“Be Not Selfish”

Since my mom died last December, my dad and I have spent a lot of wonderful time together. We talk about many things, and always we talk about Mom. Each time I visit, we go through a few household things to see what to keep, gift someone with, donate or throw away. When I packed up all of Mom’s beautiful clothes and shoes (she was a true fashionista), I went between laughter and tears. Laughter because Mom would deeply approve of ‘spreading the wealth,’ and tears because she wouldn’t be wearing the clothes again.

Dad and I have a lovely daily routine; he calls me at 7:30 am each day and I call him anywhere between 4:30 and 6:00 pm. We catch up on our mornings and our days; what we are doing, what we plan to do, and whether or not we slept well the night before. We always end our conversations with an “I love you,” and this is the structure upon which I build my days.

When I drive up to visit, we go out to have lunch, have a great time, and talk. We always end up talking about Mom and all she gave us, and how much we loved and admired her. We marvel on all her talents and gifts, her kindness, her great intellect, her sense of humor, her sharpness and wit—but mostly we talk about how she loved us, and how we loved her. It still seems amazing that this unique and wonderful person was part of our lives for so many wonderful years.

Dad is now attending a weekly grief counseling session given by our local Hospice organization. Mom was in Hospice for about three and a half months, and was given such exquisite care, kindness and sincere love from the nurses and staff. They became family to us. This session is helping Dad very much, plus it is adding more good people to his life. He always shares with me how the sessions are, and how much he gets out of them.

Just the other day he gave me a slip of paper; a copy of what he had been given in the sessions that read: “Be not selfish nor grieve for me. Rejoice and wish for Godspeed. I go to meet my cosmic Beloved.” Immediately I thought of my amazing mom; her spirit at last free of a painful body, knowing we are missing her but as always sending love and grace to us. I can just hear her voice saying, “I’m fine–I’m free! I’m always there for you, and don’t worry; we’ll be together again.”

My mom and dad have been the greatest love story I have ever known. I am so lucky to have been part of it for so many years. I grew up with love, kindness, joy, happiness and security–I was and am rich beyond measure for the parents with which I was blessed. Although I grieve the loss of my mother and best friend, I know that I have her love all around me each day. I also know that love never, ever dies.

I think on that phrase; “be not selfish,” often. Selfishly, we wanted more time with her; more adventures, more talk, more laughter, more love, more hugs and kisses. I can still hear her voice in my ears every day. But the truth was that Mom was ready to go. She had successfully lived with cancer for over 25 years, and lived well. When the time came that the medications and infusions no longer worked, her doctors told her she could  either have chemotherapy or simply let nature take its course.

Mom, being Mom, told the doctors in no uncertain terms that she chose Door #2, letting nature take its course. I believe that she had done every single thing she ever wanted to do in life, and had done it all spectacularly well. Dad and I to this day marvel at all she packed into one lifetime. I think we both feel that we somehow landed into this incredible person’s life not by chance, but by design. We loved her so much, and she loved us right back.

So we are doing our best not to be selfish, but to rejoice that she is where she wanted to be, and that she is finally free from the pain she had to endure for so long. We are learning that grief is not something you get over, but you learn to live with it. And that’s just what we are doing and plan to do until we too take our last breaths–live, and live well.

Thank you, Mom.

“Smoke and Mirrors”

Ever notice how most of the makeup and skin care commercials appear to always use the faces of young and gorgeous models? These sweet young things could smear mud on their faces each night and wake up looking fabulous. When you are young with reasonably good skin, you can go barefaced and no one would think you were anything but beautiful. What would really impress me is if they used an older face in the ads using products appropriate for older skin.

The care and feeding of older skin is a whole different ballgame. While I won’t spend much time on my hair, I will take time with my face. I start my morning routine using a gentle cleanser, then clean it off with warm water on a textured washcloth (which acts as a gentle exfoliating), followed by swiping a cotton ball dipped in witch hazel over my face and neck as a toner. I use a good moisturizer with sunscreen that works with my skin (dry), then followed by a subtle base makeup. Now comes the fun part: concealer and the “magic stick.”

My concealer is one of the things I cannot do without because it does exactly what the name implies: it conceals. Basically, I dot it on all my problem areas: dark spots (there are enough of them to warrant playing Connect the Dots), red spots, under the eyes, etc. Then I blend it in to keep up the appearance of fairly flawless skin. (Seriously ladies; it’s all smoke and mirrors, but it WORKS.)

Then comes the magic stick–this is a just a fancified pencil consisting of a luminous makeup used for highlighting cheekbones and under eyebrows. It usually comes in skin-flattering shades such as light gold, pink or pearly white. You can pay an exorbitant amount of cash for one at the makeup departments in the mall, or pick up one at the Dollar Store (usually in pink) for–you guessed it–a dollar!

