Wednesday, June 24, 2015

October works best as a shared effort

Do you believe in signs? I do---sort of. Perhaps “believe” is too strong a word, but I do pay attention to the twists and turns of October life that seem to make or reinforce a particular point. Who knows, it might be a sign.
With the upcoming publication of Breathing Underwater there will be eleven Tanner Chronicles books on my shelf. Each of them is a relational story---hopeful seniors in search of a lasting relationship. Yet in the midst of their seeking each of them is dealing with one or more of the distressing realities that dot our October landscape. 
From time to time all of us come face to face with some kind of late-life obstacle. But no matter what the challenge, one important truth remains unchanged---dealing with October and beyond usually (though not always) works best when it is a shared effort.
I hope you will stay with me through this, all the way to the end. What I’m hoping for is a celebration of a late-life truth for which we ought to be thankful. But to reach that comforting space we must first address some very uncelebratory realities. 
You see, it was a real bummer, that day last week when Roma and I had to go our separate ways so each of us could attend one of the two funerals scheduled just a couple hours apart. Of course, we knew those sad mornings are a part of October and November---but that doesn’t make them any easier. We live in a vulnerable time of life, a time when we depend on each other more than ever.
The fact is, the October challenges we face rarely impact just us. It is a simple bit of logic---the truest of the truth usually is. The trials we deal with are bound to touch our partner, our family, our close friends---everyone who cares about us. Having steered a dozen or so fictional acquaintances through the quicksand of senior troubles, I can attest---and you can too---that those hard times impact all the players. 
More than that, our often-twisting October path is a two-way street. As much as we need the caring and support of those around us, there will be times when it is our turn to offer the help they need. There are even times when the apparent “victim” is called on to support his or her own support team. At every turn late-life works best as a shared experience. 
Needless to say, the last miles of our journey toward the great unknown we cannot avoid are apt to be a daunting time. Does that sound too dark, too depressing to think about? I hope not. Over the years I have painted some of my Tanner Chronicle friends into one or more of those distressing corners.
However, in my way of thinking the most depressing circumstance of all would be to face those times alone. Those last miles are a time for special caring and support. For those of us who have experienced the need for a special someone to see us through October and beyond the opportunity to grow old together makes all the difference. 
The willingness of my Tanner friends to seek a new connection that will hopefully help overcome their loneliness is at the heart of my stories. Making that time of life a shared experience is an important motivator for the October characters I have imagined into being. Somehow, a 300 page tale that ends with the two of them going their separate ways is not all that satisfying---though it has happened a time or two. 
Finally, however---we mustn’t forget that not everyone is a candidate for that “together” future. For any number of reasons many of our October peers choose not to rely on another life-mate, but instead focus on a different sort of shared future---one that includes themselves, their family and friends, and the memory of the partner who had seen them through their shared trials. If that works for them, who can argue with the choice they’ve made?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Darn it folks, be careful out there

I have a theory. I’d be interested in knowing if it makes sense to you. You see, I believe that most of us who have reached our October Years can accept and appreciate the subtle, often hard-won maturity we've gained in the course of our lifetime. That is a reality I try to reflect in my Tanner Chronicles stories. Moreover, I like to think those life-lessons, the challenges I have faced---some won, some lost---are a part of the person I've become. But if that is so, why hasn’t the maturity I claim for myself served me better?
The truth of course is highlighted by the sobering fact that mature or not, at age 78 I can no longer do some things that I once did. Most everything else I don’t do as well as before. Perhaps it’s a guy thing---how hard it is to accept the sad fact that self-esteem can no longer be won by doing what I do better than you or someone else does it. Of necessity, ego satisfaction has ceased to be a competitive endeavor. In my more lucid moments I remind myself that I must accept my limitations and concentrate on those activities I’m still able to do. (A list of candidates that seems to shrink by the day.)
    Look, you and I have been around the block a time or two, and hopefully we’ve learned a few things along the way. Though our culture may not value “elder wisdom” the way some societies do, I know that I’ve gained a lot of know-how over the years. I’ll bet you have too. So, why don’t I pay more attention to what I’ve learned?
Example #1 -- I told this little story a couple years ago, certain that I had learned my lesson and would never have a reason to repeat it. The fact that I’m retelling it here gives you some idea of how well I listened to my own advice the first time.
My son’s request was simple enough. He needed an extra pair of hands to take down a storm window. He’d seen me do that a time or two. So when he ran into a two-man job he asked for my help. And why not? He had reason to believe that I knew what to do and how to do it safely. 
True, the window was large---six feet by six feet, and heavy too---a bigger job than I normally tackle these days. But it was my son asking. He needed some help. Was I supposed to tell him  his old man couldn’t handle that?
Long story short---when I tripped over the limb I should have seen lying there I let go of the frame and reached out to cushion my fall. I’m not sure how he did it, but Terry managed to brace himself and hold that heavy sheet of glass, wrapped only in a flimsy metal frame, upright. While I grumbled about a bruised hip and scraped knee he gave me precious seconds to get back on my feet and get hold of my end of the frame. Had he not been able to do that, I would have been wearing a sheet of broken glass around my neck.
Fast-forward a mere two months, to August 2013. It was a bright sunny morning. I was up on a ladder, painting the house. Suddenly, before I realized what was happening, I had fallen four or five feet and kissed the very-hard ground with my shoulder. I’ve recounted the resulting  damages  elsewhere -- broken ribs, broken clavicle, punctured lung, etc. Suffice to say, my recovery was long and painful. However, in the process I learned that pain is an effective teacher---but only if the student is ready to learn.
Fact is, some of us are slow learners. Why else would I have been stretched out on a hospital bed nine months later, wondering how to carry on with one good arm and one good leg? The doctor had just rendered his diagnosis---a fractured pelvis and broken arm. I would be on the mend for a few months. In the process of once again acting like a forty-five year old, life had sent me another learning experience.
In the face of such graphic and painful evidence, I am reminded again that our October Years need not be about giving up or admitting defeat---but they are a time for being realistic, for having the good sense not to attempt what may have been doable in times past, but not today.
It is a simple admission I’m talking about, a favor we owe ourself---straight-forward advice that shouldn’t be hard to follow. Except that is, when our ego feels the need to make a point, or a special someone asks for help, or you would rather a grandchild not hear the distressing news that Grandpa “doesn’t do that any more.” Though I rarely confess that “I can’t,” I am getting better at explaining that “I don’t.”
I guess that means I’m still learning---even at my age. And giving thanks every day for the caring prayers that surround me and the enabling help that Roma and Terry provide. What about you? Have you ever been in that "learning" space, that place where it pays to be extra careful? Are you still there? If so, I’d like to hear how you dealt with it. In the meantime, please be careful out there in October-land.

