The Race Is Not Always to the Swift…

Spending time with my parents has alerted me to a misconception I’ve been treasuring for most of my adult life. I’ve never written this down, never pasted it to my fridge, but somewhere along the way I picked up the notion that in later adulthood, I will reach a point where I will have good health, good friends, material security (however modest), and I’ll be able to look back on my life and say, “I behaved as honorably as I could, and I did OK. Now I get to enjoy life.

wine and chocolateThat vision defines success as the absence of intense fears, and I might visit that state one fine day, but not on the path I’ve hoped to travel.

Dad hit a health care speed bump the other night and my sister had to whisk him off to the emergency room. I stayed with Mom, and watched her say good-bye to the man she’s loved for nearly seventy years, with neither of them knowing if they’d see each other again. He was back in a couple hours, another prescription added to the list, but those were a long few hours for his wife.

kilt raceAt 89 and 92 years of age, heartbreak still stalks them. Simply getting out of bed takes huge quantities of courage. Humoring the physical therapist, taking the meds, playing the quality of life game, takes a kind of resilience and integrity they didn’t learn in college. Many of their friends are dead, money can’t fix what ails them, and with every passing day, each stands a real and higher probability of losing the person they love most dearly.

And yet, they laugh, they love, they try, try again. Dad adores a box of See’s candy into oblivion in a matter of days, Mom still makes one heck of a one-pot soup. My parents have become fearless, even to the point of regarding death as a friend whose acquaintance neither would begrudge the other. Their courage is being tested right up to the finish line, and they are meeting the challenge.

So I’m easing up on the vision of later life that lets me “enjoy life,” and hoping instead for hurdlerthe courage and heart I’ll need to cross my own finish line with integrity and honor. It can be done–my parents are living proof.

Who has modeled grace under fire to you? Were they young, old, in between? Healthy, ailing, or “merely” aging.

To one commenter, I’ll send a $20 Amazon gift card (lots of good titles coming up for beach season!).


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51 comments on “The Race Is Not Always to the Swift…

  1. I haven’t lost many people. Recently, I lost a good friend to a tragic accident, but I don’t think that is what you mean. As far as ‘grace under fire’, I believe that that is what I try to convey. A few days shy of my 24th birthday, a log truck pulled out in front of my car. I spent six months in the hospital. They told me I would never walk again and I almost lost my leg twice. Seven years later, I walk with extreme pain, but try not to let it show. I am arthritic and unstable and live in fear because I am still at risk for clots and need joint replacements and hardware removal, but I have too much to do for it to slow me down much as I am a wife, mother, cook, maid, and caregivers to both my best friend’s daughter and both of my autistic nephews. I applaud you and your parents and I hope that even with my and my husband’s (he is torn up too and has been with me through ALL of it) limitations and difficulties, that we have that kind of relationship and time together.

    • Mandy, of course you have that kind of relationship. I don’t think the solidity of my parents’ marriage is about their longevity, so much as their longevity stems from the solidity of their marriage. Yes, genes and luck play a part, but the biggest healer on the planet is loving and being loved.
      (Says the romance novel author….)

      • I agree. I just live with the hope that we have the time and that I have the fortitude to love in spite of my fear of loss. With his state of health, it isn’t much of a stretch to say that he may not be around as long as I’d like. I want memories …

  2. My Mother is the one who comes to mind regarding grace under fire. Sixteen years ago my mom refused heroic methods for my Dad as they rushed him away in the ambulance knowing she was looking at many years of widowhood (my Dad was 10 years older than she). At 80 she still lives in the home she came to as a bride over 60 years ago. The five “kids” are scattered to the winds as a result of careers. There are phone calls and periodic visits as our homes are far from hers. She is not moving to quickly, but she gets up every morning, eats properly and faces life with a smile. She has lived longer than any member of her family for many generations. I would like to live my life like her.

    • Martha, I hope my loved ones will make the same decision for me that your mom made for your dad, but how hard that must have been. My parents both have advanced directives, and the first thing I’m doing when I get back to my law office is executing one for myself.

  3. My mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor when I was 5yrs old, and she died when I was 15. She endured many surgeries, and hospital stays. She made sure never to complain in front of me and my sister. Her left side was paralized, and she didn’t go out very much. She suffered for 10 years with what I remember as dignity and grace.

    • And you suffered too. I’ve never heard of anybody surviving that long with such a serious diagnosis, so she must have wanted very much to live. My mom recently told me a story about somebody who came to visit my grandma in her final days, and the person wasn’t very understanding.