The fact that it is luminous spreads a whole lot of optical kindness on your face; anything *luminous reflects the light. And if your skin reflects the light, any flaws are much less likely to stand out. Major bonus: that luminous touch also gives the appearance of youthful skin. (Told you it was magic!)

Once those basics are done, then comes the rest of the makeup; blush, eyeliner, mascara and eyebrows. I have exactly three eyebrow hairs on one side, and four on the other. So I’ve learned to be an absolute Da Vinci with an eyebrow pencil (the trick is to blend with an eyebrow brush after using the pencil). The end of the whole deal is lipstick; these days it’s raspberry-tinted lip moisturizer.

I’ll just bet that all those young and lovely models they use for makeup commercials look positively radiant when they roll out of bed in the morning. That’s youth for you, and we’ve all enjoyed it immensely. But working with older skin is a different story, so it requires a bit of time, magic and confidence.

Actually confidence is the  most important part of looking  good; hair, makeup and body. There is no point in mourning how we used to look; just do as the song says: “accentuate the positive.”

*Another way to illuminate your look is to wear pearls; pearl earrings and necklaces also reflect light and give your skin a softer look.

Following Our Own Road Map

Years ago, I worked at AAA as a map marker; that is, when people came in to plan a road trip, we would create a *TripTik to show them the best routes to take. This always included up-to-the-minute road construction areas, information and directions to hotels on the way, fun spots, shops, restaurants, etc.

When you think about it, we all come into this world with a “road map.” We may be born to parents who badly wanted children, and after having them, did everything they could to make a great life for them. We may be born in a terribly poor area where food, shelter, water and education are scarce. We may be born anywhere in this world, and we come with infinite potential. Our circumstances may be modest or opulent, but we come to Earth for a reason.

True, it may take our whole lives to figure out our purpose here, but I believe that we are given subtle nudges in the directions we need to go; little hints and helps along the way. We may not always pay attention to them, but they are still there. For example, think of the jobs you’ve had over the years. Did you get them because you were working toward a grand plan for your life? Did you just ‘fall’ into them out of convenience? Did you know as a child what you wanted to do for work? Did you just drift from job to job with no particular direction?

Say that from a young age you deeply desired to become a doctor. Your interest may have started with a child’s book about anatomy and how the body works. You may have had a wonderful doctor who took the time to explain things to you and answer your questions; that person may have been your catalyst to become a doctor yourself.

But say that, despite this burning ambition, you come from a family where money is tight; you know that you are going to have to work hard to get scholarships to fulfill your dream. You may even volunteer at a hospital or nursing home to get experience to ready you for the study ahead. Sure, it’s not going to be easy, but if you are determined and creative, you will find a way to afford what you need and achieve your goal.

For those of us who didn’t have a ‘grand plan’ for life, we still find we are drawn toward certain jobs, people, interests, etc. It may take us longer to figure ourselves out, but for the most part, we get where we need to be. For example, **Chi Chi Rodriguez, famous golfer, had a huge number of obstacles to overcome before he made a name for himself. He had so much stacked against him, and yet he pursued his passion relentlessly.

I once had the great pleasure of meeting this man and shaking his hand. Although I am not a golf fan, his story moved me tremendously. It was an example to me that you truly can do anything if you work hard enough for it. What we may call ‘luck’ just may be part of our DNA, nudging us toward the life we are meant to live.

*Basically, this was a marked-up map showing the correct routes to take to get to a particular destination. Needless to say, this was way before GPS. I wonder if there are still “TripTikers” in existence.

**From Encyclopedia.com:

“Juan ‘Chi Chi’ Rodríguez was born on October 23, 1935, in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, an impoverished area near San Juan. The fifth of six children, Rodríguez contracted rickets and tropical sprue when he was four years old, both caused by vitamin deficiencies. The illness was nearly fatal and left his bones thin and very sensitive to pressure and pain.

Rodríguez, who often went without shoes, knew pangs of hunger and deprivation. He didn’t own a toothbrush until he was a teenager, and brushed his teeth with soap and his finger or a piece of charcoal. Despite prohibitive poverty, his father, who worked 16-hour days cutting sugar cane and never made more than $18 a week, instilled in Rodríguez a deep sense of commitment to helping others. Many times Rodríguez saw his father, although hungry himself, share with an unknown child or family who, he said, needed it more. Rodríguez never forgot.

Despite his slight size, just five-foot seven inches tall and 130 pounds, Rodríguez had incredible hand-eye coordination, even as a child. He could hit rocks and bottle caps pitched at him with a stick, and he became an expert at using a broomstick to hit bats that would fly into the house. According to the Latino Sports Legend website, he ‘learned how to play golf with clubs fashioned out of guava trees and tin cans hammered into balls.’ By the time Rodríguez stepped up to his first game of real golf, he could hit the tin-can ball more than one hundred yards.”




