Age, Illness, and Muddling Through

  A fundamental problem with our current
health care system is that its measure of success
is the delay of death, rather than the quality of life. 

— Ai-hen Poo 
from The Age of Dignity:
Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America 


Age and illness consume me.

And that's not a bad thing. My attention, and my reading, is centered around calls for change.*

With health care in general it seems we're muddling through, hoping our leaders will choose the least cruel of options. To that quagmire, add the  "silver tsunami" and we're in a real mire. Medicine, health insurance, hospital visits, long-term care, assisted living, home care — these costs add up, and quick!  Even if you've saved, you can't save enough.

Am I scaring you? I'm overwhelmed too. 

I've seen the physical and emotional impact that sickness and aging has on individuals and families. In my work at the nursing home, and in my own family, we wrestle with questions that have no good answers: what's covered? what's not? who pays? how much? What, really, is quality of life? Who decides? 

There are no rules. Each situation, just like each family, is nuanced with its own needs and expectations. Feeling adrift, I turn to books (again and always), for direction, solace, suggestions: 

Here are a few — each very different in tone and style — that I've found helpful:  

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Bettyville: A Memoir 

How the Medicaid Debate Affects Long-Term Care Decisions from Your Money - The New York Times


Your turn: Are you confronting these issues? What's helped? What hasn't? 


* Sidenote: I'm healthy! Everyone else is falling apart. (kidding) (not kidding). 


Thankful Thursday: Passively Active

It's Thankful Thursday, a weekly pause to express appreciation for people, places, things & more. Joy expands and contracts in relation to our gratitude. From small to super-size, from puny to profound, tell me, what are you thankful for today? 


It's summer. We now have permission to live passively active. Y'know, loll in hammocks, dawdle through books, sip cold drinks. As always, I'm thankful for these deliciously long sun-drenched "lazy does it" days. 

On this Thankful Thursday, I'm grateful for these nuggets of discovery:  

Reading is a form of meditation

I've never been able to meditate. Sustaining good posture while enduring admonishments to clear the mind turn me fidgety and resentful. But now, I discover, I've been meditating all along:   

"Reading is one of the fastest and easiest ways to reduce stress. Research shows listening to music reduces stress by 61 percent, going for a walk by 42 percent, drinking a cup of tea by 54 percent, but reading reduces stress levels by 68 percent" (according to this book, for which I'm also thankful).

Stamps as art

Have you seen the new stamps honoring designer Oscar de la Renta? (Of course you have because of course you write letters). Aren't they beauties? Makes me want to create long, confessional correspondence. Or even better, makes me want to open a letter addressed to me and adorned with this pretty postage. 

The world loves you 

 Here's proof:

“The secret is that the world loves you in direct proportion to how much you love it.”

 Laura Kasischke


Your turn: What are you thankful for today?  



Thankful Thursday: I Am But A Dustpan

I haven't written in a while because I don't want to talk about my aching feet and how too many people have told me it's my fault because I wear high heels but they don't know that shoes are the only thing that always fit (until your bunion takes over) and I don't want to be the kind of person who chooses sensible over stylish.

So I'm sorry, I don't want to bring you down or talk about the things I can't stop thinking about: the hard work and low pay of the (mostly) women who feed, wipe, bathe, dress and care for people so late in their lives and so ill that there are few people left that can care for them. 

I can't stop thinking about the craggy chasm between these (mostly) young women scraping by and the (mostly) old men at the wheel of our lives, making laws and revoking essentials, leaving dignity like a broken down car at the edge of the cliff. I don't want to talk about justice and compassion, those Boy Scout words that now seem as antiquated as landlines and paper maps.

There are calls for our greater selves to surface, to act. Am I obligated to resist, resist, resist

Empathy is a verb. But so is resignation. 

I don't want to bother you with the way my body is leaden with these thoughts and how I've turned inward and slow, how I've read three self-help books in one week and feel none the better.

