At my age (66), permanence is not to be taken lightly. No one ever knows how long he or she has on this earth, and no one really knows if there is an afterlife of any sort. Whether we get to do life again, as with reincarnation; or we move on to a heaven where our spirits live on forever; or whether our life energy just dissipates into the universe–well, no one can be absolutely certain.
It makes me feel good when I encounter someone who is so certain of Heaven or reincarnation. But it also makes me wonder what makes someone good enough for Heaven, and how the universe or gods would judge me for a reincarnate life: have I been good enough toward others? would I come back to life as a person of higher stature, or as an amoeba? Further, I wonder if I have been as good as I could be, or if I have hurt too many people in life with my good intentions? Have I left anything behind for someone to remember me by in a positive way? Would I be missed? Would my loved ones be relieved with my parting?
Life–the one being lived–is the one thing that is not permanent, for sure. True, little in life or Nature is truly permanent. Even Earth will one day be overcome by universal forces and the lifespan of a star, our sun, follows rules of physics, even if we want to believe otherwise. And if Earth one the sun cease to exist, what happens to any spiritual essence we leave behind?
Earlier today, I blogged on permanence in the learning of a new art form, and the relationship of permanence to the learning process, especially of practice work. I don’t claim to be an artist or writer, but what will happen to anything I produce after I am gone? Although there is some perceived permanence to the Internet, how long will that exist? How long will any impression we make on the world be left, whether an impression of our growth or some final masterpiece we leave behind? How long is permanence?
I am so glad that I don’t dwell on such thoughts. For now, just doing what I can to be active, to be me, to maintain contact with my family and friends–for now, that’s enough. I am just glad to be alive, experience new things, and enjoy the moment. I have not always felt like this.
Try hard to enjoy the days that are left to you, no matter how old you are. None of us is permanent. Leave behind the best impression that you can on those proverbial sands of time.
Several hours after publishing this post, I came across this passage in Cat Deck the Halls, by Shirley Rousseau Murphy.
That was the way the world worked, …, in gigantic cycles of change.
But that would be centuries from now, … ; everything about the earth was ephemeral, each in its own time and cycle, nothing on this earth was meant to be forever.
Except … Our own spirits. Our spirits never die, they simply move on beyond earth’s cycles. [p. 16]
Yes, life is happening all around me right now. Some are good, some not so good. Some…well, who knows.
Finally, after months of having to put it off again and again, I scheduled cataract surgery–got appointments set up and flight reservations made. All together, it takes about three weeks to get both eyes done from initial consultation and exam through actual procedure and follow-up, one eye at a time.
Not an hour after I get everything scheduled, I see an email message from my brother-in-law that my mother is in the hospital. We must have been on the phone for the better part of an hour, talking about how she has been, what she says to me versus what she says to my sister and him. You would think that because she lives with them, she would share more information with them. But you have to know my mother. She’s a real handful at the best of times. At age 88, she is still kicking around and refusing help from anyone unless absolutely, positively necessary. And she doesn’t like being “in the way.” She has gone out of her way to avoid allowing herself to feel that she is home. I can guarantee that this is not how she is treated; this is just the way she is. So she also does not tell her family everything that she is feeling physically, either.
Until about a week ago, that is.
That was when she fell and couldn’t get up because, for the first time, she could not feel her legs. She was near a wall in her room, so she was able to pull herself up into a sitting position until my brother-in-law got home. When I spoke to her several days after this first happened, she told me she had been falling fairly regularly, but she was never hurt and she was always able to get up. She also didn’t bother to share this information with the household. As I said, she’s a handful.
Right now, she has congestive heart failure, pneumonia, and one or two infections that are being treated. She is fairly strong, but she is in a semi-delirious state and keeps pulling out her IVs and pulling off her oxygen mask. As I write this, she is being sedated, mostly to keep her from pulling life-sustaining equipment from herself, I think.
And while all this is going on–just after I made appointments for badly needed eye surgery–we are also trying to buy a house. This is not an easy task at our age (66), and we need to dip into our retirement funds to make it work. If we dip into them the wrong way, we will be left penniless into our old age, even though my husband is still working full time and doesn’t plan to actually retire until he is at least 70. Basically, he wants to work as long as his employer is willing to keep him on.
So much is going on right now that can once again hamper something so important to me–arranging to be able to see enough at night to drive and maybe even read a physical book instead of using a reading device or a computer. And I need to be able to drive at night, since my husband does not drive at all–doesn’t now, never did.
I wish I could be with my mother to provide some relief to my sister and brother-in-law, who are with her all the time. But I’m no good to anyone without the ability to see at night. And I am reasonably certain that my mother, despite this current setback, will be on her feet and being ornery again in no time.