      Grandma, who had weeks to live, told my mom to feel sorry for the visitor, because grandma’s death would be harder on that person than anybody else.

      Grace. Under. Fire.

  4. Without a doubt it is my mother! My father wasn’t an easy man to get along with and had his problems but she stuck by him for 50 years. He was 9 yrs. older and passed 17 yrs. ago. She is 92 and still living in her house with only a small amount of help. She really is the one that holds the glue to our family. She has 4 grandchildren and on my sister’s side, 8 grandchildren. Everyone adores her. She is the one to keep in contact with cousins and aunts and uncles. I’m pretty sure when she passes a lot of that will disappear.

    • Jeanne, my mom is the communication node among the seven siblings in my family too, but I can see, as Mom and Dad fade, that we’re creating our own family email loop, adding in grandchildren and in-laws to keep them posted about Mom and Dad. In a away, the elders are still holding us together, just not the same way they used to.

  5. That would be my grandmother, she passed away in march. She was 97 years old. She was the best person I have ever known. I watched her become les and less of a person from about 90 years old. She loved to read (that is where I must have gotten my love of reading), but as her eye sight left her, reading was no longer possible. So she switched to TV, but when her hearing left here that also was no longer possible. At 90 she had to stop driving and had to depend on her family to take her places. Her legs started giving out on her, so she limited the places she felt comfortable going. One of those place was her church, which really broke her heart. But even with all of those things, she was still happy with her life. She loved being with her family members and sharing stories from her life. She lived on her own until she was 95 and then moved in with her son and daughter-in-law and still stay home most of the time by herself. As much as she loved all of us, her greatest wish was to go home to her God and all of her family that were waiting there for her. So even though I am sad that I won’t see her in this life again, I am very happy that she is where she wants to be. She was my hero and without her I could not have been the person I am today.

    • That to me is a rousing success story, and a love story. As Gran’s abilities diminished, her activity level dropped, but the solution to that was for her to go where she could be with loved ones, and yet be safe. And having her on hand, with a calm, even welcoming attitude toward the end of life, is an example everybody coming after her can benefit from.

  6. As usual Grace, you’re right on the money. My mom has seemed to grow more loving and tolerant in her 80’s. I’m still childish, impatient and aggravated with her need to bring her entire wardrobe with her everywhere she goes in separate tote bags. These bags are unorganized so underwear is with pills and toothpaste is with sweatpants. I blew up at her when she wanted to bring her winter boots with her visiting my house at Easter time. I told her “I guarantee it won’t be snowing!” and I marched out and put them in my car trunk. Guess what? It snowed. I related this story to the kids in my kindergarten class and told them “sometimes your mom is right!”. They love to hear when I do something wrong! In my 50’s now and t

  7. (sorry pressed the post button) taking 10 pills a day for my various deficiencies and conditions. I’m with you, Grace, in the hope that I can adjust with mental and physical failings that are making their presence known on a daily basis. When you can make peace with your limitations and accept your inadequacies, I do believe you become a more loving, giving person.

    • My mom likes to lock me out of the house, at high noon, in a quiet neighborhood. Sure as peaches, one of the neighbors will be burglarized here directly. I think God keeps a board of directors in heaven composed mostly of old women, and they chime in regularly on how the universe should be run.

  8. My mother is my example of grace under fire. Not the way she is today, but the way she was. Today she is living a very discouraging life in a skilled nursing facility with a broken hip and dementia. It has an unbelievably sad decline for several years. But last night I was with Son #1 as he remembered how she used to be. He said he had never known of anyone who did so many things for so many people just because she cared. How I wish she could understand the legacy she has left. All we can do today is continue to love her.

    • The love is all we get to keep, all we leave behind that matters. I’m learning this now like I hadn’t learned it before, though I’ll learn it more thoroughly as I age. I will.

  9. Funny you use the finish line showing a track star. I’ve been a runner for the past 30 years and one of my three children is a marathon runner which I kind of pat myself on the back thinking maybe, just maybe, he wanted to imitate my favorite past time. It only seems such a short time ago my kids were babies and even shorter than that when my siblings and I were the same. Life is a series of accomplishments, mistakes and lessons learned along the way all of which seems to pass by in nano seconds. This past January I lost my mom of 89 years. She lived a long and sturdy life except for the last decade when I watched her health fail slowly. During that time I found myself being a member of the ever growing “sandwich generation” caring for your kids and your parent(s). It was completely overwhelming at times finding myself torn into so many challenging directions but it taught me to develope a new wave of patience which was not at all easy to accomplish. It’s all so transcient this process of life and as much as we want to hang onto today and stop the clock from ticking it will continue to beleaguer our attempts. So the importance of living every moment as if it were your last is a motivation we all need to strive for.