Everything is a project, and I've run out of gas, will, wine. 

My neighbor, a kind older man who keeps a meticulous lawn, comes looking for me. He hasn't seen me lately, he says. "Are you okay?" 

And just like that I want to tell you that big sweeps are for grand rooms, and I am but a dustpan able to clean a small space. I am cared for and cared about. I love and am loved, and doesn't that erase, or ease, or relax for just a minute this fist I am shaking at the world? 

At the nursing home one of my favorite Bettys (a popular name among the geriatric generation) asks me again and again, "Where am I supposed to be?" 

"Right here," I say, reaching for her hand. "You're right where you're supposed to be."

Her face softens, fear subsides. "Oh good," she sighs. 

We sit together in the quiet.

"You're a pretty girl," she says. 

I'm not a girl. I have bunions and jowls and I know it's not beauty she sees but a small pause of kindness, and I want to do everything I can to live up to her words. 

This evening as the sun slips and the heat softens, I read a poem of just two lines. I can do that. Read, read, write. One line, a start. Let's not save the world, or even ourselves. Right now, in this warm glow, let's just be here, right where we belong. 



It's Thankful Thursday, a weekly pause to express appreciation for people, places, things & more. Our joy contracts and expands in relation to our gratitude. Big or small, puny or profound, what are you thankful for today? 


* With gratitude to Rebecca Lindenberg, who wrote the poem pictured at top. It appears in The Logan Notebooks. 



Sunday Morning

And when I wake up in the morning feeling love

And when I wake up in the morning with love

And when I wake up in the morning and feel love

And when I wake up in the morning already loving

How the body works to help us feel it


Emmy Perez
from Rio Grande~Bravo 



Summer, Weight & Shame

Summer — my favorite time of the year!

And with it, the dreaded revealing of the BODY. All that winter weight crammed into jeans and hidden by sweaters is now bare, big, and fleshy. My body, a machine operating apart from my mind, is pale and loose, and there's too much of it.

Again. Still.

This is not new. This is my everyday routine — yours too? — in which I fight my body in an exhausting battle of wish and shame. It doesn't matter my size, the desire is the same:  slim, slender, thin, all the words that mean not me.

Those golden seasons, of the slimmer me, were short-lived and in retrospect I never felt as good as I now see I looked. That's the way, isn't it? We look back at photos and sigh, "Oh, I wasn't fat." 

But isn't this normal? Does every woman have an eating disorder? Not anorexia or bulimia, necessarily, but dis-order, dis-ease, unease, about food and body, value and worth?

Sure, there are days I feel active and strong, smart and creative, but isn't there some mind-body acceptance that lasts longer than the time it takes to get showered and dressed? An enduring sense of peace with this thing I carry day after day?

I've got no answers, but I like this poem:

Today I asked my body what she needed,

Which is a big deal

Considering my journey of

Not Really Asking That Much.


I thought she might need more water.

Or protein.

Or greens.

Or yoga.

Or supplements.

Or movement.


But as I stood in the shower

Reflecting on her stretch marks,

Her roundness where I would like flatness,

Her softness where I would like firmness,

All those conditioned wishes

That form a bundle of


She whispered very gently:


Could you just love me like this?

—  Hollie Holden


And I like these words:

We can only really be known, and we can only really know, when we show our scars . . .

And everything that happens to us, everything that happens to us in our life, happens to our bodies. Every act of love, every insult, every moment of pleasure, every interaction with other humans, every hateful thing we have said, or which has been said to us, happens to our bodies. Every kindness, every sorrow, every ounce of laughter. We carry all of this, with us, in some form or another. We are walking embodiments of our entire story and the scars from that aren’t optional, but the shame from that is."

— Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, House for All Saints and Sinners, from Scarred and Resurrected: A Sermon on Our Human Bodies 


And lastly, this may be my summer anthem: 


Your turn. Let's talk:  How are you? Tell me about your body, your mind, your heart.