And I wonder: will this be me in twenty years? Probably not, but who knows?
So why am I worried that I may need to postpone my own needed surgery yet again? Maybe it is because I’ve had to do it so many times before during the past three years…
No good dwelling on that too long. What will happen will happen, regardless of my own needs and desires. As always, I will roll like a shell in the ocean waves that surround the tiny island on which I currently live…
Each day, I awake and feel immense gratitude that another day unfolds before me. Each day that I awake is like a gift from Heaven.
Many of us feel this way as we age. Most of us think of death as something that will come to us with a long enough warning to allow us to put affairs in order (if we have procrastinated), and will give us plenty of opportunities to say our good-byes and bring closure to our relationships with those closest to us. Many of us barely think that a freak of events can cause us to die completely unexpectedly–a traffic accident, a weak tree branch suddenly falling on us and cracking our skull, a random drive-by shooting in a safe neighborhood, a heart-attack when no one is around to revive us or call 911. So many ways in which our lives can end instantaneously by simple acts of Fate.
Me–well, I have recently had a series of medical issues, but the worst of them is a case of diverticulosis–“sacs” in the colon–that we almost all get as we age; but mine is particularly “delicate” because the sacs are fist-sized, and there are at least four of them on the left side of my colon. Each collects bodily waste that can cause infection or become toxic and, if suddenly “twisted”, colon death. If any of the sacs suddenly bursts, due to their size and the probability of setting off a chain reaction, I will bleed out in five minutes or less–all without any warning, and too quickly for even the fastest emergency medical response team or ambulance crew to do anything about.
But you can have surgery, you’re thinking. Well, I’m planning on it. However, there are other complications. Two months earlier, I suffered a completely unanticipated two bouts with three bleeding ulcers that sent me to the local hospital for transfusion–four units the first time, two more units less than a week after the first. When I was released from the hospital, the only advice I was given was to rest and eat a bland diet for at least 6 months. It seems that no one thought about iron supplements, but that’s a whole different story, and I blame myself for not seeing my internist soon enough to discuss dietetic and supplemental options.
About six weeks after this series of ulcer-related problems, I noticed that I was getting weaker instead of stronger. I was trying to strengthen up with exercises in the community pool, but found that I could do less with each session. Then one morning, I sat in my car for about a minute before putting my car into reverse and realized I wasn’t sure which pedal was the break and which the gas. Once I got that straight through trial and error while in neutral, I drove to the neighboring city where I ended up shopping for groceries instead of meeting up with a friend (her mix-up this time, not mine). In the store, I began to experience incidents of dizziness that were apparently noticeable enough that my favorite “bag boy” interrupted his packing for another customer and hurried down the aisle I was shopping in to ask if I was OK. I told him I was a little dizzy, and that maybe I was done with shopping for the day. I drove home very slowly, noticing that I was driving like I was inebriated–taking curves wide on our narrow roads, stopping a little to close to the car ahead of me, driving toward the middle of the road instead of in my lane (as I said, very narrow roads here on the island), moving too far from parked vehicles, etc. Clearly, it was time to visit my doctor, which I did the next day. The office sent me for blood tests–but that took several more days to do mostly because of the crazy laboratory hours related to certain tests. By the time I had blood drawn, we were preparing for a trip to a neighboring island for a conference related to my husband’s work. I was feeling poorly enough at that point where I just wanted to cancel my flight reservations and stay home. He became very insistent that I accompany him, and I didn’t have the strength to argue too long–although I was very unhappy with the fact that he would not accept my desire to stay home.
So we traveled to St. Kitt’s (St. Christopher Island), picked up the rental car, and I had an accident less than a block from the rental agency–nothing serious, just ripped off mirrors and a few scratches. Now, part of the problem–most of it, possibly–was because St. Kitt’s driving is of the British persuasion–one drives on the left. It’s not that I don’t know how to drive “British”–have done so in the middle of England’s small twisty roads in the dark, fog, and rain, driving a car with a manual transmission (thank goodness the gears were in the same place, just accessible by the wrong hand); and maneuvered triple round-abouts that left me white-knuckled and mummy-stiff. What I believe happened is that my perception was totally off–effects of the anemia I didn’t know about yet. Well, three hours and one new rental later, we were on our way to our resort hotel, where the car stayed parked until we returned to the airport.
Each day, I was feeling more and more ill, managing to contract some form of bronchitis while there, as well. The next day (Monday), I drove to the internist’s office for the lab results. She took one look at the red blood cell count (64) from the week before and would not even let me drive the half kilometer home to pick up some night clothes and toiletries. My husband, who does not drive, called a co-worker to take me to the hospital from the doctor’s office, and there was an amusing series of events as Joe’s two colleagues planned how to get my car home and me to the hospital as quickly as possible.
