It’s a beautiful day! More and more I was able to internalize this attitude. It was an upward climb to get to this point with no guarantee of where I’d wind up. As a society, we’d come through the Me Decade and The Age of Narcissism. Economically, the Clinton Presidency was a boon in so many ways. Investments were at an all-time high. But it seemed no matter what I did I was falling steadily behind in progress when it came to my income. My family seemed unaware of some of these realities and, though they offered togetherness in family events, were unable to solve my dilemma moving forward. I knew it was up to me.
In my late 50s, I was moving toward retirement age and began to see that I could indeed be somewhat secure as I approached those years ahead. That sense of security meant a lot to me considering the challenges I’d had thrown at me. It would, of course, mean taking another leap of faith to a new area and hopefully picking up a part-time job after I started collecting Social Security. It was a leap of faith that I would, once again, have to take alone and trust my intuition. Having jumped off those cliffs again and again, I was now getting to trust my ability to not only survive but to make the most of the challenges. I let go of any expectations that others would understand my situation.
One last trip I wanted to take was to England where one of my sons was living. I hadn’t seen him in a while and, just as I needed to connect with each of my other sons, I was feeling that I needed to do that with him. This wasn’t easy as there were long periods of time where he was traveling all over the country and Europe, and wasn’t in touch with family.
My air travel had taken me to Arizona to see my oldest son and his growing family. I was able to visit the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Flagstaff and Jerome while I was there. It was as if I was visiting another world. Absolutely beautiful! It brought to my mind what a beautiful country we have and how grateful I am for all those who work hard to preserve these beautiful areas and keep them accessible to all of us.
My traveling adventures also included car trips to my other sons’ homes, over to Ohio and up to upstate New York and Vermont. I loved the freedom of hitting the road and playing some of my favorite traveling songs or listening to books on tape. Usually I’d plan to attend a special event in their area so I wasn’t dependent on being entertained by them for the whole time I was there. I wanted to allow for their privacy while also assuring my independence to go and do on my own.
England was my first foreign trip, and it was pretty exciting to be stepping out on my own as a 59-year-old woman.
I stayed at Henley House Hotel in Earl’s Court for three nights when I first arrived. http://www.henleyhousehotel.com/
Most of the time I enjoyed walking around the area to Harrods where there was a memorial for Diana and Dodi Fayad that I wanted to see. Their story and tragedy touched my heart.
Diana Princess of Wales died in a car accident in Paris. With her at that time was Dodi Fayed who also died, son of the then owner of Harrods, Mohamed Al-Fayed, who later erected two memorials for them in the upmarket department store. The memorials have generated controversy,
My son’s home was in Balham and I stayed there for a few days. The tenants in the apartment building were all men and there was only one bathroom for all the apartments and you needed to plunk coins into a meter in order to fill the tub with hot water. The tub was old fashioned and you could sink down into the water up to your chin. It was an old building and the ceilings were high, leaving you feeling somewhat exposed. I never got to meet any of the men who lived there and quickly returned to my son’s apartment after my luxurious bath. My son’s apartment had an outhouse in the back where you would carry a lit candle so you could see what you were doing at night time. A mixed bag of charm, challenge and being in the here-and-now in a foreign land.
While walking through the little villages of London I couldn’t help but see people who resembled the English side of my sons’ family on their father’s side. We went to Kew Gardens and my son brought along his gardening encyclopedia. I learned that he had done the landscaping and topiaries for the Art in the Garden show at the Orangery in Holland Park. We went to the opening night of the show where they served wine and cheese while everyone was viewing the art and enjoying my son’s work. It was fabulous and I was so proud!
The National Gallery was free and was a fantastic place. They had the Image of Christ collection there and the paintings were deeply moving. As I sat there and meditated on it, The Incredulity of Thomas by Guercino moved me to tears. I also went to Saint Martin in the Fields Church. Along with services at the church, they also had a café in the Crypt and a bookstore in the basement.
It seemed to me that navigating London and the underground was much simpler than navigating New York City and the subways. I was able to set aside any fears I had about being in a foreign country and being a woman alone by my determination to experience all that I could. The pubs that featured great fish and chips, Caffrey’s beer and Scrumpy Jack were all part of that experience. Walking was my main means of getting around. The Panorama tour and a boat ride on the River Thames included all the sights once more from afar: Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and the Tower of London. I got a total aerial view of London from the ‘Eye’ and said farewell to a fantastic experience and visit with my son.
The last part of my trip was spent in Liverpool, the home of The Beatles. I traveled there by rail and got to see Platform 9 ¾ of Harry Potter fame. I have a photo with Eleanor Rigby, and the song makes me think how the world is filled with lonely people. It brings to mind the thought that we need to be there for each other because when life is a mess, we all could use a little support and friendship.
All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?
The final encore of my visit to England was on the London Eye where I got a total aerial view through the raindrops while I said farewell to what turned out to be a fantastic experience and visit with my son.
In the summer of 2001 my son returned to the United States to settle in Vermont. I met him at Newark Airport and, as he departed the plane, I welcomed him back. I felt more at ease now that I had all five of my sons on American soil. It became even more important to me following the aftermath of 9/11, which forever changed our feelings of security and safety.
