We Interrupt this Summer Hiatus to Bring You…

RWAX2016In the time since last I posted in this space, I’ve done a fair amount of traveling, both for business, and for family. Travel, predictably, makes me appreciate home and also gives me time to think. I thought I’d share some reflections by way of a mid-summer check in.

marriott-marinaFirst, I’m so grateful for the gathering in San Diego of the Romance Writers of America. This is one place where to be a woman succeeding in the writing game is normal, and the guys are the others, the exceptions, the odd people out (at least for now). I’m all for equality, but until the happy day when we achieve that milestone, the sheer relief of being in a place owned, operated, and celebrated by the ladies was an eye opener. So this is what normal feels like? It’s pretty sweet.

Mom and I, Ireland, 1981

Mom and I, Ireland, 1981

Second, I’m so grateful for family. We gathered this summer to celebrate my mom’s life, and each other, and thus fifty-six people related either to me or connected to somebody I love all got together to laugh, eat, drink, be merry, and mourn. To say good-bye to Mom in Burrowes-style was lovely, and a little less sad for being a shared endeavor.

Third, I’m sad for my father. As a scientist and university professor, my dad often sang the praises of “the life of the mind,” meaning the exercise of intellect. He was never bored, never at a loss for something to study, and his research resulted in substantial contributions to his field.

dylanthomas_do-not-go-gentle-into-that-good-night_BBut Dad was wrong. Now that he’s failing, now that he’s medicated for “anxiety,” which I suspect is a euphemism for distracting his in-home care providers from their cell phones, now that he’s feeble, needy, and vulnerable, all that intellectual accomplishment means nothing compared to the constant vigilance of my sisters, who are keeping Dad safe and protecting his quality of life.

Fourth, both of my parents lived into their nineties, so I’m warned: I could have a long twilight to deal with. Seems to me what makes that phase bearable is not good insurance (my dad has great insurance, which pays for almost nothing, because he’s not sick). It’s not a lot of letters after my name or plaques on the wall–Dad had a PhD by age 28, and ye gods, the plaques on his walls…

It’s not wealth. Dad can pay out of pocket (for a while) for people to sit with him (as they stare at their cell phones and resent his restlessness).

virtuoso_audioWhat makes that long, hard end of the road bearable is love, which we can all afford, and all have to give. If my dad had known what his life after age ninety would look like, I wonder what he might have done differently.

What are your thoughts about old age, dying well, or living well? To one commenter, I’ll send ALL THREE Windham audio books, in honor of the upcoming release of The Virtuoso.

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30 comments on “We Interrupt this Summer Hiatus to Bring You…

  1. I lost my father this past year. It was very sudden and unexpected but a true mercy for my mother who had insisted on being his primary care giver for the last several years of his dementia. He too had career achievements and education, but in the end was happiest spending time with his grandchildren and looking for deer and wildlife. He also had good insurance but fit into the gap area of not having enough money for long term private care but too much for assistance. My siblings and I and our children and grandchildren spent the last 6 weeks of his life loving him and reminiscing with him…..mostly correcting his erroneous stories where he was always right and everyone else wrong. We laughed and cried, but in the end we celebrated a life well lived and grew closer than we had been in years. I too have longevity in my DNA. When we are young living to 100 seems like a great goal. As we age I have to say I would be really happy not to see that day. The expression that growing old is not for the weak or faint of heart is definitely true!

    • Condolences on your loss, Holly, and hats off to your family for making your dad’s passing as positive as could be. We’re a little ambushed too, because my mom died in February. She was “fine” to the extent you can be fine at 92, on New Year’s Eve. Got a fever, wandered, fell… and that was that. Nobody, Dad included, expected her to be the first to go.

      So Dad is up against great old age, and unexpected grief, also what passes for our elder care system. Thank goodness for my sisters!

    • Holly, your dad was blessed in his family, and it sounds like you all were blessed with him. I am so sorry for your loss.

      Pam

  2. I am so sorry for what your Dad is going through. Are there grand kids or great grand-kids who could visit regularly? That always cheered up my mother and my grandparents.

    Alzheimer’s is what most people in my family have when they get older. I’m at peace with that idea. I read a lot, am trying to lose weight so that I can exercise more, and try to keep my mind active with crossword puzzles, etc.

    I have instructed my family not to have me treated for ailments such as pneumonia, for example, if I am in the farther reaches of the disease. There comes a point where it is more about the family’s grief than about what is best for the ailing person, with the decisions that are made. I’ve seen a lot of that.

    I also don’t want any family member to try to care for me at one of their homes. I’d rather be somewhere close in a decent facility where they visit me several times a week. I think the patients are treated better when family comes around.