Friday, June 5, 2015

October connecting -- It's a new world

Hey there, October friends. Welcome to the twenty-first century. You’ve heard the news, haven’t you? We live in a new and “connected” age. Obviously you’re connected enough to be online. That’s how you’re reading this. But beyond that, how connected are you? Have you become one of those social media types?
Though not all October folks will admit it, I decided a while back that it was time for me to come out of the closet. It was time to reconnect with my family and friends---via Facebook. It was our daughter-in-law’s idea. She assured us that “it’s the best way to keep track of your kids and grandkids.” How could we argue with that?
Of course, at our age we should have realized there are times to be careful what we wish for. True, we are “keeping track” of our extended family and other friends more than ever. That’s a fact. And it’s fun to read about them and what they’re up to, especially the grandkids---with their awards, achievements, and fun. 
Yet on the other hand, how much do we need to know about their tantrums, tattoos, and wild parties? So far we’ve been able to bite our tongue in the face of our “When I was a kid” objections. A good thing too. There are too many things about my own adolescent times I simply don’t remember any more. That too is probably a good thing.
But we've also found that the benefits of connectivity go far beyond our amazing grandchildren. We've heard about, and visited with, friends and acquaintances we might never have connected with any other way. That seems to me a blessing.
Of course, things change quickly in today’s cyber-world. The experts tell us the younger generation is rapidly deserting Facebook. Why is that? Well, it seems there are too many parents and grandparents listening in on their conversations, and they don’t appreciate that. As a result they are moving on to more confidential online meeting sites---places that you and I don’t know about.
  Does that mean we, the October generation, are winning the Facebook war simply by showing up" Probably not. But after hearing that October folks, the ones I want to visit with, are becoming a larger part of the Facebook audience, I wondered if I ought to expand my Facebook involvement. 
I let that possibility percolate for a few days, making notes on how I might do that. Before long I was dealing with an interesting new possibility. Specifically---what if I extended the reach of my October Years blog to include Facebook---with its enhanced opportunities for an actual dialogue with October folks about topics that matter to them.
At first I thought in terms of Facebook posts that featured entries from my October Years blog, like the one you're reading right now. But with so many other seniors adding their voices to the internet these days in the form of blogs, articles, photos, and videos, there is more worthwhile content out there than any of us will ever see. Why not spice up my October Years Facebook page with October-oriented material from those other sources, interspersed with my own blog material? 
For instance, why not a blog post about “Cyber-seniors”---one that features this video about Cyber-seniors? When I received this clip in a recent email it seemed to fit perfectly in a discussion of being connected. It’s a fun look at ways to help unconnected seniors expand their reach and stay in touch. I hope you’ll check it out.
I’ll be the first to admit that I had other reasons to consider an expanded Facebook presence. I now have eleven books on Amazon---recounting my personal interpretations of October life and relationships. If a Facebook connection helps make more folks aware of those stories, I can deal with that.
One last disclaimer. Not everyone is a Facebook person. Some of you have made the conscious choice not to be a part of that space. That’s fair. But even so, I hope you'll take a moment to check out the video noted above. It does not require a Facebook account. Simply click on the highlighted “Cyber-seniors” link. If it’s not for you, perhaps what you see could be of interest to someone you know. Perhaps you have a special October friend who might enjoy it. If so, I hope you will pass it on. Finally, if you'd like to follow this October Years blog I hope you'll add it to the list of sites you visit periodically. As always, I welcome your comments.