September 11, 2001 began as an absolutely beautiful Fall day. My hours at the college, which was on the Hudson River, allowed me to take it easy in the mornings and drive to work during non-commuting times. This was a major perk as driving during peak commuting could mean a difference of 20 minutes to a half hour.
I was finishing my preparations for leaving when the news announced that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Live reports showed gray smoke billowing out of a window and my thoughts were that it was a small plane. While driving to work, the second plane hit the World Trade Center and reports were becoming more intense and alarming. By the time I reached the campus, the main road leading to the entrance of the college had become very congested with many people panicking and trying to get around cars that were blocking the intersections. No one was observing the traffic lights so I kept in the line of traffic and inched my way to the entrance where I needed to turn.
When I pulled into the parking lot, I turned off the radio and took a moment to sit quietly in the silence. It was surreal! I looked around and up at the sky. It was the clearest, brightest and bluest sky I’ve ever seen and – if it weren’t for the knowledge of what was happening right across the Hudson River from where I sat, I’d have thought it was a perfect day.
We started canceling classes after the towers collapsed and it was determined that we were under attack. At first it appeared that everyone in the World Trade Center had perished.
We found out later that one of my sisters-in-law was at Ground Zero, as the bank she worked for was on the same block as the World Trade Center. Everyone had to exit the building where she worked, leaving everything behind, and make their way on foot away from the falling debris. She was covered with white ash and wound up in Chinatown where she was offered a place to sleep for the night in a hotel room with a newly married couple. My brother, who was on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River at the time of the attack, would eventually be able to get into the city in order to bring her home. As a family, we would all sit together during the following days and watch videos replaying the horror as it was happening. This helped my sister-in-law process some of what she had experienced and gave her an outlet to share her trauma with us. Later, a video was discovered in which she appeared running away as the dust cloud descended on the city streets. She stumbled and fell amongst the others fleeing, and two people came up to her on either side and helped her up.
I wrote a poem on September 22, 2001 and submitted it to the local newspaper:
THEY HAVE NOT DIED IN VAIN
If we see life a bit clearer and appreciate its beauty
And glory alongside its horror and sorrow ~
They have not died in vain.
If we’ve reached out to those we love and
Opened our hearts a bit more in trust ~
They have not died in vain.
If we’ve learned beyond a doubt that politics and religion
Can be dividers of people as well as reconcilers of people ~
They have not died in vain
If we now know that God’s grace and love resides in the
Hearts of individuals regardless of race, creed or country ~
They have not died in vain.
Freedom or fear; Love or fear; Courage or fear ~
Everyday battles fought in everyday lives.
If we can believe that the way we live our lives;
The way we treat each other;
And the way we respond to hatred and evil
Will bring about change in this world ~
Then they have not died in vain.
(Dedicated to the Victims and families of September 11, 2001)
© Mary Lou Q
Looking back on the time I wrote this, from a place now where families and countries are more polarized and more hateful, I have to feel that they may have died in vain. Initially we were all drawn together in a spirit very similar to World War II. Other countries reached out and supported us. People, regardless of color and religion, rose to the call and provided service where needed. Then an ugly line of division began to form as the drum beat of retaliation began to spread across our country. So many things changed as a result of 9/11, not the least of which was that the United States became more divided than ever.
The next two years leading up to the Iraq invasion involved a period of time where people didn’t hold back on what they felt about those who disagreed with their position. Some jumped on the bandwagon of the steady drumbeat for war, believing everything they were told about the causes, the perpetrators, which groups/nations were responsible and what actions were needed. It was a time where opposing positions – no matter how reasoned – were dismissed, shut down and shamed.
This intensity grew over the next two years leading up to Shock and Awe. “The invasion began on 20 March 2003, with the U.S., joined by the United Kingdom and several coalition allies, launching a “shock and awe” bombing campaign.”
I remember that day well. My siblings and I were in the hospital keeping watch over our mother who was coming to the end of her life here on earth. I can remember standing in her room with my siblings and being totally dismayed when they began rejoicing the moment the invasion began. I was horrified at the thought that this grand display of fireworks and explosions which appeared live on the television screen in the hospital room like entertainment, was in fact the destruction of the homes of innocent men, women and children whose lives would be devastated forever. The validity of the pretense for the Iraq invasion was later put into question when none of the reasons materialized as credible. The 9/11 investigations never implicated Iraq in the attack upon the US.
I recall feeling the need to be alone as this was happening throughout the day and I went down to the hospital lobby which was isolated and quiet that evening. I sat in front of the huge ceiling TV screen and watched the full coverage, with sadness and sorrow.
My siblings and I took turns keeping watch over our mother as it appeared that she was growing weaker and moving closer to our final goodbye here on earth. We were able to sleep in her room overnight. She was unable to eat or drink on her own without the assistance of one of us or one of the medical staff at the hospital. This was the hospital where all of us were born, three of my sons were born and where my father had died 15 years earlier. We decided that instead of letting her linger in the hospital and then perhaps be moved to a hospice/nursing home setting, we would bring her home to die. My sister, who was a retired nurse and only worked on a per-diem basis, could be there some of the time and I could come some of the time and stay over at the homestead. There was a hospice nurse assigned to our mother’s care and she eased our concerns by letting us know what was to be expected as the time drew near. Each of our brothers were able to assist with the turning and lifting as we went about meeting the needs of our mother on her last days.
