Living Until the Curtain Falls

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Newly retired and eager to prove that my life was still going to be useful and exciting, several years ago I set up my blog and named it “The Golden Years Revisited.” From the name it was obvious to me that I believed most of the myths about retirement and growing older.  In a youth-obsessed society with an evangelical belief in the powers of medicine and technology to delay or erase the natural progression of life, the images surrounding aging and being  “old” are pretty negative.  The most damaging message is that the right attitude (i.e., thinking young and following the example of those few exceptional seniors who never seem to get old) will delay aging, but once the battle is lost, you are irrelevant and useless, often even to people who love you, but definitely to society as a whole.

As an avid reader, I frequent our town library on a regular basis, and suffer anxiety whenever my unread book stack is down to one.  I always browse through the new acquisition section that is divided between fiction and non-fiction.  For most of my life, my choices were firmly in the fiction (escape) section.  Good escape fiction, of course, and hopefully thoughtful and pertinent to my own life, but fiction nonetheless.  I worked full time, was deeply immersed in the intense world of raising children and then helping them at a distance through the early years of adulthood.  I survived breast cancer and the deaths of both my parents.  I had all the non-fiction that I could handle.

Then I finally arrived at that golden shore of retirement.  I could read as much good fiction as I got my hands on and think of myself first in most situations.  I could be that woman who wears purple with a red hat and doesn’t care what people think.  Not that I was unaware of the realities of aging, but I come from a long line of strong and healthy women and I was sure it would be smooth sailing.  Eventually, of course, I would arrive in that amorphous stage of life when I would actually be OLD.  And that would be it, so to speak, even if I was still physically alive.

Something mysterious happened to my reading preferences.  I gravitated toward the non-fiction section.  I became obsessed with biographical and autobiographical stories.  I read books on politics that I would previously have dropped like a hot potato. I wanted more than ever to understand the world I live in and specifically the roots and consequences of the choices we make as individuals and a society.  Naturally the subject of aging was of paramount interest.  I know that I will never be president or live a fascinating life that someone will want to read about long after I am gone.  But I would get (and have finally gotten, I guess) to that place called Old.

I previously read “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande and am currently reading “Elderhood” by Louise Aronson.  They are both physicians who question the wisdom and approach of the medical establishment when working with older people and confronting death (at any age).  “Elderhood,” in particular has given me a veritable banquet of things to consider and ways to formulate my choices related to the medical establishment in the years to come.

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In September this year I will reach 75 years of age.  I do not want to buy into the myth that as long as I eat right, exercise, and do mental puzzles (though they are important), dye my hair or start wearing makeup to cover the wrinkles (not so important), I won’t actually die someday.  I want to celebrate this time in my life, not by trying to be one of those exceptional older people who run marathons (let’s face it, I never liked to run, not even when I was 20) but by finally learning to love myself and the place where each day takes me – closer to the end, yes, but anticipating one heck of a curtain call!

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 1/6/20

Temporal

Speak Your Truth

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אדוני said, "Let there be...."
And there was...
Even אדוני grew tired of speaking and rested.

Keep speaking your truth
Your words create worlds
Nourished with understanding.

Speak when you are able
Be silent when you must.
Rest when you are weary.

Souls are fragile.
Words are not.
They are not lost.
They travel in the wind
Take root in distant lands
And blossom there.

©Martha Hurwitz, 12/27/17
Inspired by I've Told You so Much Already

Signs and Portents

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Shortly after my mother died, I was taking a walk in the early evening around the fields in back of my home.  I am fortunate to live in a beautiful location, with expansive Eastern views and uninterrupted skies.  On this particular night it was clear, the moon was in its first quarter and the light it shed did not obscure the Milky Way, spread like a ribbon across the sky.

