Grandmothers Unite

My Nasty Woman tee shirt got a few glances this morning on my usual walk. I haven’t worn it since the election, because I didn’t want to add to the noise and polarization in the country. But I am so upset with what has happened since the election that I have decided to speak out and to encourage other like-minded grandmothers to join me.

What I’m concerned with today didn’t start with the new administration, but it is aggravated by the new climate of “take care of your own and to hell with everyone else.” Reading the article about the killing of 15 year-old Jordan Edwards in Texas left me with a heavy heart. I have a 16 year-old grandson. It didn’t take much for me to empathize with Jordan’s family. All I know to do today is to say that I care, that I object strenuously to this killing, and that as a “white” grandmother I know that what hurts one child in this country hurts all of us. I am sorry for a culture that allows this to continue.

No One to Wake

wake-(200)When my husband of 50 years died after a long period of medical complications following a liver transplant, I was astounded by the emotions I felt that I did not want to talk about. To understand what I was experiencing, I wrote a poem almost every day for two months starting with the day after he died. Some days there were complete poems, some days only a few lines. These pages recount the experience of reflecting on the
life we had together, what is was like to be alone for the first time, and wondering who I would become without Jim. The book is available at Amazon. com .

Here is the first poem.

March 9, 2013

On the day of our 50th wedding anniversary

I had to put sliced cucumbers on my eyes

to shrink the puffiness.

 

Your feet were hurting.

You felt you couldn’t stand.

But we went to the party

planned by our children.

My eyes were better.

You could stand.

 

We were showered with blessings,

love and good wishes.

 

Then, seven months later, you left your body.

Now you’re the light shining in the clouds,

the leaves rustling in the wind,

the river swirling in the eddy.

 

You’re a paradox.

Here and not here.

You who believed and didn’t.

You had faith in yourself –

in me, in our children.

You were rarely afraid.

 

Love and Fun

Dear Friends,

This is everyone’s favorite poem of mine. I wanted to pass it along to you.

LOVE AND FUN

 I don’t know anything

especially what I used to especially

about what people should do or

why life is the way it is or what

brings happiness except for

living in the now difficult and

trite as that is. Now is

all we have, now is where

to find joy and happiness, now

is bliss.

What-if,

if-then,

if-when

nobody knows, least of all me.

I saw it yesterday in a cottonwood tree

heard it in a bird song. It’s

in beauty and kindness

and of course love.

I’m sorry I have no answers.

The older I am the less I know.

I’m only good for love and fun.

Marilyn O’Leary

 

 

 

 

 

Watching for Whales

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After dropping my houseguests Jack and Jean at the Kona airport for their flight back to San Diego, I decided to go to a local state park near the shopping area to read and watch for whales. As I slung my beach chair over my shoulder I noticed there were more men than women enjoying the beach. Not necessarily a bad thing. I found a shady spot for my chair and said hi to the man sitting at the picnic table under the next tree before getting out my book.

In clearly articulated speech he told me that the Kona coast where we were was the warmest place in the United States, but that there was a place one degree warmer in China, his next destination. He then proceeded to tell me his theory of everything, how everything had the same attributes, and how the purpose of law (since he asked my occupation) was to find the best result for the client as quickly as possible, and that was the law of science and engineering that governed all things. I thought that was an interesting and probably worthwhile goal of law and chatted for a few minutes. I excused myself to my book, remembering to tell myself that I was safe, he probably wasn’t dangerous, there were people around who would help me if needed. After a few other of his soliloquys, I stopped mm-hmming and kept looking at the ocean. I saw two whale incidents that included breaching, flukes, and spouts and read several pages. When he asked/ declared that my husband was not out enjoying the day, I said no and several minutes later decided it was too warm to sit outside much longer. Maybe I was sitting in the hottest place in the US.

I then went for comfort food groceries to help me forget Jean and Jack had gone. To my delight and after striking out at Island Naturals I found Barbara’s cheese puffs (original, baked) at the KTA. All I needed then was some POG (papaya, orange, guava) a favorite drink since my first plane ride to Maui 30 years ago. I also picked up some graham crackers, which I bought in memory of Jim.

Well-fortified, I made my way up the windy road to my beautiful home on the Big Island. Who says life isn’t full of possibilities?!