    • Karen, I keep telling myself: “These people waited THREE YEARS for you to learn to use the potty. They got up and down with you all night for months. They kept you fed, clothed, housed, and hugged for the first eighteen YEARS of your life. So what if they eat ice cream after every meal? So what if they take a nap just as dinner’s ready?”

      I’ll never repay the love they’ve shown me. I can pay a little of it back, but most of it, I’ll have to pass on.

      • I believe that’s EXACTLY what it’s all about Grace! Giving it back! However, whether you believe it or not you are giving much back with every endearing novel you bestow on your very grateful readers! You give us hours of treasured stories to inspire and entertain us! A very incredible gift indeed!

  10. My mother died in 2005 after suffering from dementia and other heath issues for five years. She raised seven children to adulthood. My mother did laundry,prepared meals and cleaned for nine people for almost fifty years.
    God Bless mothers!

  11. Both of my parents are deceased. My mother died in 2005 and my father in 2011. I still reach for the phone to call them when I return home from out of town just to let them know that we are okay.

  12. That picture reminded me of my 11 year old granddaughter. This past Wednesday she ran in the 800 meter race at the school district’s elementary field day. She came in dead last but at least she tried, which is more than many people much older ever do. I love all my grandchildren and she is special because she’s the oldest; the next one is 9 and watching her is like watching her mother grow up all over again; the third is 7 and she’s special because I took care of her while her mother attended college for several semester, at first it was her and her next older sister, then it was her by herself. A few years later, after my daughter divorced and remarried I’ve now got a 2 year old granddaughter who’s absolutely adorable and very verbal for someone her age; and a 5 month old grandson who’s the happiest baby I’ve seen in years. I think my daughter has also shown grace under fire when she had to deal with her now ex husband.

    • Some of the biggest heroes I’ve met, Molly, have been in the families whose children ended up in foster care. Grandma and Grandpa charge forth from the sidelines, a young parent whose life was a shambles finally, finally, gets their life together, kids who’ve been making bad choices straighten up and fly right.
      Your family is so, so lucky to have you. If your daughter got out of a bad situation, it was because she knew her mom had her back.

  13. I would say my maternal grandmother was a great model for grace under fire. I think I posted about her earlier this year when we were discussing grandparents. She was such kind, generous and loving person who had to live through too many hard times and tragedies in her life. She had a mother who openly loved her sister way more than she did my grandmother and her brother. That sister died in car accident at the age of 20. My grandmother married a minister and was then criticized for the first few years for being too beautiful to be a minister’s wife. She raised 4 children, the last one nearly cost her her life. They had a foster/adopted child taken back by her mother after living two years with my grandmother and grandfather. My Grandfather passed away from prostate cancer when my grandmother was 44, after moving to AZ and leaving all their family, for the better climate for health. She had to move out of the parsonage and rely on church members to take care of her, she never had her driver’s licence. She remarried a man who turned out to be not what he seemed, but remained married to him until her death in 1992. Her oldest son was killed in a drunk driving accident the year before I was born. Through it all she was such a picture of grace. She was always kind and loving.
    My mom has also been through a lot and keeps her head held high through it all. She would be next choice. I hope I have inherited the strength and dignity that both of these ladies had and have.

      • Oh yes, there are many things from their courtship and early marriage that would make great book material. The story about her being too beautiful to be a minister’s wife is such a good one though. Some of the ladies just thought it so scandalous. I am sure jealousy played a big part in that. For the record she was beautiful both inside and out. I am very fortunate to be the owner of one of their wedding portraits and another of just my grandmother before she was married. They are the old black and white ones that were touched up with just a little color.

  14. Definitely my mother, who had health issues as she got older, but never let them keep her down. I lost her way too young (at 82), if it wasn’t for her heart, I think she’d have been around a lot longer. My mother went through lots of shenanigans from my father, was divorced from him for twenty years (after being married 20 years), and married him again for approximately 20 years more. I think she was either a saint or glutton for punishment, I’m not sure which, but certainly there was grace under fire.

    • Barbara, what an interesting tale. I’ve come across people who divorced and remarried each other, but not with a twenty year gap. (Also worked with one couple who then re-divorced, but got back together a third time without marrying).

