The Greatest Love of All

Photo by Rick Guidotti of Positive Exposure

“Nicole is lucky to have you for a mother. You show her great love.”

These are words I frequently hear from those who know the lengths to which I go to find resources for her. I see this as my responsibility. I know it is a loving action, but I have the skills to do it and the only thing hard about it is finding the time to follow the leads and dealing with the disappointment of blind alleys and insufficient assistance and services.

Showing her love is something different in my book. Love is changed behavior and is, to my way of seeing, a powerful demonstration of love. It takes much more conscious effort. And it forces me to grow.

Nicole and I have both been showing our love by changing our behavior since she moved in with me a little over a year ago. After she reached adulthood, we tried living together before, and it didn’t work well. This time, we are both growing.

To ease the transition, I suggested we be intentional about giving each other a hug before going to bed at night. Expressing our love by hugging and expressing terms of endearment greatly reduced the tension in the air. It took about five months for us to begin to relax into a routine with each other that seems to be working for both of us.

Behavior I have changed:

  • I’m not as fussy about my home being neat and tidy.
  • I’ve stopped (except for a recent slip — I’m not perfect) screaming, yelling, and stomping when I’m frustrated or scared.
  • I take into consideration her preferences.
  • I watch TV programs she enjoys even though they are not my first choice and I wouldn’t normally give them the time of day.
  • I say “thank you” a lot more frequently.
  • I accept much more graciously what I cannot change about the way her disease affects her behavior.
  • When our needs clash, I engage her in problem solving to find a solution that works for both of us.

Behavior I’ve noticed that Nicole has changed:

  • She’s less messy around the house.
  • She’s forthright in her dislike of my frustrated/scared behavior.
  • She watches some TV programs I enjoy even though she finds them boring.
  • She initiates and takes responsibility for household chores without being reminded. (I really like it that she has taken responsibility to clean up the kitchen after I cook.)
  • She kids with me about my quirks.
  • She respects my need for silence and uses her headphones when I’m writing, meditating, or reflecting.

I know Nicole would rather live independently and I would prefer that, too. But that is not likely to be possible anytime soon. So, in the interim, we show our love through changed behavior. In my book, that’s the greatest love of all. And this is not what I set out to write today. Interesting.

Our Sage Sister Revolution

My Sage Sister book study group met yesterday. We dug into Chapter One in our newest selection, From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Revolutionary Approach to Growing Older.

At this time in our life, late 60s to early 80s, this book encourages us to view elderhood as an opportunity to reconnect with the sacred dimension of life:

  • find a sense of “enoughness” from within
  • connect with our inmost essence and cultivate the calmness and self-knowledge that breeds wisdom
  • transcend “doing” in favor of “being” and a clarity of consciousness that comes from spiritual growth
  • cultivate the quietness and inwardness from which mystical experience is possible
  • pursue our own paths to fulfillment … following our own inner promptings and intuitive leads.

An example was given of a seventy-four-year-old women pursuing a Ph.D. in conflict resolution to sharpen her skills as a mediator. Our conversation was energized by her view that “elders have a special responsibility to infuse public life with higher values that stress cross-cultural understanding, social justice, and world peace.” Growing into her full stature, this woman plans to speak out more often and from her inner authority.

We shared around the circle how we struggle to transcend “doing” in favor of “being.” Letting go of our all too familiar “doing” mode, we are seeking balance by going within to discern how we are being called to infuse public life with higher values … how we are to speak out from our own inner authority.

Cindi shared a recent experience of interacting with college students at an event focusing on protecting the environment. The only white-haired person in a small focus group, she was shocked to find these students unconcerned about climate change. She has no idea the effect she had on these students, but she took the opportunity to ask them probing questions, hoping to stimulate their critical thinking on this issue so vital to her and her husband.

Cindi also shared about her passion for healthy eating. She made an offer to her local food bank to work one on one with those they serve to teach recipients how to prepare unfamiliar fresh vegetables.

Sue, our youngest member and a retired teacher, shared her passion for working with young people to increase their understanding and empathy for people who are different and the spiritual community in which she participates that focuses on raising the consciousness of humankind. She is currently substitute teaching, but her greatest joy is nurturing her grandson’s development and awareness of the differences that enrich his world.

Jasmine, our oldest member, and her husband are the parents of nine children. One is gay and another is lesbian. Her love for them was undiminished when they came out to her. She shared her concern about the hatred that is directed at LGBTQ people and how she tries to dissipate animosity by openly sharing about her love for her extraordinary children. Jasmine spends a lot of time in prayer and knits prayer shawls which she donates to local hospitals and nursing homes.

Cathy has a passion for social justice especially as it relates to underprivileged and marginalized folks. She, too, has been active in donating to our local food pantry and educating others to the food insecurity that exists in our region of the country. Dayton is in the top ten of the hungriest cities in the country. Cathy has also been active in helping immigrants get settled living in this new and strange country and city.

I shared my concern that responsibility is often omitted when we talk about freedom … responsibility infusing freedom with a higher value. I have recently awakened to my responsibility in our current political environment. I asked to be appointed as a precinct captain, something I am capable of doing, assuming a larger role in my community than I ever imagined. This action speaks to my concern for our government to be in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” I am educating myself about actions I can take to free our government from the undermining effects of big money and using my writing and speaking skills to call our government officials to engage in responsible prophetic action.