    • Pam, your approach sounds so sensible! Neither Mom nor Dad has dealt with much dementia, and we’re finding that the meds prescribed for “anxiety” or “insomnia” do a lot to create confusion. Finding the right recipe is in part an art.

      I’m hopeful that by the time it’s my turn in the rocking chair, we have a better handle on elder care. The Baby Boom, as usual, has to blaze the trail.

  3. Yesterday (July 29) was the second anniversary of my Mom’s death. I felt sad but not like I did last year, which was blubbery and a general mess.

    This year, Dad and I went out the day before for lunch with a new business contact for HIM, which I had arranged. After the others had left and I was getting ready to go, Dad mentioned the anniversary. I told him I had been afraid, when the date was made, he wouldn’t be able to do it, that he would be too upset. He assured me it was fine, that Mom would have WANTED him to go on and live his life.

    Dad, at 88, is starting something new. Actually, doing something he had done decades ago, and being asked to do it. Dad’s Mom was 99 when she died and his Dad was 87…..and my Mom was 86. All were mostly with it (Grandma was NOT, but she was 99 and living in the past for over a year before she left us)and had good insurance and were surrounded by those who loved them until almost the end.

    I think it’s quite possible to die they way you want to if you make sure you the people you love know what you want. Mom certainly did and we made sure she got what she wanted!

    • The good news: YOU are likely to be with us for a long time, and your elders will have blazed the trail into great old age. I think part of what flummoxes my Dad is that he never envisioned living this long. Eighty was about the limit of life as he was growing up, and now… this. Worse, this without Mom, who was three years his junior.

      All seven children are watching and learning. I agree with you–having a tribe and making sure they know your wishes is critical. I’ve yet to meet the person who says, “I want to hang around no matter what, irrespective of quality of life.” Still, telling people what you want gives them permission to see that you get it.

  4. My Dad’s wish was to die at home. He knew his time was limited after his stroke and subsequent falls. My Mom, brother and I cared for him. Time was important– I enjoyed watching movies with my Dad…WWII and John Wayne….and the Red Sox. The corgis brought him comfort and dear Irish would sit with Dad during an entire Sox game. I had time to make peace with my Dad, listen to his advice and enjoy him. My Dad was able to pass peacefully in his home with the three of us nearby. He got his wish.

    My Mom is living with my brother. She is in the midst of a very active family. Lots of activities and family events, I think she likes having things to do.

    I think I would like to live near family and keep busy as I grow older. As a cancer survivor, I cherish each day.

    • You remind me of an interesting statistic I came across in–of all places, the AARP magazine. I don’t subscribe, because the normal issue is split between, “Give us your money to go on a cruise, because these are the best years of your life!” and “Give us your money to provide insurance for you, because it’s nothing but bad news ahead!”

      In any case, the issue under discussion was depression in old age, which is a huge problem. One group seems immune though–cancer survivors. And if you’re immune to depression, you’re more likely to plug into all of the factors that make for healthy old age–strong community ties, strong relationships, physical activity. Big list of goodies, and one way to get there, for many, is by surviving cancer. Who’d a thought?

  5. Old age means living with discomfort and when It is bad finding a way to distract yourself. Romance is my answer. It always has a happy ending by definition. Living in other’s lives through books makes pain and other things go away. I’m always curious about what others think (attitudes) and why they think that way. Romance brings back memories of young love and memories. I never tire of reading.

    • Margaret, I might have said the same thing about single parenting. I was physically healthy when my daughter arrived, but then the anxiety, exhaustion, and money worries started. I never felt “enough” for the challenges I faced, and lo, the romance novels got me through.

      They still do!

  6. As a single woman in my late 50s who has no children, I am fearful of what the future may hold. I watched my dad dwindle over a period of almost a decade until he passed a couple of years ago. He had essentially a fulltime geriatric caseworker in one of my sisters, who is a nurse. She managed all of his doctor’s appointments, tests and meds, often intervening to prevent duplicate testing and making decisions regarding the ‘prescription balancing act’ (after contacting the relevant doc to explain and get confirmation on her decisions). My mother is still alive, pretty intact mentally but homebound because of obesity and arthritis. My sisters and brother live nearby and someone visits daily, so groceries are bought, mail is brought in, a cleaning woman does the heavy cleaning. So, I have invested in long-term care insurance, been frank about my wishes regarding quality of life, and am hoping that I either pass quietly in the night before I lose my independence or that my siblings’ kids, mostly adults now, will see that my wishes are observed. We have succeeded in extending life through fantastic medical advances, but I’m not so sure that the implications of that for the huge bolus of us baby boomers who are moving into old age has been considered. Yikes. I think we’re going to have to start being creative in thinking about how to resolve some of these issues. E.g., I seem to recall reading several years ago about a semi-independent commune-type community, where every person had their own space but shared other space and tasks, such as cooking and dining.