On one of the days I was caring for my mother I went outside to sit in the backyard. It was a beautiful Spring day and I noticed that the Hyacinths had bloomed and created a beautiful scent that reminded me of my childhood days playing in this very same yard. I decided to pick a few and bring them in to put in a vase for my mother’s room. I opened the windows to allow the mild Spring breeze to blow the curtains and circulate the wonderful fragrance. I wasn’t sure if she knew I was there as she lay silently in a semi-conscious state. On impulse I began to read out loud from the book I was reading hoping to share a closeness and awareness in a calming way. It was a comforting time where I felt graced by her presence and blessed with this beautiful day.
Another time, during the middle of the night, I heard my mother saying something from her bedroom. I went in and stood by her bed to offer her a drink of water. Everything seemed to be fine and she seemed to be more alert and thanked me for the water. Then she looked over at the end of the bed and said Oh, there’s that young man again! and she smiled in that direction. I looked over at the foot of the bed and saw nothing, yet I felt a peaceful calm. I smiled in that direction. Who knows if we both had a visitor from the spirit world with us that night? I like to think we did.
It was difficult for me to be at work during this time. The atmosphere hadn’t improved there and I didn’t have the emotional energy to give it much attention anymore. During a sibling discussion about our mother’s care needs, the question arose whether I could do it full-time instead of sharing the responsibility with my sister who felt it was getting to be too much of a trip for her to come from Long Island. Her retired status as a nurse offered valuable insight on the days she could come to stay. However, I felt that I was only able to share shifts with her while continuing to meet my responsibility at my place of employment. I felt that my getting closer to retirement put me in a vulnerable situation and that taking too much time off and/or any family medical leave could be used against me. Family medical leave was without pay though supposedly your position would be there when you returned (hopefully). My being the only person in my office made my absence more of an impact on the campus. If I were to be replaced for an extended absence it could mean losing my job.
The call came while I was at work. My sister simply said She’s gone. I went and told my supervisor and immediately left for home where my siblings and I gathered around our mother’s bed. We were told to take as much time as we needed before we called the funeral home.
As I was riding home from my job to be with my siblings, I looked about me. The air was filled with the fragrance of newly blossomed flowers. There were children playing in the park and I could hear their happy voices and the sky was the bluest of blues. A Spring day, May 7th, 2003. It reminded me of the resurrection and that life does go on.
Often, the time when sibling relationships are most strained is at the time of the death of a parent. It’s a time when blaming and scapegoating can tear apart relationships if you don’t step back and resist jumping into the drama that’s taking place. I saw some of this unfold during our experience as a family. Each person grieves and reacts in their own way. Respecting those differences and understanding the realities and personalities of each person involved helps to keep emotional conflicts from escalating into hurtful clashes. One person’s way of doing things might not be what another person agrees with or feels comfortable doing.
It’s my hope and wish that my sons will keep and cherish some of the things that I’ve valued: my artwork and sketchbooks, my writing and poems over the years, the family photos I saved of all of us. There are only a few furniture items that belonged in the family; the old buffet of my father’s parents, the sewing chest of my grandmother, the Nippon teapot and cups. I hope each of my sons will take the time, either in their own solitude or together, if possible, to decide the best place for these items.
I’ve found that over the years the treasured items linking me to my past and to those who came before me to be a wonderful source for my own self-growth. It would be wonderful to have any of my grandchildren wanting to learn about their grandmother. This is the main reason why I sat down to create a blog.[i] This way, even after I’m gone, they’ll be able to go to it if they feel drawn to do so. My hope is that each of them will live out their life with meaning and purpose by being true to themselves.
I was blessed with the births of three more grandchildren in the early 2000s. This was a time of getting to know each newcomer and spending an extended visit with each of my sons and their families. My intuition told me that keeping these extended visits to no more than a week was the smart way to go. I’m glad I respected each family’s privacy and abilities to live their own lives in their own way.
Over the next two years the housing market was booming and the economy was looking promising in America. While actively planning for the move to a more affordable area to retire, I learned that the retirement package I thought would be there from the college had been changed with healthcare benefits no longer included. Although it may sound like penny pinching to some, I look back on how avidly I marked each year that I’d hung in there and calculated how much each additional year would add to the final monthly benefits on my traditional pension. Although in relative terms it might not be very much, every little bit meant a lot in my circumstances. It has since proven to be just barely enough to get me through and I’m grateful for that pension because so many in retirement are worse off.
The decision when to make my move was made for me by the landlord where I’d been renting for the past eleven years. They were selling their house so I too would need to find another place to live. The impending sale of their home sped up my decision to find a place to settle, rather than wait another year till I was 65.
Searching for a place on the internet was fun and so convenient because any condo I was interested in could be explored thoroughly from my computer. I was able to gather a lot of information before I set out on a long ride to have a showing with a real estate agent.
I still had the thought that there was a possibility of a part-time, or possibly full-time, position somewhere out there for me, even as a woman in my 60s. Thinking of a college town where I could take advantage of the interesting programs offered for retirees made that focus even more appealing. It just didn’t make sense to me to look at an area for the sole reason of affordability without some family nearby and without the hope of improved quality of life. I was seeking a balance of affordability, quality of life and close enough to some family members.
