiling over into my veins
Weary muscles screaming for
Blessed relief

Outside I hear our neighbor’s
Lawn mower chugging back and forth
Droning its way through
This week’s crop of tender grass
Now rudely chopped and left
Lying in withering weather
Unable to cry out or scream
Enough is enough please
Let me rest in peace or go
To seed just one more time

Inside the air conditioner labors
Creating semi-civilized space
In which to sort through
Accumulations of a lifetime
Heaving and tossing what
Will never rise from the dead
In this life or we hope in the next
Dust flies in the face of reality
Only too eager to coat the past
With its tell-tail pall of powder

The last few weeks were a blur of doctor appointments, conversations with contractors, decisions about our bedroom reclamation project, and sorting through accumulated belongings.

So far, so good. We’ve managed to leave a respectable amount of livable space throughout the house. The actual work won’t begin right away. In the meantime, I’ve become allergic to keeping things around that have no clear purpose.

Not that we haven’t done this before. We have. But this time it feels different. Our late-70s have begun, and who knows how long we’ll have beyond that. So yes, I’m laughing and crying my way through bits and pieces I’d forgotten about, then letting them go. Feeling lighter with each fond, relieved, or I-can’t-believe-I-did-that farewell.

Cheers!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 August 2019
Cool male cardinal photo found at mix.com

The Journey | Mary Oliver

Is Mary Oliver talking about herself in this poem? What do you think? My comments follow.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

© Mary Oliver, reprinted in New and Selected Poems, Volume One, pp. 114-15, Published by Beacon Press 1992

The first time I read this poem I was puzzled. Instead of writing directly about herself, Mary seems to be writing to someone else. Or to a past version of herself?

This poem was first published in 1986 in a collection called Dream Work. The current collection includes 18 poems from Dream Work. They focus on Mary Oliver’s personal life. Not a subject she’s particularly thrilled to write about. And yet….

Without her personal story, it’s possible to think Mary Oliver enjoyed a charmed life of wandering in the woods. Visiting ponds and streams. Watching foxes, fish and birds. Lying in fields of Spring flowers. Making notes in her hand-made notepads. Living a magical life in her chosen world that celebrates nature, beauty in the presence of death, and the perfectly sad and glorious ending of each season.

Wrong. Mary Oliver worked hard to ‘save’ her life. She left home. Literally. She walked away from her father’s abusive behavior, and from voices that incessantly cried out for her to mend their lives. Death followed by what? Nothing?

This poem celebrates Mary’s decision to make a clean break. It also celebrates what she found along the way. Something she didn’t even know she had: a life of her own and a voice of her own.

For that alone, I’m grateful. I’m also challenged to keep listening for my own voice in unexpected places.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 August 2019
A Dark and Stormy Night, by Warren Criswell, found at saatchiart.com

Living on the edge

Living on the edge
of disaster or boredom
Throwing myself into
waves of hope
Rising to occasions
ripe with possibilities
Daring everything
at each turn
Forgetting yesterday
in favor of now
Life moves on
without fanfare

Ticking each day off
as if the whole
were more than it is
I take heart from
the carefree nature
of my beautiful cat
showing me how it’s done —
This thing called
living in the present
and loving it to death

Question:
What does it look like to live and die one day at a time?

Answer:
Just enough strategic motion to get through today
With a bit of excitement, boredom and mystery
Followed by firm commitment to letting it all go
Clearing body and brain for more of the same, or not, tomorrow.

Hoping your day is moving along with grace, grit and unexpected beauty.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 August 2019
Photo taken by ERFraser, Summer 2019

Another clean-out marathon

I love water. Well, most of the time. As you can see, the water fountain above is gorgeous, doing exactly what it’s meant to do. Overflowing in abundance as planned. Which is exactly what didn’t happen here at home on Monday.

As some of you know, we’re the happy owners of a waterbed. So…on Monday evening, just as we were going to bed, I looked over at D’s pillow. It was wet….as were the sheets on his side of the bed.

Our trusty waterbed had just that day sprung a leak–not a tiny, slow leak, but a medium-sized mess now overflowing on D’s side of the bed. Contained, but slowly turning his side into a swamp!

Happily, we decided it’s time to have our bedroom refurbished. Ordering the new waterbed mattress was a cinch. The other stuff isn’t. So now we’re in the middle of divesting ourselves of yet more accumulated stuff, and dealing with the sudden disorientation of it all.

Thankfully, this clean-out isn’t as huge as last year’s attic renovation. In case you don’t remember, here are before and after photos. As I recall, we had about 6500 books in the attic, plus years of accumulated files and piles. At least we’re not dealing with that again….

That’s the news for today! Back to sorting and moving stuff around. And, hopefully, posting a few things from time to time.

With cheers for good change and sneers for leaky waterbeds,
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 August 2019
Photos taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens Conservatory (24 July 2019), and in our attic (Summer 2018)

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