  15. I am so glad I discovered your blog from your books at Discover A New Love. I truly have discovered a new love :-). Your posts resonate with me. I get what you’re talking about, probably because I am or have lived it.

    The example that comes to mind is my deceased Father-in-Law. He lived to be 95, 20 years after he had a massive heart attack while hiking in the mountains. They decided he was too old for a quintuple by-pass and he went on medication therapy. He lost his wife of 50 years to advanced Alzheimer’s that was heartbreaking. He faithfully cared for her, feeding her lunch every day. He kept active and went out of his way to got to the symphony, snow ski riding the hookey bus to Mt. Bachelor several times a month and taking an active role with his grandchildren. When it came his time to pass he showed us all how to do it with grace, dignity and humor. I loved that man and still miss him. I had the privileged to be his (and my husband’s legal secretary for 7 years.

    My son just participated in a Mr. North pageant where the raise funds most of their Senior year for Children’s Miracle Network. Most of the money goes to our hospital’s Neo-Natal ICU. He spent his first 10 days after his birth there. Then they have a “pageant” competition. Part of the pageant was giving tribute to their mothers. My son made me cry and I was so proud of him because in his opinion I am an example of grace under fire and the strongest woman he’s ever known. I had no idea…

    • And he probably fired these sentiments off right about Mother’s Day, too. I recently told my Dad that, because I have no husband, no sons, no sons-in-law, and no brothers living close by, he’s still the most important man in my life.

      I thought that would be obvious… um, guess not. Glad I spoke up.

      • Your right it was good you spoke up. We go through life just expecting people to know how we feel about them. NOT SO! The words are important to hear, the emotion of gratefulness spoken out loud. I’m glad I got to say those things to my parents before they passed. That I got to put hands and feet to those emotions by being given the opportunity to give back to them those last 4 years. The debt of love can never be repaid but it can be carried on and taught by example to the following generations. My children get it and are beginning to show it in their young lives.

  16. When I lost my dad, he was very young. He was such a hard worker & a devoted family man. He worksd 7days a week, barely slept & struggled my entire life to give my Mom, Brother & I everything he never had as a child. When he got sick, he knew he was dying & it changed his view on life. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was good or bad, because he disturbed some people with his brutal honesty & life advice. He would tell us things like, live in the now, so go ahead eat that greasy pizza & put that vacation on a credit card & travel, screw work, call out sick & go fishing. Lots of things that society would tell us are wrong, unhealthy & bad for our future. But at the end, Dad said that his impending death changed is views on life, he wished he hadn’t, “follwed the rules & had actually LIVED!”. He told us not to be like him & have regrets at the end. My dad died when I was 27, and he never had a vacation or went out drinking all night or took a sick day when he wasn’t sick. I know it bothered him at the end. He told me lots of things over those last 6 months & I love & respect him for his honestly & openness. I try to live a fuller life now. I try to not get caught up in what society tells me is “what’s best for me”. I know I won’t be here forever & know I need to LIVE NOW for my father who never really had fun while he was an adult. I’m thankful he told me the truth. I’m glad I was able to share these thoughts. Thank you Grace 🙂 I have all kinds of fun things planned for today! Cleaning the house & all other such responsibilities can wait for tomorrow… 😉 Thanks Dad ♥

    • I’ve gotten the same sorts of advice from some of my elders; Travel while you’re young–it’s just a pain in the backside when you’re older. Eat dessert first! If you hate to go to work, quit, because you won’t find the dream job if the current job is sucking you dry.

      My dad is still mouthing the same platitudes, though. Don’t quit a job until you have a job (though he did quit a job without having the next position nailed down). Live within your means (he borrowed to build a house, and to add on to it, then got another thirty year mortgage when he was in his seventies). So maybe there’s a bit of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do going on, or some selective recall.

      I’m a believer in do what gives your life meaning and makes you happy. That will be different for each of us.

  17. Grace under fire is a beautiful phrase to describe many of the women who lived through our depression and WWII. Both my mother and mother-in-law held their families as well as themselves gracefully together. They kept their commitments and promises gracefully. Thank you for a beautifully written essay.

    • My folks both have good memories of the Depression–of having extended family come stay, of relying on Yankee ingenuity, hard work, and good humor to weather the hard times. That they, as adolescents, both have that view of one of the worst economic times in the country’s history, suggests their elders were looking after them, and doing an excellent job of it.