I was sad and grieving–of course I was.  Despite the fact that my mother had lived 92 years and was, in the end, at peace with dying.  She suffered no pain or final illness.  There was nothing to put on her death certificate other than “old age.”  She had chosen several weeks before to stop eating.  It was her time.  She was ready.  We got to say our goodbyes and hold her hand.  That was surely her greatest gift to us–her quiet ability to know when it was time.  She had often said she did not want to give up driving, but when her reflexes and sight began to dwindle, she put the keys down and did not drive again.  She had said many times she hoped she would not have to go into a nursing home.  After several months of increasing illness and inability to live alone, it became inevitable.  There was never a word of recrimination, a hint of disappointment with her children who had made that decision for her.  She looked around, saw others who were worse off than she, graced them with her smile and kind words.  She was grateful for any visit, phone call, a drive in the countryside.

The weeks since her death had been consumed with the practical things that are necessary, the phone calls, the service at home, the decisions about her possessions.  I had written a eulogy, planned a memorial service with my brothers, tried to provide comfort to my family.  But I did not know how to exist in this world now empty of her physical presence.

Walking in that calm nighttime, digging into the depths of my shaky spiritual core, I admitted that even though I knew in some vague way she would always be with me, I surely could use some kind of sign.  Just at that moment, a shooting star flew across the sky. I have looked up into this night sky for 30 years and have seen numerous shooting stars. But on many nights I would stand outside in the dark, neck muscles aching in their support of my tilted head, hoping to be looking in the right direction at the right time, without any luck. On this particular night, I was not looking for them at all.

So was that a sign?  Or a coincidence?  Or just the random operation of the unfathomable universe?  The part of me that is rational and scientific says it was just the random operation of the universe and a coincidence that I was facing in the right direction at the right time.  But the part of me that has roots in the ancient ties to the natural world says something different.  It says that there are signs that we cannot read and places beyond our ability to imagine.  That there are many things so far beyond our comprehension that we can only gasp in wonder and acknowledge them with joy.

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 9/27/17
Inspired by Daily Prompt:  coincidence

Lunching Through Life

I should probably drink a second mug of coffee prior to checking on the daily word prompt.  This morning I was convinced the subject was “lunch.” My morning read includes some of the responses from other bloggers, partly to get my brain cells firing, but also because I’ve discovered some interesting new blogs that way.

LurchImagine my surprise when confronted with this image:

Lately, I’ve been a bit uneasy when wanting to write more personal thoughts that might seem frivolous or insignificant.  It feels unseemly given the state of the world to write anything that isn’t serious and insightful regarding current events, or at the very least inspirational and encouraging.  I’m reminded of my mental and emotional conflict while in the initial grieving period after the deaths of my parents. I would find myself chuckling over a good joke or the antics of my children, or would realize I was mindlessly watching some sitcom and laughing at the inane and worn-out humor. But then my inner Emily Post would scold:  “Your mother died just two weeks ago, and you’re laughing?  Have some respect!!” I believe, however, that one powerful way to counter grief or the overwhelming negativity that characterizes so much of our current public discourse is to rejoice in our humor, our creativity, our shared human foibles and quirks and to give them full expression. So, I’m sticking with “lunch.”

brunch-154850_640When I retired a few years back, some friends told me “Now you can be one of the ‘ladies who lunch’.” Familiar with the song, I briefly thought they were predicting retirement would change me from a hard-working, sober woman into a booze-soaked slacker sliding off her bar stool at high noon.

person-1081159_640Surely they were joking, and what I have become is a better version of myself. I have learned to identify more clearly and speak more gently my own truths. I have been visited by dreams that were waiting patiently while I worked and married, raised children and grew older.

One of my youthful dreams was that I would someday be a female Hemingway (I’m pretty sure there is a bar stool somewhere in that scenario). I would live exuberantly as an ex-pat in Cuba or Greece (or some other not-Yankee American, exotic place), crafting powerfully written and wildly successful books that would take the world by storm.

Clearly that didn’t happen.  I made choices that took me down different roads.  But still, I have finally begun to write.  I don’t think any published author, dead or alive, is in much danger of serious competition from me.  But this is my version of ladies who lunch, and I am satisfied.