Journal to Clarity

Although this blog has become sort of a “go-to” journal, I still find that putting an actual pen to actual paper keeps me honest. Oh sure, I can always rip out pages I don’t like, but it’s like breaking a deal with myself. I do however admit to burning up all the journals I wrote when I was married to “wasband #1” because my entries were not truthful. They depicted a life I wanted to have but didn’t. Even after nearly 20 years, those journals just didn’t ring true and I realized they weren’t worth saving.

So—why journal? I do it because having the written words on paper gives me an authenticity I enjoy–and can’t deny. For example, this weekend I am attending a wonderful two-day seminar called “Letting It Go.” It was strongly suggested to all of us who are attending that we do two things prior to showing up for the seminar:

  • Recognize that feelings are going to be stirred up big time in mental preparation for this seminar. We may or may not find we are anxious, angry, upset, weepy, worried; all to be ready for the clearing to come.
  • Keep a journal of what is going on in our heads and hearts. (This will also be the journal I will take with me to the seminar.)

This time, I am keeping a journal filled with what is on my mind and heart and not treating the journal as if other people will read it. Keeping a journal is a way for me to stay honest and keep things real for me. At this stage of my life, I am pretty dang sure that I am none of the following:

  • a saint
  • another Mother Theresa
  • a flawless person
  • a constant giver and listener
  • a constant inspiration

Realizing all that, my journals are for me and my own progress; no one else. But I do know that I am trying to be the best me I can be. Keeping a journal helps; it keeps me honest and it reminds me that while I am not perfect, I am doing what I can to be better. And right now, “better” is not bad at all. Here is what else I know about keeping a journal: splurge a little. Get yourself a nice-looking journal (mine has kitties all over it), and a really, really good pen. Trust me, it makes a difference.

Oh, yes, and don’t judge yourself when you write. Just WRITE. I hope that you find your own thoughts on paper as clarifying as I find mine.

P.S. Don’t be afraid to doodle in the journal, too! I do it all the time.

Attitude Check

Is it only me, or have you noticed that people these days seem not only to be in a big hurry, but are easily aggravated as well? It seems as if everyone wants to go faster than the posted speed limit, and Heaven help you if you’re in their way. Now if someone has a woman in labor in the car and is rushing her to the hospital, that’s one thing. But speeding just to go faster than everyone else? It’s dumb and dangerous.

It also seems that too many people are constantly angry, especially in traffic. It used to be that, if someone was backing out of a parking space, anyone coming up on them would wait until they moved; it didn’t take all that long. Now you have to keep your head on a 360 degree swivel because people will speed right behind you, even though they can plainly see you are trying to back out.

It also used to be that, if you stopped in town traffic to allow someone to make a turn in front of you, we waved a “thanks!” and  a “you’re welcome!” at each other. Not so now. The person who is trying to make that turn seems to feel that their time is far more valuable than yours, and you’d better let them go. And then when you do let them go, there is no thanks; not even an acknowledgement. Also, the person behind you will probably lay on their horn to remind you that they too  are in a massive hurry and how dare you make them wait a few seconds?

Then there are the incredibly selfish people who think it’s just fine to text and drive while weaving all over the road. One of the latest dangerous fads is people who sing along with their radio and “dance (arm and hand gestures included, of course)” while driving. One of these jokers was stopped by the police and was quite annoyed when they told him that what he was doing was a ‘danger to himself and others,’ plus he was given a ticket….I can’t even wrap my head around the mindset that would think this is a good thing to do while driving.

So, how do the rest of us deal with this? Well, depending on where you live, it can be a crap-shoot; these folks seem to be everywhere. However, if we can face traffic with as calm an attitude as possible, pay attention and keep our wits about us, we can drive in traffic without risking death. I used to be a very impatient driver when I was young, and all it did was to keep me riled up and angry for most of the day. The older I get, the less I want to feel angry.

If someone behind me is creeping up my tailpipe, if it’s at all possible for me to move over and let them go ahead, I do. If someone stops abruptly in front of me and causes me to stand on the brakes, I take some deep breaths, and thank God neither of us got hurt. I don’t want to be upset all day; I don’t want to feel angry.

Since I can’t change anyone’s attitude but my own, I do my best to keep calm as much as possible. Instead of sending curses or worse–*flipping someone off to anyone who annoys me, I send good wishes and kindness their way. I am by no means a saint; I just don’t want to feel riled up all day. I want to be calm, and will keep on sending out calm vibes to others in order to stay calm myself.

