Bucket List

The Bucket List, with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman was entertaining and moving. As we approach our “golden years” we may regret what we have not accomplished. We wonder why we didn’t do these things earlier, perhaps when we were stronger or sharper or more able. We may feel led to attempt them now.

A friend of mine has become a painter after age 50 and her work is beautiful and selling well. Along with online tutorials and purchased lesson subscriptions, others have exercised their hidden talents, surprising and delighting themselves! I am in awe of my sister-in-law’s ink and watercolor cityscapes. My brother, in his 60s, is building furniture. A few of my friends have visited the Holy Lands and others completed the Camino de Santiago, each saying that their lives have been changed profoundly.

For others, it could be the decision to retire. To relax. The “Bucket List” does not have to involve a lot of money. In the case of retirement or reducing work hours to focus on what feels more important, it may mean quite the opposite.

I do know this feeling, growing in the last ten years, of a change in my once “live forever” outlook. I certainly would never ride horses the way I did then. I once almost bungie-jumped on a date, but would not consider it now. I’d break. Greater is the sense that I have fewer remaining years. At first it seemed sad, but it is reality. My choice is to either become overwhelmingly sad about it, or to rejoice that I have made it this far! I have friends who tragically died younger than I am now. Each day is a gift.

Morning walk with my two oldest sons

My Bucket List included many of the things we did on the farm. I’d always wanted dairy cows. I had them for a few years until I realized I’d developed an allergy. I was so disheartened as the allergy grew worse and they had to be sold. But I had those years with them. I bought a bagpipe chanter, the recorder-like instrument one learns to play on. That process is a slow one, as the family laments my dying-duck attempts. I wrote a screenplay and entered it into a competition. I didn’t win, but took solace that neither did a few thousand other folks. I did it! I am having a children’s book published at the moment, working through marketing details. It was a self-publishing venture with Westbow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson & Zondervan. Self-published but — I’m doing it! I’ll include details later as it is launched, and insert a link.

An illustration from “Wendel the Windmill” by my daughter Marie Wiedefeld

Develop your list. Perhaps “Bucket” is not a hopeful-sounding a term, with the image of eventually kicking a rusty tin pail. Consider your dreams, your aspirations, your calling. Acknowledge that we are all creative beings in some way or another. We are all here to make a difference, small as that might seem. I would posit that it will not only fulfill your dreams, but change the lives of others.

Juniper berries by the river, fruit of an aging cedar tree

Wither into Truth

Days of youth pass into memory

Though leaves are many, the root is one

Through all the lying days of my youth I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun

Now I may wither into the truth. 

W.B. Yeats

Wisdom is attributed to the old for good reason. Our life experiences are numerous and our perspective deepens despite our weakened physical appearance. We “wither into the truth.”

Though we age, we are often called upon to continue physically caring for others. We must seek a balance in order to remain strong for those we love. Self-sacrifice that is all-draining renders us exhausted and unable to help anyone.

We are reminded of Jesus’ example but must remember that he did take time to sleep. I imagine that he ate healthy food and cared for his health, enabling him to care better for others. When the time was right and not too soon, he gave all. Most of us will not be in the position of sacrificing our lives, but we are all called to self-donation, to giving, and to some form of self-sacrifice.

Life is a juggle of self-care without self-centeredness, of self-sacrifice without self-destruction. It is at times difficult and even counterintuitive.

And then loss occurs. Tragedies visit more often or earlier in life for some: loss of health, of a partner, of a loved one, of abilities, of home, of youth…

I search for a better concept of loss. If inevitable, how does one best deal with it? I truly think it is with gratitude and acceptance. Pleasurable life experiences are easy to accept and be grateful for, but I am striving to be thankful even for premature losses and for tragedies. Certainly not that they occurred and hurt myself and others, but that life continued and God was there to comfort us with loved ones, with future life experiences, with a “peace that passes all understanding.”

It does seem counterintuitive. I have lost a dear husband early in life. It was tragic. Many people still feel the effects of the loss of him though over 20 years have passed. And yet, had he not died, Bruce and I would not have found each other, and our six children and four grandchildren would not have been born. I stagger in the profundity of emotional pain and of God’s grace.

I search to find meaning in physical pain, so hard to bear, so hard to witness. I do not believe that it is in vain. I ponder why some suffer so greatly, and feel that there is truth in the belief that their prayers and influence are profoundly powerful.