The moment I got to the emergency room (the doctor had called ahead), I was checked into the hospital and immediately transfused with a unit of blood. The assumption was that my ulcers had started acting up again, but the next day’s endoscopy showed they were healing quite well and not actively giving me trouble. Two days later, after a double cleansing of my lower GI tract, and after finding no evidence of residual blood in the “output,” I finally received a colonoscopy. That’s when the fist-sized sacs (they looked a lot like volcanic craters in one rendering) were discovered. But my blood count was still down, with both red and white blood cells “disappearing” in balanced proportions; and the doctors were left completely baffled. Before releasing me on Friday, I was transfused overnight with two more units of blood given at a snail’s pace drip (6 hours per unit to enter my system).
In the meantime, I was being given massive doses of antibiotics–first as injections, then switched to fast IV drips–three to four times a day, treating an eye/sinus infection, and used prophylactically to prevent my own bronchitis from turning into pneumonia.
But the worst part for me was this: because of my low blood count, surgery is out of the question until the count enters the normal range. Also, because of the size and nature of the sacs, any one of them can burst just for the heck of it, and that would cause me to bleed out too quickly to save my life. If my blood count were normal, surgery would have been scheduled immediately, and I would have been flown to the US for the surgery. Although I was finally prescribed massive doses of iron in tablet form, the doctors still don’t know where my blood cells are going. I suspect I have a tiny black hole somewhere in my body that eats only blood cells and sends them to some alternate universe–probably to some lab that is studying human anatomy or something. As a friend suggested, maybe my body has simply decided to stop producing blood cells, which raises a bunch of other serious questions.
So, for now, I live each day one day at a time, not knowing if I will survive the day or receive the gift of awaking the next morning. There’s a much greater limit now to how much I can accomplish in a given day. Despite being cautioned not to drive, we live in an area too remote to keep me out of my car. I do as much as possible during the morning, when my strength seems to be greatest and my ability to maneuver the car is at its best. Because most volunteer work is in the afternoon, I have done very little during the past several weeks. Although I try very hard to remain positive during the day, I tend to get cranky and speak too bluntly, especially when I have no strength to either play silly social interaction “games” or am simply too tired to hold back comments or use my energy to say things nicely (especially since no one seems to understand my meaning when I obfuscate just enough to keep things pleasant). Being “nice” simply takes too much effort sometimes; and frankly, I have found that bluntness is much more effective in getting meaning across, even if it causes people to get angry. Yes, I try to be blunt nicely, but there are far too many people who don’t really listen to what any one of us says, even if we are answering a question they asked and (logically) should want to hear the answer. They don’t. But that’s another topic.
One day at a time, and immense gratitude for each new day. That’s the way I function now. I do what I can, rest when I need, eat when my phone alarm reminds me it’s meal time, make certain my meals are fiber-rich, drink plenty of herbal teas, consume my ginger drink, etc. I take my medications at the right time, although I often forget about my Restasis® and Patenol® eye drops, and try to do all the normal little things of life. In general, I follow the same pattern my father followed when he knew his aneurysm would kill him when he least expected it. And it did–while he was in the middle of the mundane task of preparing his cup of coffee and breakfast.
To dwell on death is absurd–Death comes for each of us when s/he feels our time is over. There’s no escaping that. There is only time to set our affairs in order (hopefully), and to live each day as though it were our last. For me, until and if my blood count allows for the surgery, that living is especially important. I still haven’t visited all the beaches on this beautiful island…
It has been twelve days since I returned from a six-week trip back to the States. At the age of 64, it is merely a page of a tome. I went “home” for a variety of reasons, including medical, family visits (especially a family wedding!), and escape from my current home–not necessarily in that order. Upon returning, I am finding myself pondering my children’s lives and lifestyles, the differences among family members and what they consider important, climate differences, and my own bumbling trek through life. Mostly, I have been trying to examine just who I am, how I got to this place in my life, and where to go from here.
During my trip, I made two major mistakes: the first is that I didn’t journal; the second involves my daughter, but that will be the subject of another post–titled along the lines of “The Making of the Shrew”, or “Daughter Dearest”. That I didn’t journal and that I’m taking so long to put my observations and experiences in writing concerns me most because I don’t know how accurate my recollections are any more. Inaccuracy might be a good thing, though. I might be able to inject humor into the few complex situations that fell into my path!