Change

In a Nova program on the discovery of ancient skulls of human ancestors, one of the scientists posited that after four million years of little brain development, large climate shifts required responses from these creatures that caused a huge evolutionary leap in  brain development. This idea took me to one of my favorite topics: women’s ability to change and be adaptable. I conclude one of the reasons for women’s adaptability relates to the monthly changes experienced physically and sometimes emotionally for approximately 30 years. Living with menstruation (and its cessation – The Change), and changes brought around by pregnancy and childbirth contribute to our being able to take change more in stride. We know we will feel different from time to time, our bodies will change, sometimes the changes are significant, sometimes not, but we almost always go back to our personal equilibrium.

Some changes are more difficult, where we are in the state of change for a while. Sometimes we are lucky to be able to choose the changes in our life – vanilla or chocolate, this car or that, to marry or not. Sometimes they are thrust upon us to live out as best we can – illness, loss of a job, the death of a loved one. Those are more difficult to deal with.

After my husband died I realized that we each have to grieve at our own pace. It helps to have a friend or counselor hold our hand, or to share our feelings with others in a similar situation, our just sit and watch TV for a whole day. But when and how we do it is pretty individual. I eventually knew that I would feel better at some point and that I would get back to my old self. It did and I did. Knowing that life is a series of changes does help us to adapt to the change as we need to, make the most of it, and then see what’s next. There’s always something next.

Hello Again

Since the time I last wrote here my life has changed. My husband of 50 years passed away, 20  years after having received a liver transplant. In that 20 years we dealt with other illnesses and drug-related complications, as well as many wonderful life experiences.

 

In the almost two years since Jim’s death, I have learned a lot – about grief, about friendship, about long term marriage and its gifts, and about how when your spouse dies, you feel like you are going to die.

I am coming out of that phase with some ideas and experiences that might be helpful. One is that you can’t rush or really “direct” the grieving process. It will be your process, not like anyone else’s. One thing that helped me a lot was a Grieving Through Art class I took from Kate at Heritage Hospice. I didn’t want to talk about how I felt, but those eight classes helped me express and get insight into my feelings. They also helped me understand that the feelings I had, both emotional and physical, were normal.

When I went to my dear family practice doctor last week complaining that I didn’t feel as fit as I used to, he reminded me about the book Younger Next Year, which Jim bought when it first came out 10 years ago. As I have read through the book, I have gotten back to regular exercise. I have also abandoned my holiday eating habits, fun though they were. As I told friends of mine last week, I exercise not because it will help me live longer, but because it makes me feel better that day. Unless I have overdone it, I feel fit, cheerier, and younger. Most of the time.

I’m already half way through Younger Next Year. It’s making me laugh and think about the benefits of exercise and eating well, as well as stoking my motivations. I recommend it for anyone who wants to get in an exercise routine.

I plan to write weekly. At this point, I think it will be about what makes life fulfilling, how we can creatively express and use our talents, and how we can make a contribution to our world. I hope you’ll join in the conversation.

Excerpt from In Sickness and In Health

The following is from the preface of the book, In Sickness and In Health,  I wrote with my husband, Jim, about his liver transplant experience.

In Sickness and In Health“The moment of despair hit me in the parking garage attached to my office building. I realized I had nowhere else to turn to save my husband’s life. Over a three-year steady deterioration in his health, I had watched Jim go from an athletic, robust, fifty-year-old real estate developer and avid bicyclist to a thin, weak, gray-skinned medical patient in need of a liver transplant. We had run out of other possibilities.

Our ordeal began when Jim’s doctor told him that he needed a liver transplant but that his HMO would not provide or pay for the surgery. We went from shock to denial to naïveté. How could we pay for a $250,000 medical procedure and at the same time maneuver our way through a complex, insurance-driven medical system—without coverage?”

 

To purchase the book at Amazon Click Here

Getting Back to Your Life

I haven’t written for a while because BOTH Jim and I were in the hospital . . . AT THE SAME TIME! Fortunately we were in the same hospital, though not in the same room. The upshot is that Jim is recovering nicely from pneumonia and I was given a clean bill of health after a number of tests. All good news. This has been quite the flu season.

Because of this experience, I want to write today about how to get your life back when caregiving has defined it for a period of time. Jim had a liver transplant in 1993, which kept him alive and thriving, but also, after a time, resulted in drug-related medical conditions which have become chronic. He and I both have learned how to deal with the ups and down caused by this situation and still go on with our lives. You can find more details about this journey when our book, In Sickness and In Health, comes out this spring.