We are called to be generative in old age and thus if we are physically feeble, perhaps this is accomplished in our words, or modeling peace, or praying, or just loving. If cared for by others we become the means for their gain in grace.

“Now I may wither into the truth.”

Yeats contemplates the beguilement of his youth, and reveals to us that as we wither physically and surrender control, we have the greatest opportunity to gain in wisdom, influence and love.

Happy Holidays

Like many women who are approaching six decades of age, I have many different and unique friends. I truly wish that I had all the time that I wanted with each, but that is not to be in life. Covid 19 has added an additional dimension, causing much suffering not only from the illness, but from loss and seclusion. At least where I live, there have been easing of some mandates, but all is not back to “normal.” Will it ever be? Perhaps we need to make the best of “the new normal.”

Each year the lead-up to Christmas (many of us celebrate Advent) plods along, and then Christmas is quite suddenly over. Or is it? In some churches Christmas continues until Epiphany (the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus) on January 6. I like this for many reasons and I admit that one of them is that I leave all the decorations up.

Some of my friends do not celebrate Christmas. Some celebrate Hanukkah, some celebrate Kwanza, and some do no seasonal celebrations. Some are quite alone and for them I pray the hardest. Some friends are experiencing the first December without their loved one. It can be a sad time. We cannot serve all of the needs of others, but we can serve some. We can try.

Meg Hunter-Kilmer was a high school teacher to some of my children. Meg heard God’s call to leave her job and set out in her clunker vehicle across the United States to spread the Word of Christ. She has since traveled the world. She began blogging at the beginning of her travels and I recommend checking it out. She is published and has recently written her first children’s book. One of her latest posts on social media was about Christmas and perhaps what is the true message and joy of it.

Happy Holidays to you! Here is to the coming New Year 2022, full of hope.

Autumn and Life

Yesterday was the Autumnal Equinox and wow, did it deliver the perfect weather here. My favorite cool, sunny weather continues into today. A woman I passed this morning said that she would always wish to live in a place with all four seasons. While I love the fresh colors of Spring and the lush green of Summer, the deciduous trees are in their glory in the early Fall.

I have always lived in this latitude of North America. The cyclical four seasons truly become a part of you. Perhaps being acclimated to these cycles prepares one to navigate the changing seasons of life. When I was young I would hear the “old people” talk about how fast life has gone. At that time I looked so forward to being an adult. I could not imagine that it would arrive so swiftly, and along with it so many responsibilities. Parenthood or career consumes us and in a moment decades have passed. Retirement looms, maybe even disability and great losses. Our children grow up and move on independently with their own busy lives. The “young” co-workers become in-charge of the business. Even some of our physicians look as young as teenagers.

The biggest difference with these seasons of life, however, is that they are not cyclical but linear. We do age and, God-willing, we grow old. As Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer hold their negative bits like wind, ice, days inside when it is either too frigid or too hot, aging has its challenges and losses.

Like these first crisp days of Autumn, focusing on the beautiful things in our lives, the laughter, and the blessings will keep us more positive, more productive, generative, and most healthy. Like it or not we affect others. While working on ourselves, honoring grief and healing from our challenges and losses, our example speaks to others. Our thoughts and prayers become mighty.

Some of life’s seasons are more pleasant than others, but each day holds the potential of grace, of gift.

Pig

Movie reviews laud Nicholas Cage’s performance as his finest, in the newly released movie “Pig.” Heavy-handed treatments of deep, emotional events caused me to feel that the movie fell short of what it could have accomplished. I am, however, glad that I saw it. Without spoiling the story, Nicholas Cage’s character has found a peaceful existence in the ultimately depressing and hopeless world where “nothing matters.”

And yet, his journey shows us that perhaps some things really do.

Embedded in his existential angst and hopelessness there exists a truth indicating just the opposite. Think of the “Titanic” scene in which the lower class mother trapped below decks, peacefully tucks her children into bed and continues their precious and loving routine. Consider inspirational, historic persons, some of whom I have written about previously, slaves and prisoners who strove to make life sweeter for others in the face of hopelessness and tragic inhumanity.

Even in the face of an unknown future, loving intent, service and selflessness matter.

Mindset

My children talk to me about what they encounter on the internet. We’ve set the parental controls that we know of, and try to limit time on devices. I check most of their devices, as well, and respect friends who don’t even allow them. Truly. I gave in somewhat compared to others. My kids think I’m overly strict so I must be somewhere within the right wavelength of parental involvement.