 

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 8/21/17

Inspired by Daily Word Prompt: lurch

 

 

 

 

 

Forgetting to Remember

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It had been quite a while since I had posted anything.  A few ideas had been percolating, but they did not seem at all compelling.  Day after day the word prompts failed to elicit even a bit of interest.  Then on Saturday  I sat down and wrote a trite little piece about the use of words in media.  Not serious, not compelling, pretty unimportant in the scheme of things. It was late in the evening (late for me, anyway).  I originally thought to wait until the next day to read it over and decide if it should be published, but I succumbed to the fear that it had been so long since I had posted anything and if I didn’t hurry up and do something everyone who had ever been kind enough to read my posts would just forget me and never look at my blog again.

So I hit the “Publish” button.  And then went to bed.  When I checked in the next morning, it struck me like a slap in the face.  I published this on September 11??  Yes, according to the WordPress clock, I guess I did.  It seemed horrible to me, that I would post what now seems like a large pile of drivel on the anniversary of such a horrific event.  A hot flash of shame rolled through me.  What was I thinking?  Or, obviously, NOT thinking.

I did not know anyone who died or was injured on 9/11, nor anyone who bravely and willingly walked into that howling void to aid their fellow human beings.  I do not know anyone who 15 years later suffers PTSD, memory loss or physical pain from their experiences on that day.  I was lucky.  My brother and his children had flown from Boston, passengers on one of the last planes to land in DC that day.  A change in timing, a different choice of airport, being slightly early or slightly late, and this day might have become an anniversary of personal horror as it is for so many, rather than a public remembrance that I can choose to observe or carelessly forget.

Grief and loss are part of life.  None of us will escape their sting.  I do not know if it is worse when it comes as a result of the deliberate acts of other human beings, rather than in the natural order of life. I suspect so. And I doubt that neither my remembering or forgetting lightens or deepens the pain that so many bear on this and countless other anniversaries of terror and loss.

I do believe if there is any shred of light that comes out of that dark place, it is this:   the strength of the human spirit, the amazing ability to ignore personal peril to come to the aid of others, and that small and fragile seed of life that can take root in the stump of a dead tree, these are not destroyed by any terrorist or criminal act.

I hope in the end it is this that we remember.

 

 

Grief and Memory in Sacred Ritual

It is no secret that difficult memories can be stumbling blocks preventing us from living full and positive lives and holding us back from becoming our best authentic selves. This became clear to me when I was asked by the Rabbi of my synagogue to share memories of someone I loved during the Yizkor service on Yom Kippur.  I wanted to be able to share glowing, positive memories, but something quite different happened.

My experience during that service was recently posted as “Sacred Memory” on The Jewish Writing Project, and I hope people will be interested in reading it there.  The underlying question that plagued me was how to integrate painful memories into the religious and spiritual rituals that we have surrounding death and memory.  I found that being able to honestly portray my father and my conflicting memories within a spiritual framework was powerful and healing and enabled me to finally begin the process of mourning.

old-photo-1246910_640Grief is a difficult emotion under even the best of circumstances.  Humans have created ritualized ways to process grief and remember the dead for thousands of years. My own experience has been in the Jewish and Christian traditions and I do not know much about other cultural or religious approaches. While I would not suggest a tradition of eulogy or memorial that emphasizes misdeeds, sins or bad qualities, I have often felt that the liturgy fails people when their memories are not positive or good.

There are many talented and skillful therapists who can facilitate the processing of grief and its complications from a mental health perspective. But the spiritual component also needs to be reckoned with.  It seems challenging to create liturgy that satisfies both the need to acknowledge the pain of memory at the same time creating a sacred space for it and honoring those memories that are positive as well. Perhaps such liturgy already exists but I am simply not aware of it.

My hope is that others will be willing to share their experiences and thoughts, and perhaps identify some sources of ritual that help address this aspect of the grieving process.