As I get older, I am very aware of how time is limited and the fact that tomorrow—or even five minutes from now—isn’t guaranteed. This realization led me to do something I never thought I’d do—travel outside of familiar places alone. Sure, I fly back and forth to Buffalo and Oregon to visit family and friends by myself all the time. I take pride in my ability to not only plan those trips, but to complete them by myself. But the trip I was contemplating was more complicated.
I wanted to travel to Hawai’i and see Maui again. The only other time I’d been to Maui, I was on a cruise and I got the usual highlights tours of the island. This time, I had a list of things I wanted to do, some for the first time, and others were repeats of things I had enjoyed before.
After working out the logistics of the trip (with a few false starts), I asked various friends and my daughter if they would accompany me on this “Bucket List” trip. I was a little amazed when no one was able and /or interested in going! Their reasons varied from “I’m not interested,” to “I have to work.”
Finally, after thinking about my options, it was obvious that there was only one choice—go by myself. For months, I waffled about whether or not I wanted to travel alone to Hawai’i—which is 2500 miles away from the nearest land mass and where I knew absolutely no one—or if I should just postpone the whole trip until someone could join me.
Finally, I decided to go—and take a chance on staying healthy, finding my way around, and being safe. One of my major concerns was being lonely. The thought of eating all of my meals without a companion was depressing. And to whom would I point out a particularly stunning or exciting sight?
I did my homework, as the saying goes, and prepared for the trip by carefully researching the hotel I chose and booking tours to accomplish my goals.
The trip was fabulous! I found out that going alone isn’t a bad option as long as you are somewhat resilient and make sound plans. Eating dinner at busy restaurants alleviated my loneliness. I enjoyed the people watching and felt like I was part of a community, albeit a temporary one. Booking group tours meant that I had companions to share my experiences with and diminished any risks involved. Because I am naturally out-going and friendly, I found it easy to strike up a conversation with my tour companions. The down hours I spent with my trusty Tablet, playing games, posting pictures on Face Book, and reading. I also “checked in” every day with some close friends and family via text and phone calls.
There were benefits I didn’t expect. Driving myself to my hotel on a stunningly scenic road on Maui made me feel empowered. After all, this wasn’t a familiar route in my hometown, nor was I being chauffeured by my daughter. I found my way (thanks to Google) and didn’t make a bunch of wrong turns. (I’m not too adept at using navigation systems.)
Making my way around a strange town and seeing what I came to see was liberating. I didn’t have to accommodate anyone but myself. I chose what I wanted to do—and did it on my own schedule.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. I would hesitate if I went to a non-English speaking country of course, because that would present different kinds of challenges. But somehow, the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted was life-affirming for me.
Image courtesy of Pixabay
“I think I’ll write a book someday,” said the young woman. “It will be poetry, verses about love and longing and the angst of being twenty.” That Christmas she received a suede-covered volume from her beau inscribed ‘Kate’s Scribbles.’ After he left her, she filled the parchment pages with poems and stories of love and heartbreak which were splattered with her tears. When she graduated from college, she clutched her teaching degree to her heart. Her mother’s advice echoed in her ears.
“Teaching is a good profession for a woman. You’ll be home when your children are—and you can always write in the summers when you’re off,” her mother advised.
The suede -covered book stayed on a shelf and the parchment pages remained blank. ***
“I think I’ll write a book,” said the woman.
Her husband laughed. “When will you have time for that?” he asked archly. “We have a child to raise. We can’t take chances like that, not with a mortgage and bills and obligations. Maybe someday—but not now.”
The woman nodded.
Yes, maybe someday she would take a pen in hand and write. She’d tell the story of a young couple, only in their thirties, with a child, finding their way in a sometimes hostile world.
The suede-covered book stayed on a shelf and the parchment pages remained blank.
“I think I’ll write a book someday,” said the forty–something matron. Life’s lessons had etched fine lines around her mouth and eyes, and added streaks of gray to her dark hair. Children were her main concern—her own child who was struggling to find her way and the ones she taught every day. Her marriage was in tatters from the battering of life’s realities: finances, personal problems and dreams that might never be realized. The woman could not remember the last time she had written anything other than a grocery list or a note to a parent. Sometimes, she would pick up a pen and hold it in her hand, hoping that words would flow onto paper. Once in a while they did, but the words spoke of anger and frustration and mostly of lost opportunity. So she hid those words from herself.