Most of the time what videos they show me and stuff they discuss is fun and entertaining, but when it gets close to disturbing they know we will discuss it. “Disturbing” includes YouTubers who post depressing and negative views about life or politics, the state of world culture or social view. I really prefer to help them to understand where the poster came from, what must be informing their experience and opinions. I really dislike it when my kids talk down about a person or viewpoint. A difference of opinion is fine but I tell them I’d rather hear them express dismay and a lack of understanding about a viewpoint they are offended by or disagree with — rather than talk down about that person.

It is a learning process. I am not perfect and they know that. So, more discussion.

Recently a friend posted a pretty depressing meme expressing something unfair within their worldview of politics. I counter the negative vibes by reminding myself that there has been inequity since humanity existed. We’ll keep dialoguing and working out solutions, but, like the viral sensation Nightbirde has wisely expressed, “You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.” Nightbirde has lived for the last few years battling cancer, at one point she had a 2% chance of surviving. Her husband left her, she moved halfway across the United States and yet she found spiritual healing. Her blog posts are poetic and moving and beautifully written. She says that she makes music and art out of what she has been handed and it is redemption for her.

There will always be inequities and tragedies and we must work as a society to right them. But even if we cannot see the end of it, even if we feel powerless we can choose to see what is good and beautiful in the world, and choose joy.

Loki Brain

I can’t be more excited that there is now a series focused on Loki from the Marvel Universe. Well I’d be more so if a seventh season of Downton Abbey were announced, but do check out the Disney channel if you are a Tom Hiddleston fan.

Loki is a “God,” or at least he believes himself to be one. Without spoiling too much, he has quite the wake-up call in Episode One. He has many issues. This will be apparent by the end. Wow, it is so well-done! His mind is spinning.

I have written about Dr. Caroline Leaf and her books. I have finished a couple of 21-day cycles which in her original book Switch on Your Brain she calls a “detox.” In later books I think she calls it “Neurocycling” as that is the name of the app which I use to go through the process. Her latest book is entitled Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess, and that’s the segue from Loki.

In the original book, she discusses that science and research support ancient and Biblical beliefs and writings about living a healthy life. It is very interesting. I have never felt (as a science major and nursing professional) that science disproved God; rather, quite the opposite. But regardless of whether you are religious or not, I would recommend her books, then recommend the Neurocycle App. Are there naysayers about her work? Sure, but you know what? Ignore them.

I am a person much like you, I’m sure, who has suffered traumas, sadnesses, abuse, disappointment, confusion, manipulation and other ravages of life. None of us seem unscathed, the more I meet and talk with people. If you think that you are the worst, or if you are the least affected, you are probably not accurate. Does everyone need to sort out messed-up thinking? No, many are blessed with excellent parental and other role models growing up, and few if any tragedies. But take a look at Dr. Leaf’s work, even if it is to help someone else.

I am better. I have never felt as healthy as I do now. Will more losses and traumas come in life? Inevitably and sadly, they will. I just wish I had known long ago, these supporting truths about brain health and how I can work out my thoughts and emotions successfully.

Memories are not just some mysterious electrical impulses in our brain, but are actually physical structures on our dendrites (nerve cells). They are constructed, and can be deconstructed and reconstructed in a way that helps us to move on in a healthy way from trauma. Dr. Leaf performed much scientific research and also worked for decades with patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She has statistical data on how this process improves lives.

I’m one more living example. I wish I could explain better; I think you just need to get one of her books. By the way, I have no advertising on my blog and no benefits from any recommendations.

It is a Wednesday, and I’m off to watch how Loki sorts out his mental mess in Episode 2…

Cheers!

In Celebration of Women

The fight for women’s rights in the United States may have officially begun in the early 1900s with the Suffragette Movement, but women have longed for better treatment throughout history in most every culture. Consider what you have read about the past, consider reports of the treatment of women in other cultures than your own and I would imagine you can think of examples. Think of stories from the Old Testament up through the New Testament of the Bible.

The story of the potential stoning of the woman caught in adultery by the crowd of men strikes most of us as hypocritical at best. The man she had been with was not being stoned. This behavior was acceptable for men but worthy of a cruel death for the woman? Thankfully, that example was set straight. Sadly, inequities and oppression toward women have continued for millennia since Jesus’ admonition.