I decided to visit Delaware and see a number of condos I had researched. After a few day-trips back and forth I made the decision to go ahead with a very cute condo. It was a true learning experience as I had to research everything about buying a condo and had no one I could ask to take the time to walk me through it. The process proceeded all the way through to the point where I had put down a deposit of $1,000 and was getting ready to close the deal.
Then I woke up in the middle of the night and had a major panic attack for the first time in my life. What was I doing? I was sinking every bit of savings into this condo while I still had lots of doubts about it! The next morning, I phoned my brother in tears and told him my fears. He advised me to get out of the deal even if I lost the down payment. I phoned the agent and told her I needed to back out. She was not happy and told me she wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get my deposit back. I told her I didn’t care. I wanted out of the deal. Luckily the young couple selling the condo understood and let me out of the deal without any problem.
From there it appeared that I would need to go even further south to get something in my price range. I had family living in the Central Virginia area who loved it there. My next adventure was an overnight trip to the area. The more I explored, the more I felt the area had promise and was what I was looking for. The realtor took me to see some affordable condos for sale but nothing appealed to me. There were a lot of apartment complexes that were being renovated into condos in order to take advantage of the booming market. Something told me to follow my gut and instead of returning back without some kind of commitment to housing, I made an appointment to see two fairly decent apartment complexes with the thought of renting instead of buying. At the first place, I didn’t get approved based on my income. The other became my home.
In 2007 the booming market began to decline and then fell rapidly. The value of homes decreased enough to cause many foreclosures and led to the 2007-2009 recession in the United States. Needless to say, I was relieved I hadn’t locked myself into that mortgage on the condo.
The area I settled into has a rich connection to the nation’s history and Virginia is the birthplace of eight of our first presidents. It turned out to be a very positive relocation for me and is recognized as one of the best places to retire. The outlying area is absolutely beautiful and provides activities that are inexpensive or free for those on a tight budget. The senior center offers a lot of connections to activities and education that might add to one’s well-being. There’s an attitude of welcome and supportive assistance that I find refreshing, that I didn’t find in the metropolitan area.
After a few interviews and not hearing back, I resigned myself to the fact that I was no longer employable in a fast-paced registrar’s office. Maintaining a positive attitude gets you so far when you’re a senior citizen in the competitive job market. So, I changed my way of viewing the inevitable and I began to see a less hectic and more fulfilling life becoming a possibility for me in this new area.
It all turned out for the best when I was hired as a part-time sales associate at the Monticello Museum Shop. Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, was a place that gave me an inside edge on learning all about the area while meeting a great group of friends. It was so exciting to be a part of the team at Monticello. We got to meet visitors from all over the world. Most memorable for me, personally, was the Naturalization Ceremony when people from all over the world come to take the oath of citizenship of the United States of America. President George W. Bush gave the speech on July 4th, 2008 which was his last Independence Day as president and shouts from protesters against his policies on Iraq and terrorism were heard from the audience. The president responded to them by saying we believe in free speech in the United States of America.
I was working in the gift shop when First Lady Michelle Obama, Malia and Sasha, and Michelle’s mother visited the grounds. We were all very impressed with her visit especially when they came into the gift shop to buy a few souvenirs.
The part-time sales associates were scheduled randomly throughout the week. We worked 3 to 4 days a week depending on the season. The rotation of our schedules gave us a chance to meet and get to know each other while we covered the registers. We also had a lot of social events both at Monticello and elsewhere on our own time. Some of us still get together for each other’s birthdays, giving us a chance to try out different restaurants and wineries in the area.
One of the women I worked with was a retired counselor. After hearing some of my story she suggested it would be good if I had some closure on my divorce. I agreed and shared how the relationship between my sons and their father was strained, and any efforts attempted in working together as parents had been met with ongoing frustration. She counseled that it would be beneficial to me if I wrote a note of closure to Don, a message of forgiveness and gratitude for the good things that were there in our marriage, especially our five sons. He was now married for the fourth time and settled in the south. I was able to find his address through the internet.
I went home filled with feelings of forgiveness and wanting to move forward, forgetting what I’d learned about Don’s personality in the past. I sat down and penned a note from my heart, acknowledging the good times and our shared parenting of five wonderful sons and wishing him well in the future.
A little later a large UPS package was delivered to my doorstep. I had a feeling of foreboding and dread. The box contained framed pictures of our children and grandchildren that were given to Don by our sons and that he had collected over the years as memories of the past. There was even my oldest son’s baby book that I had filled out with all the memories of his first year. I had thought that I would never see it again and that it was lost along the way with all the moving. It really shook me, as there was no personal note explaining why this package was sent to me. Just Don’s return address on the box.
I was ready to let it go when about a week later there was another large box on my doorstep when I returned home from work. There were more framed pictures and items bringing memories of our sons. Again, no note.
This time I was very shaken and called my oldest son who told me to pack up everything back into the second box along with a note telling Don not to send anymore to me and that if he had a grievance with his sons, he’d have to take it up with them.
That was the last time I entertained any hope that closure would ever really happen. I was happy to have the baby book back because there were so many beautiful memories that I had written there. Perhaps the best way to look at this experience, as painful as it was for me, was to realize that this was Don’s way of helping with the closure for both of us and letting go.