Her mother, now dead, had advised her well. Teaching was, after all, a steady, predictable job with an income she could rely on.
The suede -covered book stayed on a shelf and the parchment pages remained blank.
“I think I’ll write a book someday,” the woman said to her friends as they toasted her fiftieth birthday. She thought back to the earlier years, when the desire to write flamed in her heart. Searching everywhere, she finally found the suede bound book with poems so full of young love and loss and promise. Taking it reverently from its shelf, she blew the dust away. That night, she sat and read until her eyes grew heavy and a single tear traced its way down her cheek. And she felt like a part of her was dead.
“I think I’ll write a book,” said the widow, now in her sixties with hair that was more silver than black. Sadness was her daily companion. “I’ll write about loss and loneliness, and trying to make my life new.”
Her career as a teacher was a memory—one that over time had become more distant.
The woman’s child, now grown, lived in the great northwest forest with her beloved. Days were empty and the woman wanted—no—needed to tell her stories.
So, she picked up a pen, and began to write. Words flowed like water breeching a dam. And the woman wrote a book, and another book and another book. The pages were filled with the story of her life: of the things she had put aside, the sacrifices she had made, and the joys and dreams that had been realized. She wrote of the sorrow and the searing pain of loss. As she wrote tears and sometimes even laughter were her companions.
Surveying the shelf crowded now with the suede-covered volume and many others like it, she smiled.
With words as soft as a prayer, she whispered, “Finally, I wrote my book.”
It happened again—I had a great topic (I thought) for a blog post—and there was another national tragedy, the shooting and murder of police officers in Baton Rouge.
May the officers who lost their lives rest in peace, and may their families find comfort. I pray that the wounded will heal fully.
But, as I said the last time, maybe we need a distraction—or a reassurance that life, indeed, does go on and yes, we will survive.
With those thoughts in mind, I offer this blog post.
TV in Restaurants
I enjoy TV. I like watching favorite shows, and DVR many of them so I can enjoy them at my leisure.
First of all, I am highly visual, and I find TVs perched high on a restaurant’s walls to be terribly distracting. When I go out to eat, it’s not only because I don’t want to cook, but because I like the sociability of eating out. Conversations with friends, enjoying the restaurant’s ambience, and eating tasty food should be part of the experience. But, for me, those pleasures are diluted by the ever-present TV show that plays just above my companion’s heads. And because I am so visual, I find myself quite distracted by the TV. I assume that other people feel the same way.
I wonder who thought that folks who are eating out needed the stimulation of TV. I can understand it in a Sports Bar, where people go to cheer their favorite team, but are they necessary in a restaurant that doesn’t necessarily cater to a sports crowd? And having a TV in the bar section of a restaurant might be a good idea—but placing TVs in the room dedicated to dining makes no sense.
There’s another problem with TVs in dining areas. In my most frequented local restaurant, the choice of programs can be questionable. First of all, I resent being forced to watch Fox News, but more than that, I hate to gaze at a dining companion, and catch sight of a gory “criminal procedural” program. What is less appetizing than pictures of the wounds someone sustained when being murdered? Or the reenactment of an autopsy? Why should I, as a patron, have to get the attention of a server and request that the station be changed?
I am not the only one who finds TVs distracting. Friends have been diverted from conversational topics by whatever is on the nearest TV—sometimes appearing to be more interested in the TV than their dining companions.
Wearing blinders when I am dining in these restaurants seems extreme— so maybe I need to think about eating in more upscale places!
Image courtesy of Pixabay
After my recent shoulder surgery , I went to a rehabilitation facility to hasten my recovery. It was an unusually pleasant place—attractive, clean, with attentive staff.
During the ten days I stayed there, I experienced something that shook me to the core of my being.
I was much younger and healthier than the typical resident at the facility. It was like being a teenager at your grandparent’s fiftieth anniversary party.