Getting angry and worse; staying angry is like rocking in a rocking chair. Oh sure, you’re busy, but you’re going nowhere. Why waste precious time and energy by letting what other people do upset us? I’m not **perfect; I just don’t want to spend the rest of my life being in senseless pain and anger. We are all works in progress, and as with any work in progress, attitude is everything.

*I highly advise never to so this–these days you just don’t know who is on drugs, carrying a gun, in a bad mood, and so on. Don’t make a bad situation worse; it’s not worth it.

**Believe me, I’ve said more than my share of curses to others in traffic. It’s just that I began to get so tired of feeling that way, I gave it up as a waste of time and life.

Don’t Fear the Last Item on the Bucket List

What last item, you may ask? Well, it’s the very last thing we all do—we die. However, it doesn’t need to be a scary or fearful thing. As with many things, preparation is everything. I’ll explain.

My mother, knowing that eventually her metastatic breast cancer would end her life, set out to dot every “i” and cross every “t” for Dad and me. She and Dad went over all their paperwork, and made a “final folder” containing such valuable information as:

  • Wills
  • DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) paperwork
  • Burial or cremation (burial) and cemetary plot information
  • Insurance information
  • Biographical information for the obituary. If you like, add that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to <whatever charity you choose>. My mom wanted to have donations made to Hospice or the local animal shelter. Many people donated to both these worthy charities and in this way shared their love for Mom.
  • Caskets (Mom and Dad picked out their own and paid for them up front)
  • Instructions for burial and what the “*last outfit” will be
  • Instructions for funeral services and/or viewing
  • Any information for family members regarding items to be gifted to them

…and so forth. But best of all, we TALKED together about death and dying. Happily, all of us shared the belief that death is just a transition to another way of life, which is our original state–the spirit form. We also believe that we all have lived many lives on Earth, and have connected over time because we are destined to be together. My dad might have been my brother in one life, my grandmother in another life. My mother might have been my child in one life, or my uncle in another life.

All this plus a lot of talking back and forth made death a part of the family, so to speak. We aren’t church-goers–we are more spiritual than religious. However, Mom wanted a service at the new Congregational Church in town, with its fabulous female minister. The first time she met with us, we felt so comfortable with her.

She asked us about what we all wanted in the funeral service, and Mom asked her to sing one song (she has an amazing voice) about angels. When asked what hymns or songs Mom wanted, she chose them all, ending with Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek (‘Heaven, I’m in Heaven!’).” As Mom and Dad were ballroom dancers for over 40 years, this was the perfect choice. And at the funeral, there was a smile on every face.

I have been graced with the opportunity to be with my grandfather just after he died, and with my late mother-in-law, Hazel, when she died. Both times the passing was peaceful; one breath and then no more. The feeling of peace was everywhere. I wasn’t able to be with my mother when she died, but my dad was; this is the way I felt it was meant be. Mom slipped back into her glorious spirit form with no pain, no fear, no dread, and perfect knowledge that she was off to another great adventure.

Here’s the thing: we in this country fear death as the ultimate enemy. No one wants to talk about it, so often people don’t end up planning for it. It’s as if we think that, if we ignore death and all its trappings that it just won’t happen. But when it does, we are like drowning sailors in a stormy sea–we feel we have no lifeboat, no buoy, no helping hand to raise us up.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We could start talking about death much earlier; say your little 5-year old daughter’s beloved dog dies. How do we prepare her for this life-changing event, and talk with her in a way she can understand? We don’t have to candy-coat it, just give her the information she needs at the time. Answer questions truthfully. (Speaking of talking with children; it’s a good idea NOT to get them thinking that sleep = death, that is; ‘Bowser went to sleep and never woke up.’ )

Most of all, while we are alive and living our lives, always, always, ALWAYS speak your love to those around you. Even though you may have people in your life that dismiss ‘all that mushiness,’ say it anyway. It will be heard. While Mom was in Hospice care, a day never went by that she and Dad and I would tell each other, “I love you with all my heart.” Mom’s and Dad’s 60-year marriage was filled with millions and billions of hugs, kisses, declarations of love, kindness, comfort and joy. As the beneficiary of all that love, I too believe that you can’t speak or demonstrate your love enough.

Start talking or at least thinking about the dying process and death.When you make plans for this inevitability, you make life immensely easier for your family. You have the peace of mind knowing that you have done all you can to help your family prepare for and survive your own passing. Plus, you have opened the door to candid conversations about the process of dying. In this way, death becomes less a boogeyman than an an old friend whose loving hand guides you back home.

*Mom had hers all picked out early on. We hung it right in the middle of her closet so that she could see it from her bed; a gorgeous white ruffled linen jacket over a silver tank top, dressy black slacks and her favorite silver eucalyptus pin and earrings Dad gave her years ago. She would look at it and smile, saying, ‘aren’t I going to look snappy?’