At the same time that I had been preparing to make my move to Virginia, my sons were also making life changes and moving forward with their lives. My oldest was settled in Arizona working in law enforcement, staying in one place to raise his family. I loved visiting there and explored the possibility of retiring there. My second son, a cardiologist, and his family also settled in Virginia, planning to put roots down to continue raising their four children. My third son settled in New York with his wife (both teachers) and their son. They helped me navigate the city and we had lots of good times. My fourth son settled in Vermont and continues to write, grow his own food and work on the home that he built over the years. My youngest surprised all of us by taking a leap and moving with his family to the UAE as a teacher. It’s turned out to be an amazing experience for them and all of us.
In 2004 at the Democratic Convention, a young man gave a speech that inspired many Americans. It turned out to be the speech that would propel him to a destiny that remains a great moment in history. President Obama left the White House after eight years of service to the people. I won’t go into the ugly, divisive environment that lurked beneath the surface in our country during those eight years. I chose to stay above the fray and not descend into the depths of the extreme partisan rhetoric that existed. It reared its ugly head all over the country; within families, on talk radio and across all the 24/7 television shows.
When I would try to listen to the vitriol and understand both sides, I would hastily retreat from what I saw as pure manipulation and the stirring up of the worst of human nature. I saw the verbiage as a brainwashing and chose to observe all this from a distance. This mean-spiritedness has grown steadily from the early Eighties on and has caused an unhealthy atmosphere in the nation. It saddens me because it has brought a polarization within our country and within our families that ends up having each of those involved judging other people from a place of fear and distrust instead of finding a common path toward each other.
At the same time that I relocated out of expensive Bergen County, New Jersey, my oldest brother and his wife began their move up north to New Hampshire. My brother, who was retired, moved up first to their condo while his wife continued to work in New York city in the bank near the fallen World Trade Center. My brother had some serious health issues and moving to an area where he could enjoy the natural environment that he so loved while he continued to write and create artwork was a dream come true for him. His wife moved there permanently when his medical problems meant he wouldn’t be able to live alone. They enjoyed good retirement years in New Hampshire but then were hit with a double tragedy. My brother was diagnosed with lung cancer, and a short while after that, his wife was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Where it looked like my sister-in-law would be caretaking my brother through his cancer, it was all reversed when she received a prognosis of just months to live.
The shock traveled through our family. Each sibling planned trips to stay with my brother as his wife’s illness progressed to needing more care. Initially she was cared for in the home of one of her daughters and eventually she was moved to a hospice. I was staying with him and caring for my brother at the time that his wife died and during the funeral time. It was a time of being deeply human and being in touch with all the vulnerability of life. It filled a genuine need and was a blessing I’ll always be grateful for.
My brother chose to stay alone in his condo once his wife died in spite of many well-meaning attempts to move him to an assisted living facility. He told me It’s like a cruise ship that’s going nowhere. I got what he was trying to say. I watched him wrestle with his decision and the opposing opinions in the family. He gained dignity through that decision. It gave him a year of time where he was able to accept and come to terms with all that life gave him, accepting and leaving the past behind and courageously facing his death. He was a humble and gifted soul who touched my life in many ways with his realness and vulnerability. I miss him and still feel his loss. I feel comforted by his spiritual presence which was always a healing and supportive influence on my life.
Just before my brother died, my youngest son sent me a message How about spending Christmas in Arabia with us? It was a now-or-never invitation that I couldn’t refuse. It would be the trip of a lifetime! A year earlier, my youngest son and his family embarked on an adventure that would change their lives and open up a world of treasures. They joined a group of families who had moved to the UAE to teach English to Arab-speaking students through the program Teach Away.
Working at the gift shop and standing on my feet all the time at the register had aggravated some health issues that I was having in my back. I was back and forth visiting different specialists to find the answers for treatment. I was still able to get around without too much difficulty in spite of the pain I was experiencing. A visit to the orthopedists reassured me that an epidural steroid injection could relieve back pain caused by inflamed spinal nerves due to spinal stenosis or disc herniation. Pain relief could last for several days or even years. So, with less than a few months’ notice, I found a great price on a round-trip ticket and started planning for an amazing experience ahead.
Arrival at Abu Dhabi Airport
This was the moment when I put aside all the preconceived notions and inner messages of fear of the unknown and of the threat of the Middle East. As I arrived, I felt an inner peace and feeling of trust that enabled me to meet this world with new eyes. Being greeted by an Emirate dressed in traditional clothing and speaking English, was my first step towards embracing a whole new outlook. The atmosphere was calm, not chaotic, and the airport was bright and clean. It was hard to believe I was in a foreign land arriving from half way around the world. Security didn’t seem as heightened and frenzied as it had been at Chicago Airport where I’d departed.
I took in the scene before me as people milled about, some dressed in middle eastern garb. The experience was intensified by the sound of the Muslim call to prayer transmitted over the PA system in the airport. It was, at one and the same time, both calming and disconcerting. I’d never been in an airport where the prayer time of a religion interrupted the daily routines at different times of the day, and yet I found myself lifting my heart and mind in prayer. It was calming. My preconceived notions of a volatile, violent Middle East were slipping away and I could feel the building excitement of this new world welling up inside me. Was I in danger? My instincts and intuition told me no.