I remember an assignment in Anthropology to read an interview with a woman, written about 1970. She had been a wife and mother for decades and had not gone to college. She cooked all of the meals, raised the children, sewed clothing, and knitted sweaters. The interviewer said to her a few times that she had accomplished a great amount in her life. She laughed and denied it. Why, she commented, she hadn’t more than an eighth grade education, and all she’d done was to raise half a dozen kids and kept the house. “Anyone could do that. No, I haven’t done anything great.”

What had our culture done to her or failed to do, that kept her from seeing the monumental and self-sacrificial work which she had indeed accomplished?

We have rightfully applauded women who made great and heroic accomplishments. Harriet Tubman, Mother Teresa, the female mathematicians at NASA in the “Hidden Figures” movie, the inventions of Hedy Lamar, the contributions of Eleanor Roosevelt, Condoleezza Rice, and the women who have recently run for the highest political offices of the United States including our first female Vice President Kamala Harris. Have we applauded the other women, famous or not, mothers or not, who have been the backbone of our country, of our world?

Pope John Paul II described the wonderful gifts of women as the Feminine Genius. Not referring to intellect, it celebrates the unique contributions of each and every woman by virtue of genetics, biology, spirit, strength and more. Edith Stein wrote prolifically about women and their gifts before the second World War. Philosopher Alice von Hildebrand continued the work of her husband and added more in celebration of women.

Despite injustices and oppression it is woman who has kept the human race thriving. This is certainly something to ponder.

Loss and Gain

Especially from the perspective of an older adult, life seems like a repetitive cycle of give and take, of gain and loss. Erikson posed that within each stage of life there is a developmental task that is necessary to complete; babies learn to trust, adolescents gain a sense of identity, and so on. There are consequences if these tasks are not achieved, thus Erikson phrased them in a versus relationship; for example, Trust vs. Mistrust and Identity vs. Confusion. In adulthood and older age, the developmental tasks are Generativity vs. Stagnation and Integrity vs. Despair.

The elderly patients I cared for as a nurse all experienced losses over time, some more than others. Loss of spouses, siblings, opportunities, jobs, abilities, and physical function to mention just a few. One said to me, “There is nothing left to lose but my life.” I was sad for her and must have tried to give some encouraging words, but being much younger at the time I could never have understood fully. I remember her words as I navigate the accelerating cycle of gain and loss.

I have lost too many loved ones: a husband, parents, young nieces, grandparents, many of them tragically before their time. I have lost abilities due to a degenerative osteoarthritic condition. I can no longer ski, hike, ride horses, golf — things that I not only enjoyed but formed my self-concept.

Pondering loss and fighting the understandable grief that comes with it, I rely on faith in God and in his words like “Be not afraid,” and “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” People can disagree with me on my source of comfort but I am undeterred. Each finds their own way in life.

There is a new series called “The Chosen.” A hit with millions of viewers, it is the highest grossing crowd-funded project to date. The amount of money donated secured not just the first season but the second as well. No money is asked for and it is free to watch. It is the only multi-season series on the life of the early disciples and of Jesus. Even if I had no interest in the spiritual life of Jesus I would watch the show on its period drama merits. It is good entertainment. Of course the intent is to do more than entertain but to inspire. It has done that for me as well.

As I continue to ponder the looming horizon of old age I will strive to stay peaceful. I will strive to “generate” and fight self-absorption. Stagnation helps no one. I am not as productive as I used to be, but I can still hope, pray, talk with friends, give advice, educate my children and support my husband. I may not be able to swing my driver or jump a 5-foot fence with a Thoroughbred or strap on my skis ever again, but I can do important things for my loved ones. I can still enjoy many other things in life. One can find ways to be generative in learning, loving, caring, praying, encouraging and praising.

For Those Who Love a Mom…

…please read.

Some women have easy pregnancies. Some women have easy kids. Some women have easy menopause and older age.

But some women have monumentally difficult pregnancies. Some women have very challenging children. Some women have a very difficult perimenopause.

“A sword will pierce your heart.”

Though not all women become mothers, these events stem from a biological process geared for the purpose of fertility and potential child-bearing.

Did your mother have any of the challenges above? Do you really know whether or not she did? What about your wife? Is she possibly going through them now? Are you a woman going through this?

A tough pregnancy is socially acceptable to announce to just about anyone. All gather to support.

Difficult children, well, there is much more published about parental challenges than ever before, and there are resources and support. There is still, unfortunately, way too much shame and embarrassment around mental health issues.

But a difficult menopause? At least in America there is almost no subject with greater taboo. Are we afraid that we will scare the life out of young women? Heck, even the person experiencing it has trouble talking about it. It is NOT a socially acceptable topic.