    • There are all kinds of alternative communities springing up, from putting kindergarten into old folks homes, to popping a tiny house for grannie in the back yard, to integrated independent developments (share gardens, cars, tools, etc with your neighbors).

      We’ve long put an emphasis in this country on the nuclear family, which I always thought was pretty unreasonable (though convenient if a moveable workforce was a priority). Two parents have never been enough to adequately raise a bunch of kids. It has always taken a village, with neighbors, aunties, in-laws, and community. I think we need to step up to it takes a village to be elderly, middle-aged (loneliness is supposedly worst in middle age), young, and every place in between.

      Might have to write a book about this. Hmmm.

  7. As usual you manage to make me think, “Aww, how cool her parents sound…” Not that my memories of my Great-Grandma, lived to 88, but she had her full mental faculties through the grace of of God, it was pneumonia that last winter she couldn’t kick living in St. Cloud, MN. She lived in her home but gave up driving long before I finished undergraduate but I cannot remember the year. She had enough grandkids/great-grandkids willing to drive her around so she needed only us, not me sadly as I was in the military but when she saw me I always received the biggest hug for serving & showing girls could earn scholarships using their brains… I learned as a “early 20 something” I needed a plan for her age to be independent based on my abilities, she sat me down & lectured me the last time I saw her. I now have all my legal papers in order, thanks to my great-grandmother but I cannot finish the NYT Crossword Puzzle in ink, sorry Grandma, I try… LOL

    Ms. Burrowes, I watched my dad go through this with his dad, yet I still have no better words to offer you other than I hope you remember each precious memory is better than the ones he loses either temporarily or forever… His love lives on in you.

    A

    • And his love means a lot, so thank you. Dad was not demonstrative. He’s prone to rigid beliefs, isn’t very long on empathy, and likes having a lot of attention. And yet, he showed up for work every day for decades without complaining, he saw to it seven children were well educated, he paid the bills for nine people, because that’s just what you did, and he loved my mom something fierce.

      Plenty to admire in there, and plenty to miss when he’s gone.

  8. The short version of my thoughts on dying is that I hope I go quickly and (I know I’m being selfish) before my children and husband.

    The women on my mother’s side of the family up until my grandmother and mother tended to live well into their 90s with a few making it past 100. Not all of them retained their complete mental faculties, but for the most part they were happy by all accounts. Both my grandmother and my mother had chronic health issues that they aggravated by making poor lifestyle choices such as smoking, over eating, not exercising, and refusing general stubbornness. I try to avoid those pitfalls – with the exception of the last one.

    My father is still in relatively good health though he is pushing 80. He and his wife have all their final arrangements set up and paid for – so the kids don’t have to deal with any of it. Just a few month ago, my husband and I took advantage of the latest thing available with life insurance – extended care coverage. We don’t want to be a financial burden to each other or the kids – we are nearing 50 and want to plan ahead where possible. I have repeatedly told my family that I do not want any heroic measures – especially if I am suffering from a terminal illness. When the kids were younger, they didn’t understand. However, after my mother’s final illness, unfortunately, they did.

  9. I agree that love makes all of the difference. Love helps us to see the beauty and miss all of the flaws. Love keeps us giving of time and self when the well should have long ago gone dry. Love helps us to spend time with people where the dividend is a smile or a hug and not funds. Love helps us to remember all of the good things even when everything is bad. I think of aging as gaining a wealth of experiences and a cherished cache of memories. Aging is about losing hard edges and self focus and simply appreciating the blessing of life. Aging causes us to see that we all need a helping hand and a loving hug. Aging is becoming an antique not obsolete.

  10. My mom is 83 and has dementia, she was the most brilliant woman I knew. She would have these great dinner parties. Well-read, always up on news and sports, very knowledgeable about literature and the arts. It is hard to see her like this. My hat is off to my middle sister, she is the main care giver to my mom. It’s just hard.

  11. There was a line in a movie that I saw a few years back called Hope Floats. I don’t remember that context, I just remember the words because they struck me at the time. It went something like, “Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, it is the middle that is important.”

    From what you write, it sounds like your pop had a great middle. So sorry for the sadness.

  12. My mother just passed as well. She lived to 89, in good health. She did stop golfing, but was an active quilter and an avid reader. I’ve learned from her that you have to find something that you enjoy doing and keep doing it. Life will just happen.

  13. I work with seniors all the time, and your post makes me wonder if your Dad is bored? That at often shows up as restlessness, insomnia, and general crankiness. If he prided himself on his brains, He may need some intellectual stimulation, Have you considered TED talks, audio books, or even sign him up for an online university course, there are loads of free ones. Encourage him to critique it!
    Growing old gracefully is challenging, many struggle to manage the loss of independence associated with aging. It is hard to see our family members dwindle and fail. Hope this helps!