  18. Amen, sister. Dad passed at 86 a few months before his 60th wedding anniversary. He bravely refused a stomach feeding tube and signed a living will. We were able to get him home where he could die with his wife. Mom faced down a double radical mastectomy at 75, giving her another eight years of life. She made the best of the nursing home I had to put her in, making friends with all the staff and other residents. Right up to the end, both were up for road trips, snacks and treats. Truly lives worth celebrating. Thanks for the post–you’re right. Enjoy your life now.

    • Not only enjoy life, but take steps NOW to protect your health as best you can. I have every confidence that a bad day outside the nursing home has more to recommend it than a good day within the nursing home walls.

  19. Hello Grace! The person who was “grace under fire” personified was my mother. Sounds like from the comments that the generation that went before us was pretty courageous! Anyway, my mother suffered from severe scoliosis and the last 10 years of her life were filled with bone breaks and infections. My siblings and I were none of us with much money, and my mother was about penniless…and so my mother, fed up with all the costs, pain and “trouble” to us (that’s what she called her travails), made up her mind after a bad break and another infection at age 84 to “let go” of her life and “let God take over.” She lay in bed and would not eat or drink a single thing and would not take medications…and it took her three weeks to die. She let out not a peep during the entire “letting go.” She smiled and held hands with us and after a week was merely silent and smiling. At the end of the three weeks she did two last things: she smiled as tears leaked out of her eyes and whispered “Love you.” My God, she was magnificent! jdh26[email protected]

  20. Twenty years ago, my husband almost died from environmental poisoning. He has numerous ongoing issues including severe stiffness and chronic pain. He’s not aging well and life is getting increasingly difficult. He’s 55 now.

    He stays as active as possible, loves his work, keeps learning, has hobbies he enjoys, and is involved in a major project in Guatemala that he travels to for several weeks a year. He is genuinely thankful for each day and especially for each birthday as he didn’t think he’d see forty never mind fifty. I hope that I would handle an ongoing illness, especially a painful one, with such grace.

    • Your post puts me in mind of one of the Screwtape Letters. CS Lewis penned a series of letters from Uncle Wormwood (an experience devil) to his up and coming nephew Screwtape, about how to turn humans to wickedness and sin. Theology aside, there’s a caution in one of the letters about tactics backfiring. Wormwood cautions that sometimes, when suffering upon suffering has been heaped on a person, instead of becoming bitter, mean, and self-indulgent, their suffering makes them braver than ever, kinder than ever, more tolerant than ever.
      We face decisions. Sounds as if your husband has made the heroic choices, and maybe that, more than medicine or genes, has kept him going.

  21. My mother is in her late 80s. I have watched her lead a life of grace, selflessness and unconditional love. She is the person I have most admired in my life and I thank God every day for the gift of my mother. When I “grow up” I want to be just like her!

    Grace, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your parents.

  22. My parents dies seven months apart many years ago, before I was married or had kids. My dad went first from cancer (at home) and I helped my mom to his bedside at the end as I called the hospice workers and siblings. My mom, though terminal herself, was a rock. Because the passing was expected we all were able to say our goodbyes in our own way and time.

    My mother lasted another seven months and she did it with grace and humor. She was mostly bedridden but did have some better days. Actually, she attended a Tupperware party the night before she died with the live-in health care worker who cared for her. That thought always makes me smile because it was so…her. I miss her still, but my only regret is that she never got to meet my hubby or my two sons.

    • What a tough, tough time for you. I wish my daughter knew my parents better, because Mom and Dad are terrific people, but also because the generations before make more sense to us if we can get a sense of their context. Beloved Offspring assumes she’ll ALWAYS have the right to vote. My Dad’s mom and sisters could not make that assumption, and Beloved Offspring will be a better citizen if she comprehends that.

      Then too, my parents explain a lot about me.

  23. My mother is 89 years old and has osteoporosis. If not for her stubborn nature and determination to stay in her own home, she surely would be unable to walk by now. Still, her bones deteriorate more, and it’s so hard to watch her fight on.

    Grace, I love your books. And I love that the kindle editions are highly discounted from time to time. I recently bought a Kindle reader, so even though I most of your books in paper form, I’m slowly acquiring all of them as ebooks.

    • Diane, I’m drinking my milk! My dear old Dad falls fairly regularly, but he must have some tough, tough bones because he gets right up and toddles on.

      It is hard to watch my parents fight on, hard to watch them wish the fight were over, hard, hard, hard. What’s not hard is loving them. When health, memory, intellect and ambition are gone, the love and the courage remain.

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