It boggles my mind, the extent of disgusting, poor taste commercials on television that accost us even when watching during the daytime — yet discuss a stage of life that all women have or will experience, a stage that for many makes the hormonal upheaval of puberty look like a walk in the park? Oh, no!

Husbands, kids who are old enough to read this, “Hear ye, Hear ye! Your loved one going through perimenopause is quite possibly experiencing hell on earth.”

— Not all women, thank goodness, yet it is estimated that 75% of peri-and post-menopausal women experience hot flashes. These can range from a fleeting and transitory “Whew, is the heat on?”-flush to a sickening, dizzying nausea that requires bedding or clothing changes repeatedly, and sleep deprivation, possibly for the rest of her life.

Do you know if your Mom has or is experiencing this? Do you know if your wife is in the middle of the worst time of her life? She may not complain much. Are you just wondering why she is more depressed, emotional, maybe drinking a few more glasses of wine per week, maybe hanging out with her girlfriends more, maybe avoiding the bedroom?

Menopause is a lot more than hot flashes. If you are a woman who had an easy time with it, count your blessings. Maybe you had difficult pregnancies with intractable nausea throughout (awful, my sympathies!), perhaps you were on bedrest and were frightened of losing your baby for months (so very frightening!). I had it easy on that front and that is why it was natural for me to go through it eight times. Other friends with one or two children who had very difficult pregnancies tell me that they could not face another possibility of going through it again, or perhaps their doctor even told them to avoid pregnancy. I was a lucky one there.

That luck ran out at perimenopause. I am, thank God, past the worst. My husband and family were very supportive, and my doctors adept, so in that I was extremely fortunate. Those were seriously the hardest five years of my life. I have heard from others who silently suffered through it. Now, I am not immune to difficult times. I lived through the loss of a stillborn sibling, my parents’ deaths, the tragic loss of young nieces, the early death of a 42-year-old husband, the birth of a developmentally and intellectually disabled child…but those five years? THE hardest.

Do we avoid educating our female population about this stage to avoid scaring them? Probably. In the middle of it, one is so raw and emotional. I remember telling my husband, “Women go through so much discomfort, sacrifice and physical pain to give birth…but there is a baby at the end of it. What is at the end of this torture? Oh yeah, death.” I’m serious, it was that bad. Many women go on anti-anxiety or antidepressant meds during this time. For good reason.

I know, who wants to learn about that? Thank God not all women experience it so badly, but probably half do. Of those, most are probably like me, a five year course. God bless those who have to deal with the worst of it for the rest of their lives. All the while, aging continues. It is so truly not for sissies.

You know how the skin becomes noticeably more wrinkled on women over 50? The cellular turnover and healing of skin is 5 times faster in younger women. In a period of five or less years, the woman becomes visually old. This process in the older adult male is more extended, roughly over 20 years or more. Men have much more gradual hormonal changes. Oh lucky women, this sudden decrease in cellular turnover extends to mucous membranes. One of the more unmentionable symptoms is painful sex — like knives painful.

No, we wouldn’t know if that was happening to our Mom. She was not taught how to talk about it. Heck, who wants to think that people, much less our own parents can have healthy sex lives into their 80s and beyond? A middle-aged husband who perhaps is dealing with other issues, stress of work, perhaps early erectile dysfunction and is avoiding intimacy might not even know that his wife is dealing with internal pain.

Some women who do try to vent or speak out are told to hush. I get it — who wants to hear about any of this?

I am glad you have read this far, it is an important issue!

And so, she suffers in silence. Other pressures caring for her family or her work continue. Perhaps she even gets flack from family who have no idea, because they have no knowledge of this subject, oblivious to what she is going through. They wonder why she is so emotional, or easily angered or depressed and withdrawn.

If you are not a post menopausal woman, if you are not an educated medical or health professional, and if you do have a female loved one at this age, then please educate yourself about this tumultuous stage of life. If you are a daughter, do not fear; the fact that you are learning about it will prepare you, and you will be better able to communicate and advocate for yourself, and have a good relationship with an experienced women’s health doctor.

If we can cuss like disgusting pirates, watch pharmaceutical ads about erectile dysfunction or about offensive body odor, spew political hatred on television and in public, then why can’t we appropriately talk about menopause? Except for those who have undergone major hormonal therapies, or those who die an early death, every woman will go through it. Your loved one is certainly worth the time and compassion to educate yourself.