  14. My mom cared for my paralyzed,bedridden father for four and a half years. During that time she learned to live independently. He had taken care of everything.She lived for 16 years after his death. The last four years she declined steadily. As my sister and I lived far away, my much younger black sheep brother,stepped in to be care giver.My sister and I saw her regularly,but my brother bore the brunt of the care. Both parents died knowing they were loved. We as children were given time to adjust to the coming loss and to build closer relationships with each other. While watching them decline was hard, it gave us time to demonstrate our love for each other. That is a gift to us all.

  15. I think in this era of valuing youth, physical beauty, multitasking and always being on the go, we have forgotten what life is really about. Life is about love, respect and acceptance of where you and your love ones are in this moment in life. All our parents and grandparents took care of us with patience and kindness. Most importantly they gave us unconditional love. When they need our care we judge them by who they were, what they could do and do for us, not how they are today. In older eras and in other cultures the elderly are treated with reverence. In our society they are often treated with disdain and impatience. I think we need to step back and meet our elders where they are, listen to the things they remember , forgive and protect them from what they have forgotten because does it really lessen the years of sacrifice and love they have given us if they are somewhere in the past and don’t remember us now? Maybe workers who are impatient, judge mental, tied into their technology and games aren’t doing their job or shouldn’t be doing that job. To care for our elders we have to care more, give more and love more. Share our time and demand the people who are aiding in their care do the same. Being with them, really being with them is a gift. Sharing the love of our children with is a joy. Giving them the things they love, be it music, art, special foods, a comfort object aromatherapy for the night time or anxiety, massage therapy or just holding their hand or listening really listening patiently, are things we can do to make these moments in their lives special. No, it isn’t easy to do with our busy lives and all the emotions involved. Really isn’t that what all our lives should be about, unconditional love? Even when you can’t remember the people around you, feed yourself or use the toilet, you can still feel love and if there was only one thing that we could give them, one thing they can always take with them, one thing they will remember, wouldn’t we want it to be that they weren’t alone ; that they were loved

  16. I have constantly reviewed what I have and what I may need after losing my Mom very suddenly in 2003 and my Dad after a long bout of dimensia in 2006. By the way, any bout of dimensia or alzheimers is a long one. It has only occured to me in the last 3 months, that the only thing you can do in considering your future is to live this moment as best you can. The ability to change and learn is underrated and the only way to deal with the future. Connecting and staying connected to the people and community around you may be the only thing that gives you a life worth living to the end.

  17. Sadly the chances of me ever making it to old age are so very slim. I just hope for one more day. Although life in constant pain isn’t ideal and living life basically home bound is a hell within itself. I am blessed, I have a wonderful father who goes out of his way for me (the day I loose him…. I may not want to push forward) but, I my boyfriend of eight years just asked me to marry him. So I am happily engaged. But, I fear with all that my body is fighting and going threw I will end up a burden. That day is my biggest fear. To no longer be able to hold a book… it’s becoming harder to do everyday. Thank goodness for my Kindle. I think that everyone must live life to the fullest, love and appreciate everything you do everyday, mundane or not. Because one day you could end up like me… missing out on life watching everyone around you having fun, laughing, planning there futures, complaining about day to day chores… chores that I miss. My point is living life to the fullest like your day is essential because life isn’t guaranteed!

  18. I’ve been reading True Gentlemen and other books related to the Banks/Haddonfield/Fairly/St.Michael/Dorning families, and I like how you’re going in the series. But I wonder, when are you going to update the lives of The Scholars — Danny, Matthias, the Blumenthals, Digby. Even if it’ll be the very late Regency/early Victorian period, wouldn’t it be nice to see how they turned out as adults? Will Danny end up with Rose, for instance? Just wondering.

  19. heres my thoughts on old age. I am now 84 a retired nurse. you must do what u can. I now have 2 bum knees and cant move like I used to, I still do the washing ironing dishes and clean a good part of the house, thank god for my 88 yr husband who does the rest. we do what we can. go out to eat once a week and he cooks I clean. since I know a lot about medicine so after working 50 yrs in las vegas and post surgical heart units I am fairly knowledgeable about meds and life. my motto is do what you can read computer.games email and friends

  20. “Faith, hope, love…these three endure, but the greatest of these is love.” A person is blessed if they have something interesting to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to no matter what age they are! We are celebrating my mother-in-law’s 100th birthday this week, and there are a lot of people who love her!

  21. Just live well buy the five year subscription so you have something to look forward to death comes to soon but live each day as your last and no regrets,