We Sage Sisters will meet again next month to give each other support on our continuing journey of conscious aging. I am so grateful to have these outstanding women accompanying me on the journey of becoming a conscious elder.

 

The Wisdom of the Body

“The body remembers, the bones remember, the joints remember, even the little finger remembers. Memory is lodged in pictures and feelings in the cells themselves. Like a sponge filled with water, anywhere the flesh is pressed, wrung, even touched lightly, a memory may flow out in a stream. ~Clarissa Pinkola Estes

For much of my early life, I neglected my body, largely unaware of the wisdom it carried. In the mid-80’s, I participated in Anne Wilson Schaef’s Living-in-Process training program. It was in her training that I began to appreciate the memories our bodies carry and the message that emerges when its wisdom is released. My first powerful body memory emerged after a massage. I was stunned and in awe of the process and the healing message my body spoke. On another occasion, my favorite during my six years in the Living Process network, my body gave me a sense of my cleanliness as a newborn before the wounds of life scarred me.

During the past few weeks as my daughter has moved in with me and my life has revolved around being a full-time caregiver, I’ve had a couple of body experiences that have piqued my interest. Without being fully aware that I was searching for my body’s wisdom, I followed the trail of my roller coaster of emotions.

Roller Coaster

The first experience came after my former student called to tell me the influence I had on her life. Before her call, I was contemplating the need to be on an anti-depressant. I had no energy or interest in things that had filled my life with meaning and purpose. After her call, I literally experienced the energy of aliveness returning to my body. I wrote and spoke about it as being the best anti-depressant ever and considered her call a Divine gift.

 “After all, the body, like God, moves in mysterious ways.” ~Thrity Umrigar

spiral galaxy

But in the couple of weeks since her call, gradually, without my being aware, the energy began draining from my body again. On Tuesday I walked around the house in a stupor, unable to write or accomplish any of the many household tasks needing attention. I was grateful for leftovers so I wouldn’t have to cook. Even watering my plants, something I have enjoyed, seemed like drudgery. Every time it rained, I thanked “Mother Nature” for doing this job for me. Impatience and weariness with life seeped into every fiber of my being. Sleep seemed my only escape.

On Wednesday, despite my lethargy, I continued the footwork to find housing, financial assistance, and case management services for my daughter. I dipped even lower when promising options failed to bear fruit. I told myself that I needed to reengage in previous activities I had enjoyed. I developed a self-care plan but couldn’t get myself out of the house. “I’ll start tomorrow.”

Then, Thursday morning, after some mix-ups preventing the home healthcare social worker from connecting with us had been resolved, she finally paid us a visit. This woman had worked in the case management arena in the past and seemed to know the ropes. She corrected misinformation given to  me the day before, had an application with her to get the ball rolling, explained the slowness of the process, validated the footwork I’d already done, encouraged me to fill out applications for several housing options for the disabled, and to schedule an appointment to tour one of them as soon as possible.

pressure cooker

The pressure cooker building inside me began to release steam. I was unaware of the weight I carried until I couldn’t control the tears springing forth at the end of our appointment. With her concrete actions, validation, and empathy…even though it will take months to accomplish the next steps…I once again had hope.

And once again, I noticed the energy of aliveness returning to my body. I made that call as soon as she left and scheduled an appointment for next Tuesday for my daughter and me to tour the facility. And I attended to one activity on my self-care plan.

“Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul.”   ~Dorothy Day

I wondered about that second energy drain. Did something specific trigger it? Gradually the pieces began to fall into place.

I had been hurt by my daughter’s disinterest in something important to me, her passivity in engaging in conversation about it. I pondered why I was holding onto this hurt. As I sorted through papers about the characteristics of myotonic muscular dystrophy, organizing them for my daughter’s file, I read again about the aspect of the disease that I’ve had the most difficulty dealing with…the executive function deficits.

  • The apathy that leaves me as the initiator and puts me in the position of being the “bad guy.”
  • The avoidant personality that leaves my daughter with no friends…her preference for imaginary relationships with celebrity personalities to relating to a real person…leaving me as her sole support and subjects me to the worst kind of loneliness…living with someone who is not really present.
  • The lack of expression (weakening facial muscles) that appears, in the words  of one pamphlet, “as though they don’t care.”

There it was. Once more I was living with someone who “appears not to care.” I had done that for at least a third of my life, probably two thirds. My body carries the memories of the emotional trauma that saps my energy.

“Muscle has memory: The body knows things the mind will not admit.” ~Louise Doughty

I promised myself twenty-seven years ago that I would never do that again. But here I am once more. While I fulfill this responsibility to my daughter, my body would not let me neglect its wisdom. It dragged me down and niggled at me until I found the source of the burden I carried…the trauma of twenty-three to forty-seven years of emotional neglect.

Now that I know, now that my body has brought me to consciousness, I am living with “what is” with more ease. I still don’t like it, but I can better comfort and take care of myself during this difficult time. For my body’s wisdom, I am genuinely grateful.

female body yoga