Like most facilities of this nature, the staff provided stimulating experiences: entertainment by local people, bingo games, and movies. I attended several of these functions because the days often felt incredibly long. I soon realized that most of the people who attended these functions were “long-term residents”—a euphemism for people whose memories and personalities had been ravaged by aging.
I went to a community birthday party one afternoon. (The draw for me was the cake and ice cream!) I chose to sit at a table with a man and his wife—people I saw every day. They appeared to be in my age range so I thought that we might be able to visit with one another. The woman resembled me somewhat—she was obviously of Irish descent, with dark, wavy hair, dark eyes and fair skin.
But when I attempted to chat with the couple, it soon became obvious that the woman had dementia. I watched as the husband tenderly attended to her, spooning ice cream into her mouth, and wiping her lips and encouraging her to take sips from a cup of punch.
At one point, I looked at him and smiled. A tear trickle down his cheek. I wondered if I reminded him of his wife in better days; and that my presence was a reminder of all that had been swallowed up by his wife’s illness. It felt like entering into his private hell.
Looking around, I realized that the staff who took care of the long-term residents could have been me at the height of my teaching career. And the long term-residents could be my future.
It was chilling to see my past and (possibly) my future.
It’s always something: Something to celebrate, something to mourn, something to regret, something to attend to. I miss my husband. Because it is always something: a phone call or three; a doctor’s appointment; walking the dog; visiting friends, laundry; cleaning; the list is endless. I do it all alone. Alone. If I need help,…
I feel blessed to be surrounded by so many wonderful people.
But consider this: my life took a drastic left turn on August 25, 2012 at 10 p.m.
My husband died.
I thought I was ready—six months of watching him die in bits and pieces should have prepared me. But it didn’t.
I went through the motions, appearing to be in control for several weeks.
Then I laid down on the couch and stayed there for months.
What dragged me out of my monumental funk?
Family and friends.
First it was my sister and sister-in-law who made me accomplish the important tasks necessary when someone dies.
I joined two key groups—a Widows Club and the Singles Club. These were the people who got it; the people who understood my pain and let me talk. I continued to participate in my Writing Group: a gathering of intelligent, vital, and interesting women who shared my passion for writing. Through that group I had opportunities to express my creative self.
The next three years brought challenges I couldn’t imagine: three surgeries, two bouts with MRSA, and then cancer, the deaths of my beloved brother and sister, in addition to several friends and other relatives.
My life raft through all this turmoil was family (of course) and the friends who stepped in and became a safety net.
Yes, I feel blessed.
The most unwelcome of all visitors called on me recently.
This visitor is never welcomed and usually not greeted with any enthusiasm.
If fact, when you, your friends, and family find that it has called upon you, they, like you, are worried concerned and fearful.
The visitor was cancer. The “Big C.”
It intruded into my life sometime in late January with the “incidental” discovery of a (thankfully) small tumor in my right kidney. Unbeknownst to me, it had been there for two years—but recently had started to grow.
I felt overwhelmed at first with the myriad decisions I had to make. Where to seek treatment? Should I go back to where my family is (now that I am a widow) in Buffalo? Stay here in Florida and lean heavily on my circle of friends? Could I still go on my much anticipated trip to Hawai’i? Would I survive? What would be the financial and emotional cost to me, my daughter, family and friends?
I finally came up with a plan—and after much consultation, thought, and prayer, I decided to stay in Florida and seek treatment at the Moffitt Cancer Center in nearby Tampa.
Happily, my surgeon Okayed my Hawai’i trip and I blissfully spent some magical time there.
My friends have rallied around me, doing all of the things I need. My family supported me in my decisions—and best of all, the surgery was a great success—so far.
I still have weeks of recovery to look forward to, but I’m trying to do more and more every day.
Writing this blog post is a huge breakthrough for me. Up till now, I’ve kept the “news” of my cancer limited to family and friends. I did make a onetime status update on Facebook as a courtesy to those who correspond with me on that venue.
Sometimes I wonder why I was so reluctant to go public (as it were) with my cancer diagnosis.
I wonder if by not announcing it, I’ve made it less real to myself. Or if I was trying to fool myself.