This trip opened me up to an awareness of the common bonds we all share. We are all One. People share so much of the same hopes and dreams that we all have as human beings.
On returning to the States I found I had a new resolve not to get caught up in the political fear mongering that makes a group of people or a particular religion a scapegoat. I learned about the customs and beliefs of the people in the United Arab Emirates through this journey, and I learned a lot about myself. My trip to the Middle East helped me to discern what it is we really need to fear, and what terrorism is and how it can be addressed. Terrorism is a tool used by those who hate. It can reside in any part of the world and in anyone’s heart, if we let it. The United Arab Emirates is a beacon of hope for the Middle East. I hope they continue to be that example.
Visiting the Middle East has added so much to my conviction that we are a small world and have more things in common than our differences. I felt at home and welcomed. I didn’t feel like I was half-way around the world. Traveling grounds you and helps you appreciate life wherever you are.
The whole trip turned out to be more than I expected, thanks to my son and his family. The injection I received in my spine eliminated a lot of the back pain and I was able to keep up with them. It was nice that they also enjoyed our traveling around because they hadn’t been to the places we went to either. I wrote a blog while I was there. http://christmasinarabia2011.blogspot.com/
It continued to be a year of declining mobility and trying to pinpoint exactly what was going on. After going through many visits to the cardiologist, orthopedist, neurosurgeon and neurologist, it was recommended that I have back surgery as the first step in addressing the problems. The symptoms I was having were many, from numbness and tingling in the legs, to constant pain, rapid pulse, tachycardia, and shortness of breath. The incident that pushed my decision to go ahead with the surgery was when I lost all feeling in my leg and I fell on the kitchen floor. It was time for my part-time job to come to any end, especially when I fainted while working in the mountaintop shop and was taken to the emergency room. It was becoming more and more difficult to stand for long periods of time at the register and to make it through the entire shift.
In December 2012 I had the first surgery of spinal laminectomy to eliminate the problem. Three of my sons were there to help me in different ways.
The surgery corrected the pinched nerve and improved things somewhat. I still had more problems going on with pain and loss of mobility, and the next steps were to pinpoint whether it was the back or the hip that was still causing the problems. My family history, with my mother having multiple joint replacements, along with an MRI, all confirmed that it was the left hip that needed replacement in the near future.
A real highlight in our lives in the middle of all this was my son’s graduation ceremony at Quantico VA. The ceremony they had for the law enforcement who completed the program was an honor to attend. The head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, spoke. We all went back to my son’s home for a family celebration. While we were there in the auditorium, the terrible events of Sandy Hook were going on in Newtown, Connecticut. We were all stunned as we watched the news unfold when we got home.
While I was recovering from the back surgery, my daughter-in-law sent me a link to an online art journaling course and challenged me to sign up for it. She told me that if I signed up, she would send me a box of all the art supplies I needed from the art supply store she co-owned. I’d procrastinated long enough over the years, with all the everyday challenges and responsibilities, and finally jumped at the chance to get started. It turned out to be one of the greatest decisions that filled my hours and days with a passion to create. My activity was limited to physical therapy and just moving around to get through the basic needs of daily living, so creating an art journal, Draw Your Awesome Life,[i] helped to make the time pass by quickly and give me a sense of hope and joy.
Over 2013, my heart symptoms increased and several times I was put on a monitor that I had to wear continuously. The cardiologist put me on blood pressure medication as my heart rate was very erratic. I couldn’t even feel my pulse when I attempted to get a number. It would soar over 100 and disappear. I was told to call 911 if these events lasted too long. I was waking up three to four times during the night with my heart racing and feeling like I was going to pass out.
Being sleep deprived and dealing with the pain and mobility issues took its toll on my energy level. I also began to wake up from dreams and flashback memories of some of the traumatic events that took place years ago. That was when I decided to see a counselor so I could prepare myself for my upcoming hip replacement surgery and put all my energy into healing and recovery. It was this decision that changed the direction of my life and set me on a more hopeful course for the years I might have left. It was painful to go back and face some of those traumatic memories. This was something I needed to do and I wish I had done it sooner. The feelings of powerlessness that I felt back then were buried deep inside me. They needed to be expressed and released in order for me to let go and move forward. I had hope that I would be free to live fully and in the present. I was shown how to ground myself and bring myself back to the present moment, to set healthy boundaries and to build my sense of self-worth. Most importantly, I felt comfortable to finally start to talk about the abusive relationship with Don. The counselor validated that I was indeed a victim of abuse; emotional, physical and sexual. She encouraged me to share this reality, without going into too much detail, with my sons. It was a very difficult thing to do and to talk about, and yet I felt a real sense of freedom and lightness once I moved past it all.
On January 27, 2014 I had the total hip replacement. It was my granddaughter’s birthday so I knew it was going to be a good day.
I had asked the admitting nurse if I could have a room with a beautiful view of the Blue Ridge Mountains because I wanted to do some sketching. When I opened my eyes, after the surgery, I saw that I was in a corner room with windows on both sides overlooking the mountains. It was very bright and the sun was streaming into the room. My second son, who is a cardiologist, was sitting by the side of the bed. He asked me for the phone number of my cardiologist. Puzzled, I asked him why? Because you just stopped breathing for 30 seconds and I want to talk to her about that. I told him where he could find the number and went back to dozing off, feeling relieved that the surgery was over.