So this month I was reminded once again of how important it is to be able to keep your own life going even if you have other obligations such as taking care of a spouse, a parent, or child, working, or otherwise giving of your time and energy to others. I realized today as I drove to my appointment with my personal trainer that I was OK and that I had a life in addition to being a caretaker. That was because I was doing something enjoyable on my own for my health and well-being.

I first was aware of how important it is to realize one’s own individuality after my mother died. We were very close during all of my life, and I identified with her in many ways. After her passing at the age of 85, I began to feel older than my years, and began worrying that I would soon die. It was at my first personal training session with Andie, several months after my mom’s passing, that I realized I was not my mother, that she had died but I had not, and that the odds were that I had many years of my own life left to live.

The lesson is that it is important to take care of ourselves not just mentally and emotionally but also physically. We are holistic beings, and we need to tend to all the parts of us that make us whole. It helps to recover from an illness or crisis by getting back into things that we do as individuals and remembering that our value comes not just from what we do for others, but from who we are.

Set Your Intentention and Achieve Your Goals Worksheet

In my Deccember 30, 2012 workshop, Using Intention to Co-Create the Life you Want for the New Year, participants used the following calendar to set goals and take action steps to achieve their intention for 2012. Some people asked for another copy, so here it is. Have fun with it and see what changes happen in your life.  –Marilyn

THIS IS MY INTENTION:

 

 

I WILL

 

BY (date)

 

TO ACHIEVE THIS GOAL I MUST BE __________________________________________________

 

 

THESE ARE THE ACTION STEPS THAT WILL GET ME TO MY GOAL

 

 

JANUARY

 

_________________________________________________________________________________________

FEBRUARY

 

_________________________________________________________________________________________

MARCH

 

_________________________________________________________________________________________

APRIL

 

__________________________________________________________________________________________

MAY

 

________________________________________________________________________________

JUNE

 

_____________________________________________________________________________________

JULY

 

_____________________________________________________________________________________

AUGUST

 

______________________________________________________________________________________

SEPTEMBER

 

______________________________________________________________________________________

oCTOBER

 

_______________________________________________________________________________________

NOVEMBER

 

________________________________________________________________________________________

DECEMBER

 

ACCOUNTABILITY

I will _____________ ________________ each month to report on my progress and to get support.

(action)              (person)

 

Signed by__________________________________________________________________________________

 

Cookie-less Christmas?

I love Christmas. I love the lights, the candles, bells, the Messiah performed all over town. I love getting a pinon tree from the people down on Griegos Street who get evergreens from Mora. I love deciding whether to use the little ornaments we’ve collected over time or the bigger red (plastic now) balls and stars. I love cooking traditional treats.

But this year I have a dilemma. How can I do some Christmas cooking and baking without gaining ten pounds like I did last year? So far all I can come up with is to not make any sweets. This would be hard to do when I think about my mom making cookies during December for us to enjoy all during the holidays, and when one way I remember my mom is to make the food she made. I could bake cookies and give them away, but then I think of the years it seemed everyone baked and exchanged dishes of cookies until we couldn’t even look at them anymore. It is not easy to not eat cookies when I realize that, like mine, most of the treats are from old family recipes made once a year with special meaning for the baker. It’s also more difficult to consume platters of treats because we don’t have a lot of young people around who like to eat sweets. And now there are even people who don’t eat sugar!

Maybe baking platters of cookies has gone the way of big families, large, extended-family dinners, and repeated gatherings through the holidays. It feels a little sad, but then I think of what I’ve learned about making new traditions based on my values. Being thoughtful about how I want to celebrate Christmas rather than just doing it by rote is really more fun. So this cookie dilemma is an opportunity to stop and think about what I really want to do.

For me holidays are about family and eating together. Cookies aren’t even a key part of it. I guess I can focus on our gathering instead of the food itself. (That’ll be a change.) Besides, making cookies “for other people” is really a way I try to kid myself, like when I buy ice cream “for Jim.” Maybe I can have the celebration part of Christmas without the cookies and without the extra weight. I can still fix dinners, and I can still think about my mom and how special she made all the Christmas holiday meals for us. She’ll still be at my shoulder when I make frittatas and breaded cauliflower and pasta con sarde.

What is important to you about the holidays? What values do you want to express? How can you have what you want and not what you don’t want? How can you make it your holiday, and let everyone else have their holiday? The last thing I want to do is to cause anyone any stress about the holidays. And especially me! So I’m going to focus on the things that are important to me, and remember my mom and dad through being together, raising a glass of wine, and preparing  something besides cookies, as Mom always said, “with love.”