No matter what, I’m looking forward to being a cancer “thriver”—which is what my many friends who have looked this unwanted intruder right in the eye, and stared it down–call it.
There are certain dates that are more meaningful than others. One of those dates is April 10,1983. That was the date my Mom passed away after almost two years of coping with lung cancer.
I remember that day with crystal clarity.
It was a Sunday—a week after Easter. The weather was perfect: warm and sunny. I had attended noon Mass and then rushed to my parents’ home to see my Mom. It was around 1 o’clock in the afternoon. When I got there, it was obvious that Mom was dying. I helped my Dad change her nightgown and then kept vigil with him as she left this world.
The priest came and gave her the Last Rites. At one point, shortly after she died, I was aware of her soul—her anima—leaving the room.
My brother Michael was there with his wife and boys and I remember my sister Susan being there, too.
Eventually, the rest of my brothers and sisters (except for my youngest sister who was in Honduras doing research for her doctorate) assembled at the house.
As the daylight waned, we sat on our parents’ bed and talked about our Mom and our loss. It was both sacred and comforting to be able to be together in that way.
Now, all these years later, all that’s left is memories. I wish I could hear Mom’s voice one more time, or sit and talk with her again.
So much has happened since then. Our Dad died only a year and half later, babies were born, my sister and another brother got married, one of my mother’s children died too soon, my husband died, the grandchildren grew up and great-grandchildren were born. The family faced many crises and survived.
While time has tempered the grief, I still mourn for my Mom. She was only 60 years old when she died. We never got to see either of our parents grow to be old. They are preserved at a certain age and time in our memories.
Yet, I still yearn to spend one more minute, hour or day with my mother.
In the last two years, my life has been turned upside down by the death of my husband and then my brother.
These deaths affected everyone in my family—including my brothers and sisters.
Shortly after my brother passed away, one of my other brothers was “zinged” (his word) by a Face Book “friend” over the death of our brother.
Which leads to the question, is nothing sacred?
My first reaction to my brother’s posts about forgiveness and kindness were to want to beat this woman up—and I am a pacifist. I was utterly astounded that anyone could be that insensitive. Making a joke about our beloved brother’s death was beyond comprehension.
But, is that what’s happening? Is nothing sacred?
I wonder. Religion is fair game and tradition is fair game. Does this lead to less civility?
I’m not sure. I do know this.
Some things are sacred.
Death. The loss of a loved one is a heart-wrenching experience. Memories are all that’s left. And the ones left behind are alone, lonely, and sometimes frightened. They need kindness, understanding and solace, not a lame joke about death.
Religion. A person’s religious beliefs should be sacred, no matter your own feelings about religion. I casually mentioned that I pray every day when I was out with friends a while ago. While they were respectful, they were incredulous. The idea of a mature adult praying struck them as somewhat odd.
Confidences. The secrets people share shouldn’t be fodder for gossip. I once knew someone who would worm her way into someone’s life, become that person’s confidant. and then regale everyone with the secrets her victim had shared. I admit that this is an extreme example, but gossiping is just as devastating—just on a smaller scale.
Being kind and caring in an increasing cynical and angry society isn’t easy. Personally, I’d rather be the exception than find myself mired in the muck of cruelty and insensitivity.
Valentine’s Day—a day devoted to purchasing flowers, candy and jewelry and maybe something a little naughty for your significant other. Many folks feel it’s overrated as a holiday. It’s too commercialized, and benefits only the florists and candy makers, and of course, Hallmark and American Greetings.
I disagree. To me Valentine’s Day is a day set aside to celebrate love and all that means in our lives. It’s really not about cards, candy and flowers, although there’s nothing wrong with any of that! To me Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to stop and think about all of the people we love. It’s the perfect opportunity to tell others that we love them, appreciate them, and that they make our lives better.
Does that require flowers, candy or trinkets? Not really. It does require extending good wishes for a happy day to the special people in our lives.
All of our holidays are over commercialized, in my opinion. So using that as a reason to shun Valentine’s Day seems quite lame.
Think of how much better our lives would be if we celebrated Valentine’s Day every month; if we took the time to appreciate, love and cherish others.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Picture credit: www.2littlehooligans.com