My son came down from Vermont again and stayed until I was able to stay alone with the home health services stopping by. While he was staying here, he found a puppy, Finnegan – Finn – at Caring for Creatures, a no-kill animal sanctuary, to bring home with him. Before he left, he told me that he and his wife wanted to take me to Ireland when I had recovered. They set the target date for the trip for October 2014. What an incentive!
During this recovery period, I signed up for another online art journaling course called Draw Your Awesome Year. We were taught how to set up journal pages and a calendar page for each month of 2014. I did a page on travel which included my trip to the hospital and my plans for Ireland. It was a time where I felt that God was blessing me with a second chance to grab onto life and live in the moment to the fullest.
A few months after the surgery I was improving by leaps and bounds. Well enough to fully participate in all the activities of my son’s recognition into the American College of Cardiologists. What an exciting day! And what an amazing achievement for both him and his beautiful family.
My own cardiologist set up a sleep study where I went to a nice hotel and got hooked up with lots of wires for the night. The sleep study technician stayed up all night and observed my sleep patterns in order to determine if I had sleep apnea. The result was I had severe sleep apnea! During deep REM sleep I had 43 apneas, ie. stopped breathing, in one hour! I never knew. My oxygen level was down to 82% which is serious. The pieces began to fall into place as to why I was having so many unexplained symptoms. I was walking around sleep deprived on most days. Literally exhausted! Thinking that these were all just symptoms of being a woman over 70, I was ready to accept my steady decline. I have to believe that the cause would not have been discovered if it had not been for my son’s concern and follow-up. He’s my hero!
I was started on CPAP treatment with a pulmonologist and my life has improved 100% since then. No more heart symptoms, no more shortness of breath or fainting, increased energy and enthusiasm. My complexion and appearance no longer had that drained and pale look. The pulmonologist said it was possible that I was living with this for thirty or more years, and I do remember symptoms as far back as the mid-eighties that I attributed to anxiety and stress. Recent studies on women and heart disease also link sleep apnea and the progression of heart disease to early perimenopause which had started in my mid-thirties.
The months passed and I grew more confident and stronger. Physical therapy and the P.R.E.P. (Physician Referred Exercise Program) all helped me stay passionate about getting back to normal. When I started out, I could hardly walk even half way around the track. By the time October came around I was walking a mile – 12 times – around the track. I was determined to do this.
The trip to Ireland was another trip of a lifetime that I never dreamed I’d be able to do. We shared expenses and I went along for the ride. My son drove all around Ireland from Westport to Kenmare to Cobh to Dublin. They had mapped out a wonderful itinerary all on the country roads. I loved West Ireland the best as I found Dublin in the East to be a faster pace. I did a blog for this trip also. http://songforireland2014.blogspot.com/
When I arrived home, I started doing watercolor sketches from pictures I took in Ireland. We were on the go and seeing so many things that painting in one place wasn’t possible. There was so much to see!
My recovery from hip replacement surgery was great and I felt a lot of renewed energy now that I was receiving treatment for the sleep apnea. A membership at a fitness club was a wise investment as they offered so many positive programs for moving ahead and staying active as you age. I challenged myself to walk the Saunders-Monticello Trail – about 5 miles total – and gradually increased the distance until I finally succeeded.
I also continued going to the counselor. She encouraged me to try Match.com to meet some men my age who might be interested in a relationship. I’d never been on any dating service before and the thought intrigued me as it had been a long time since I’d been involved in an intimate relationship with a man. In the past, I had felt I was too old to try again. Now, with the surgery behind me and treatment for the sleep apnea, I was eager to give it a try. So, shortly after I returned from Ireland, while I was still on a high from that whole experience, I took the leap and signed up.
Was I ever surprised when I found a large number of older men living within an hour of my area! I wrote up a great profile and put up a few current photos.
I was surprised to find that this added a new enthusiasm to my life and I began to check out some of the most appealing photos and profiles. It was very encouraging!
Some of the contacts raised my skeptical eye. The lines were predictable and it felt phony. One contact stood out as someone I’d like to meet. He sent me a friendly, inviting email. He definitely sounded like a very interesting man. I decided early on that I would only respond through email if and when I was contacted first through Match email and then later exchanging personal email addresses. I felt this new contact sounded genuine. I’d been reading about scams or fake profiles where women fell into troubling situations.
So, trusting my intuition, I replied!
My counselor said she’d guide me along the way and this worked out fine until I received a note that she was no longer taking Medicare patients. This bit of information came at a point where I was already falling for my ‘match’, and I felt very vulnerable knowing I had already been in relationships that were unhealthy and abusive.
I reached out and found another counselor and he turned out to be very effective in helping me understand the trauma and abuse in my life and how it affected my choice of unhealthy personalities down the line. While maintaining my new ‘match’s’ privacy, I would mention things to the counselor as the relationship unfolded. He confirmed that my intuition was right in the red flags I was spotting along the way. He also encouraged me to proceed, with caution, and not over-react based on my 20-year relationship with Don. It was a real awakening for me to learn just how much emotional baggage I had suppressed from that experience in order to just cope with the consequences and aftermath of that time.