The obvious things I’ve discovered–or re-discovered–about myself are the following: capability, awareness, and the ability to love (among other things). I am fully capable of traveling on my own, even with excessive luggage. My spinal stenosis, spreading arthritis, and general weakening of muscles gets in the way of my desire for full freedom of action and movement, but it is not so debilitating that I lose all sense of independence. One thing I have learned is to accept help somewhat more graciously than I have in the past, and that there are always wonderful people willing to help an old woman when she is obviously baffled and at loose ends. Long ago I discovered that there is always at least one Good Samaritan in even the most ignoble throng. During my travels, my faith in humanity was not dimmed, but strengthened. Trust in the basic goodness of people, and even a frail ole lady can travel the world.
Awareness is more than knowing where things are and who is nearby. It is also the quality of understanding one’s often disruptive role in a host’s household or hearing the unspoken words and noticing the climate of a household or environment. I learned to listen to the spoken and unspoken words of my grandchildren, all of whom are in disrupted households. I learned to notice when accommodating me into a routine was becoming stressful on my children–not always right away, and not always correctly, and probably not about every situation, but enough times where I recognized that I have my own set of expectations and habits that are less conducive to behavioral change. Interestingly, although I found my children’s households to be devoid of a certain amount of privacy, that did not bother me so much as I thought it might. When I unexpectedly stayed with my sister for the final few days of my trip and when I visited a close friend in Lubbock, TX, I had a room to myself where I could retreat if I so desired. However, what I learned even in the latter two places is that a bedroom is nothing more than a place to sleep and hold one’s belongings–much the way I generally treat the bedroom in my own home. I like to be in the middle of family members and friends; my preference is not to be alone, even if the company is pets. My very early years made me an observer, and there is little to observe when one is alone in a room or dwelling.
That “love is a four-letter word” has always been an incongruous and trite observation to me. What is love? Why do we feel love? How do we feel love? What do we mean when we say to people, “I love you”? I have learned that love is more than a feeling of comfort and more than a necessity for close human relationships. For me, at least. I love my children, even if I don’t particularly like one of them (back to the daughter later). I love my grandchildren, even those that are grandchildren by marriage or living arrangement, as each is a delightful individual with a unique personality and set of talents. But why do I love them? Loving is not the same as being in love, yet we utilize the same word to describe both the affection we have for family and friends as well as the for the draw and excitement we feel for a romantic partner. For those of us who have lived beyond the age when sexual attraction is an issue, the difference is between genuine caring for an individual and lustful stirrings. But if that is the case, why do I say that I love certain people while merely liking others? Where do we draw the line? At what point do we say “I care about this person but not so much about another”? What I learned about myself is that I can love a person fleetingly as well as long-term. I met people on this trek of mine with whom I made instant connections. I cared–and still care–about them, even knowing that I will never encounter them again. It had nothing to do with what they could do for me. In several cases, I “did” for them rather than the other way around. I encountered people who were traveling home, people traveling to new and exciting destinations, individuals who were starting a new life chapter or closing one, etc. Each was instantly stirred affection in me for different reasons. I met these people in airports, on planes, at ticket and store check-out counters, in lines, at kids’ sport functions, in restaurants–in short, everywhere I went. To say I instantly liked everyone is far from the truth. For example, I found myself disliking an individual at an airport security check-point in Midland, TX, because he confiscated an item of “contraband” that I had overlooked while packing. The item was a butane lighter that I was given as a gift. The lighter had been in my purse when I passed through every single check-point: here in Sint Maarten, in Miami, in Dallas-Fort Worth. The conversation that took place over this lighter at the Midland-Odessa Airport made it obvious that the security person liked it and planned on keeping it. There was no point in arguing about it as I was wrong to be carrying it in my purse, but I found the blatant “thievery” obnoxious enough that I could find nothing to like about the person. And that makes me think that love involves trust. Can you love a person whom you don’t trust? And what makes me believe that all the other people I encountered were/are trustworthy? Is it deviousness that makes a person unlovable to me? Did I find my grandchildren instantly lovable because there was already a family connection? Or do I love them because of their candidness? Is it primarily people who are disingenuous that I dislike and for whom I feel no affection? Is the fondness I feel when I meet new people love/affection or something else? How different is love from like? What do we mean when we say we like a person? Why do we feel–I don’t know–elated or warm or warm-fuzzy for some people but not for others? All I know is that I feel genuine fondness for people whom I don’t almost instantly dislike. To me, that is some sort of love. I also know–now–that there are very few people for whom I feel no love.
So this Li’l Ole Lady is finding much to contemplate about her life, and is finding more and more resources to discuss in future posts. And I had better get those thoughts down as quickly as possible, before they fade into the general pool of life experiences…