The counselor explained to me that this was what PTSD was all about. It wasn’t just the military who suffered with it. Abandonment, abuse and trauma all caused me to use defense mechanisms that helped me cope during that time but were now dysfunctional and unhealthy. The threat was no longer there. By learning to be aware of this and stopping myself, I could better see when a relationship I was currently in was becoming a co-dependent/narcissistic pattern again. I also learned that Narcissistic Personality Disorder was very difficult to heal and most people like this refuse counseling so it’s best to set healthy boundaries along the way before it becomes destructive.
I was ready to move forward and let go of the last of the baggage from the abandonment. I was ready to take the risk in trusting myself to not lose myself. I was very sexually attracted to my match and fell head over heels during the first month of seeing him. I felt like a teenager again.
I totally enjoyed this relationship. He helped me reframe my idea of possibilities and letting go to move forward in life. We both enjoyed writing and creating art. He asked me to do watercolor sketches for some of his poetry. We shared daily meditations and spiritual inspirations that fostered spiritual growth. We shared similar philosophies about politics. He was much more free-spirited than I was and that was what attracted me to him. I eventually realized that his free-spiritedness was more than I could handle. I wish him well on his quest for his next experience.
For about two months I continued on Match and met one gentleman, a lawyer from DC, who traveled by Amtrak to meet me for lunch in a local restaurant. We then phoned and emailed back and forth. He told me he and his wife were divorced. I soon found out that he was still married.
Another man I met turned out to have been married four times. He was deacon in his church. He invited me to see his home and mini-movie theater. He had a gun cabinet loaded with weapons. He also had a hot tub! He was a Tea Party guy and tried his best to convert me. After a few dates I told him I didn’t think it would work out for us.
I found that it wasn’t practical at my age to get involved with someone who lived an hour or more away even though one match was very nice to be with. Those who contacted me and lived a distance away inevitably fizzled out after the first or second meeting.
I sensed this real desperation and fear of getting older and being alone. I think we all have this fear and loneliness sometimes. These are the realities of growing older and yet I still feel young at heart and hopeful. I would like to have someone in my life who is there for me and cares about me as I get older. I’m also content with my solitude and alone time. I wouldn’t want to move in together with someone unless I knew it would work. I’ve got so much to be grateful for in this life, and I’ve come to respect and love myself through it all. I wanted to be in a relationship where I could feel safe and be able to trust the other person.
Some people come into your life for a reason,
some a season and some a lifetime.
However long it was,
be thankful for the gifts you received from them.
It’s been an interesting journey on Match – a real learning experience. Dating brought back all those good feelings again. It helped me to let go of the unpleasant memories of my marriage and appreciate the good memories. There’s enough here in the present to live with gratitude.
Counseling helped me to see things more clearly and to realize that I was no longer in the same desperate situation as I was during that earlier time of abandonment; that I had more stability now, and could stand on my own, both emotionally and financially. I had now come to believe in myself. The threat was no longer there.
So here I am, in my late seventies and still learning. I’m still open to meeting someone. Someone who wants to get to know me as a person and just be comfortable with each other in a relationship that grows in love over time. And time is eternal.
Another man has come into my life who I like. I met him through family and he’s nice company and a good-hearted man. It’s a friendship that is easy and allows space. Considering our slowing down in so many ways, I’m comfortable with this.
My life has brought me through many experiences and I’ve come through with a feeling of gratitude for both the good and bad. I’ve learned lessons through it all. The people I now want to allow into my life will be the ones who respect that journey and allow me to continue moving forward, setting healthy boundaries, and living my life in the way I’ve discovered to be the best for me. Through this writing of my story I’ve discovered where I want to go from here and what I want to let go of so that my path continues moving me towards the joy and peace that I deserve. I want people by my side who will be real companions in that journey and support my well-being, instead of thinking they know me better than I know myself. They will be people who hold space for me as I continue on this journey. For too many years I’ve looked outside of myself for these answers only to find them within me all along.
We all have a GPS inside us,
a God Positioning System:
Our country is now in the middle of a yet deeper and more disturbing political upheaval. Our new president has set an ugly and divisive tone instead of the unifying one of President Barack Obama. While attempting to give voice to those who have been harmed by the system, he was met with an increasingly polarizing hostility from the Republicans. From the very beginning of President Obama’s service as president there were protests by the Tea Party that criticized and blamed him for every problem in our country. It became obvious that there was a dysfunctional partisan agenda behind all this. Both parties are dysfunctional and our system is broken. It all culminated in the most bizarre and disturbing election in 2016 that any of us have ever seen. The person who won the presidency is not unifying us as a country and still has to prove himself to the American people, both those who voted for him and those who didn’t. As time goes on, it doesn’t appear that this proof of good leadership is going to happen.
I wake up each day grateful for being alive and wanting to devote my time to the things that bring me joy and peace. Despite that, I feel a sense of sorrow for the country and hope we’ll move through the rest of this decade in a growth-filled way. I believe our country needs to go through this learning experience that’s still unfolding and I’d like to be able to be here to witness the growing pains and the letting go into a better place.
This memoir is protected under the U.S. Copyright Office: