Looking For A Resolution? Here’s One…

Cheers!

It’s New Year’s. Revelry, champagne toasts, traditions like eating lentils or black-eyed peas at midnight, looking past at 2017 and forward to 2018 and, of course, resolutions. If you don’t have a resolution, I have a suggestion, albeit one that is somewhat sobering (pun intended). Make 2018 your year to write a last will and testament or update the one you already have.

A cousin of Martin’s recently put a query on Facebook asking if friends had a will. I was surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, when most answered they did not, or had not updated their will in years. One stated she only had one heir, assuming everything would go to that person. We had a saying when I was in banking, “If you don’t have a will, the state has one for you.” If you die intestate (without a will), state law determines who your heirs are.

Case in point, a 72 year-old man lost his wife to cancer. She died intestate. State law where he lives dictated that their two children each inherit a third of her assets including the house, which was not titled to protect her husband. Her husband, their father, had to sell his home in order to pay the adult kids their portion of the inheritance. All the proceedings were determined by a probate judge, requiring court costs and attorneys.

More money was spent on the costs of going to probate court to settle her estate than would have been spent on writing a will. In the state where I live, probate court can be avoided altogether by putting assets into a trust, saving as much as 10 – 20% of the value of your assets. And, no, the kids didn’t blink an eye at dear old dad having to sell his home to pay them their share. He and his wife just assumed everything would go to him — a costly mistake both emotionally and monetarily.

Why don’t people write a will or update the one they have? As someone who didn’t update for years, my personal experience tells me it is a reluctance to face our mortality. It wasn’t until Martin’s condition jolted me into reality that I looked death in the eye and got serious about the consequences for either of us when the other dies.

In addition to a will, other considerations are powers-of-attorney for health and financial oversight in the event you can’t make your own decisions. Do you want to be kept on life support or would you want a do-not-resuscitate order? These are also decisions to ease the burden on loved ones so they can carry out your wishes instead of guessing about what you may want, arguing among themselves or having to go to court. Whew!

Wait there’s still more! To reduce the burden even further, you can leave detailed instructions for your funeral. Or maybe you don’t want a funeral. My mother didn’t want everyone standing around looking at her body and crying over her in a coffin. She chose to be cremated immediately upon her death. Our family respected her instructions. You may even pre-pay your funeral expenses or designate an amount in your will to be used for that purpose.

See? There are lots of decisions to be made. Someone once told me they didn’t care because they would be gone. In other words, they were leaving it for the relatives to sort out while also grieving. To me, that’s just plain cruel, especially if you love those you leave behind.

Mark Twain, the American author and humorist, had this to say about New Year’s resolutions, “Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving Hell with them as usual.” That pretty much sums up the way I was when it came to resolutions. Consequently, I stopped making them. If that’s you or even if it’s not, commit to 2018 as the year you make just this one resolution — and keep it – write a will and other documents for the sake of those you love. It is the best gift you can ever give them.

Happy New Year!

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Not In A Million Years

Still swinging in the wind

Five years ago I started this blog by posting a photo of myself on the bridge spanning Grandfather Mountain near Blowing Rock, NC. Taken a year earlier the photo has always symbolized my trepidation about retiring. Today, it symbolizes my apprehension about the future. I remind myself daily that today is all I really have, all any of us have. The past is in the past. The future has yet to unfold itself. Enjoy today.

Out of deference to Martin I have not written about this part of our journey, but the time has come where his condition is advanced. I don’t think there is anyone in our circle who isn’t aware of it. It is also time for me to start writing about it. My experience might help others. It is the reason I have not finished my retirement book. It’s hard to produce an Ernie J. Zelinski type How To Retire Happy, Wild and Free when you have a huge unanticipated cloud hanging over your retirement.

As an unexpected caregiver, I have created a good support network, including a therapist I see once or twice a month. During one session I sat with her silent in my thoughts. She said, “I’ll bet you never saw this coming.”

“Not in a million years.”

She continued. “I’ll bet there are some days you could just go outside and scream.”

I nodded. Not just some days — every day. And once in a while I go to the top of the hill on my six acres and do just that. As a caregiver much of my time goes to doing everything and anything requiring reading, writing or verbal skills. There are my doctor’s appointments and Martin’s, my emails and his, snail mail, financials, repairs around the house, the art studio we decided to build, shopping, pumping gas, reading recipes so he can cook, programming the thermostat and anything else requiring the understanding of words. Some days the pressure is enormous.

Like a coyote stealthily slipping through the night woods in search of prey, it started in 2010 with personality changes in Martin. They were attributed to stress and depression. Averse to taking medications, he refused antidepressants. It took years of intermittent doctor’s visits, struggle with Martin’s denial of the facts, cognitive tests, blood work, CT scans, MRI’s, and finally one very good neurologist to reach a diagnosis of Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA). That was two years after an initial diagnosis of Aphasia, which is usually caused by a stroke or brain injury, and of which there are several versions of the disease.

Aphasia Poster

What is Aphasia? It is not Alzheimer’s. It is a loss of language skills — reading, writing, verbal abilities and comprehension of the spoken word. According to the Aphasia Association most people with PPA retain the ability to take care of themselves and pursue hobbies. However, they confront a 60% chance of the brain deteriorating into Alzheimer’s. That said, Alzheimer’s drugs do not help with Aphasia. Because so few people have this condition — it’s estimated only 200,000 have the PPA version — there are no drugs and most physicians know little about it. Martin’s neurologist only sees one or two cases a year. Obviously, this is one of the reasons a solid diagnosis took so long.

Nothing makes a person stop and realize what is important and what isn’t like a diagnosis of a serious disease. Our priorities definitely changed. Everything came into focus.

Oh, I threw my pity party, a long one in fact, of about a year. My negativity almost swallowed me up. It took time to realize this is not about old age. I had polio at age 3, lost my oldest brother in a car accident when I was 7, followed by the loss of cousins from brain tumor, leukemia and other tragedies similar to my brother’s death. Adversity can happen at any age. One day I asked, “Why us?” A voice inside answered, “Why not us?”

Bicycling is good for the brain

Martin still bicycles a hundred miles a week. He creates all kinds of art. He cooks, cleans and works on the property. I have to leave the washer and dryer on the same cycle. If I move the dial, he doesn’t recognize it has been moved. I have to watch for things like his microwaving fresh carrots in the plastic bag they came in from the store. When he sets the table, I may find a spoon and knife instead of a fork and knife. It could be worse. It may get worse. But we have today and today is good.

Along with prioritizing comes a focus on what works best for both of us. As a caregiver I often put Martin’s needs first. When his neurologist asked him what stressed him most, he answered without hesitation, “Other people.” As an extravert, not having people to the house as often has been difficult. I do most of my socializing outside our home.

Martin’s bird among coneflowers

While it’s important for Martin to remain engaged, his neurologist recommends limiting any situations that may cause him anxiety. Speaking of other people, some understand that; some do not. Since all looks normal with Martin’s appearance, there are those who do not understand the unseen changes in his brain have rendered him a different person than he used to be. Their presence alone can cause stress as he struggles to converse with them and comprehend what they are saying. We learned to distance ourselves from those who are not understanding about our new normal.

As my time is taken up more and more with caregiving, I have grappled with discontinuing this blog. I’ve decided to post once a month instead of foregoing it altogether. It’s important to me and I feel like it is to my readers. I have started rewriting my retirement book to speak truth about my journey. No, retirement is not always rosy. But, neither is life at any juncture. This is just one more change, one more challenge, one more adjustment. Even in the face of adversity, even with an event I would never see coming in a million years, there is still much to be celebrated. Enjoy your day, no matter what it brings!

Why Giving Thanks Is Important

 

This week is Thanksgiving. Being the most traveled holiday in the United States, like many other families, ours will be converging on our house this week, filling it with children and their spouses and our grandchildren. Controlled chaos is the best way to describe all the hoopla as we cook, make arts and crafts like cinnamon stick Santas and, of course, give thanks.

At the Thanksgiving table, our family has a longtime tradition of holding hands as each of us cites what it is we are thankful for during the past year. When each person finishes their personal prayer of thanks, they squeeze the hand of the next person signaling their turn. As you may expect, most of the thanks is for family, health, good friends and the food on the table. Occasionally, we have a moment of sobering reflection like the year our friend, Bonnie, who had terminal cancer, sobbed, “I’m grateful for another year of life.” The following November she passed away just before Thanksgiving.

Everyone faces adversity. Giving thanks is important no matter what time of year it is. But, Thanksgiving provides a special opportunity to celebrate our blessings. As with Bonnie, who gave thanks for life itself, Thanksgiving affords a moment to concentrate on the positive aspects of any misfortune. Focusing on the good in our lives helps us realize how fortunate we are. Devoting our attention to the gratitude we feel for the non-material aspects of living enhances our joy in life.

Positive thoughts are healthy thoughts. Dwelling on the negative results in negative thoughts. That in turn becomes anger, unhappiness and perhaps even depression. Conversely, expressing gratitude negates the negativity.

As you sit down to your Thanksgiving meal, whether at home or a restaurant, whether a big dinner with all the trimmings or basic fair, whether surrounded by family and friends or by yourself, give thanks for all that is great and positive and wonderful in your life, open your soul and your heart to your gratitude for the everyday blessings of life and immerse yourself in the joy of simply living.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Values

Last week someone I barely know leaned on me. Not physically, but mentally and emotionally. As they expressed their values to me in a one-sided conversation of what I “shouldn’t do” with my life coupled with what I “should do” for them, I was reminded of one of retirements’ greatest gifts — the ability to be true to your values like no other time in life.

We’ve all heard the old saying, “Sometimes you have to go along to get along.” To me, no setting requires that more than the work arena. In that venue I would have tried to talk to the above person in the interest of getting along and may have gone along, choking down their shoulds and shouldn’ts. Workplace politics would oblige at least an attempt to give my viewpoint and clarify my perception of their two cents, even as they cut me off mid-sentence.

Fortunately, work days are gone, so I just smiled as I said, “Have a great day!” and walked away. Even in retirement, we don’t completely escape others who want us to adopt their values. But, we can choose to take action based on our values.

While I try not to be judgmental (it’s hard), I also consciously surround myself with people who respect my values and are willing to listen to me as well as me listening to them. Not people who think the same as me. I detest group think (ohhh…there’s the judgmental me). I do my human best to be tolerant of my cohorts’ values. Mutual respect is the foundation of any relationship. That starts with acceptance of our differences, our values and our boundaries.

I have a good friend who I meet with for lunch — she dubbed it ‘munch and chat’. While we have much in common, we don’t always agree. We come from different backgrounds and life experiences. However, we have mutual respect for diverse opinions, making our conversations interesting and our friendship genuine. It speaks to my values of acceptance, trust and respect.

Long, long ago in the 1980s I took a new age type program called Context Training. Everyone at the company I worked for had to take the course. During the three days of seclusion and soul-searching, I learned how our values are created by the context of our life experience. Our values then enter into our decision-making from moment to moment, just like my decision to walk away from the person above or my decision to write this piece today.

Think about what your values are. What is important to you? Knowing what you value provides direction for your life, retired or not. For those of us who retire, leaving work identity behind, understanding and embracing our values, supplies us with a map for our retirement identity. Our values help us create our future.  For example, I value creativity, so it comes as no surprise that I enjoy writing, gardening and drawing. Those make up the three central personal activities of my retirement days.

In my experience, when I find myself dragging my feet to do something with or for someone else, it’s because I’m not being true to my values. If I find myself unhappy, it usually has something to do with ignoring my values. A large part of our happiness quotient comes from being authentic.  Retirement offers the perfect time for us to be exactly that.

The Plateau

Reflections on a fall day

While a retirement routine is important and can help avoid boredom, it can also lead to a plateau of complacency. Recently, I felt like I plateaued. Settled into my routine of writing, art, classes, gardening and cooking, life has a certain comfortable rhythm. I’ve developed a retirement social network of friends with the same interests and my wonderful family has acclimated to my retirement routine as well. Yet, I felt restless like I needed to keep hammering on the universe to ensure I leave my dent.

Then a couple of days ago I spoke to a friend who just returned from a ten-day silent retreat. There are ten such retreats in the United States, with one located only an hour away in my beloved Blue Ridge Mountains. Though it sounds intriguing to leave behind all forms of technology, including hair dryers, I’m invoking a self-imposed limitation when I say I don’t think I could spend hours upon hours a day in meditation and silence.

My friend admits that day six was a challenge for her. Like the runner’s ‘wall’ she had to break through a roadblock to keep going. Eleven hours of meditation is daunting for anyone. Add to that no talking, eye contact or gestures with others as you perform chores around the retreat and it stretches the limits of restraint. Working in silence is known as working meditation. For an extravert, being in close proximity with others, but disallowed from any contact could possibly be maddening.

Listening to my friend’s adventure, the idea of turning inward for self-reflection took hold. Perhaps sitting on a plateau for a time is good for us, like stopping off at base camp before making the final climb to the mountain’s summit. This is my time to re-energize physically, emotionally and spiritually.

I could take it a step farther. Just one day of turning off the cell phone, computer, tv and all appliances may be adequate to quiet my soul enough to contemplate my next adventure. When I draw I enter what I call ‘the zone’. I’ve heard other artists refer to zoning out while engaged in whatever media they use to create. Though I experience a sense of peace as I garden, a type of one with nature, it is only through drawing where I enter both a physical and spiritual relaxation I have never encountered before taking up a pencil to draw. That is my means of meditation.

Life has its up and downs. There were times during my younger years when I felt as if I were on a runaway roller coaster ride. No breathing space seemed to be found as I rushed from one responsibility to another. As it was in those days, my retirement routine is of my own making. Before giving in to my restlessness, before seeking my next adventure, I think I will just sit here on the plateau for a while. I may even give up my hair dryer.

Homeward Bound

Last week, as part of my post on retirement lessons, I wrote about choosing where you will live. I didn’t choose my place for retirement as much as stumbled across it as a result of a job transfer Martin took nearly twenty years ago. My friends won’t like me saying this. Some of them even tell me, “Shush. Stop talking about how great Greenville is. We have enough retirees here now.” For me Greenville, South Carolina is a great place to retire. However, not everyone wants to retire to Greenville or anyplace else than where they are at the moment. If you do decide to move, here are a few considerations.

There are all kinds of reasons we choose to move when we retire. According to the US Census, most people move to be closer to family and grandchildren. While we love our families, pinning our retirement location on their location should include both discussion with our family and thought about our needs and wants and their needs and wants. Even then, life has a way of changing the best laid plans.

I met one couple who moved to Greenville to be near their son and daughter-in-law and their two children. Imagine the couple’s surprise after moving hundreds of miles, buying a house and settling into their new surroundings only to have their son accept a promotion that moved his family to Dallas. Ouch! No, they didn’t follow them. Instead they decided to stay here and take an occasional two hour flight to visit them in Dallas.

Conversely, some retirees choose to stay put because of family, only to have the grandchildren grow up and spread themselves in the direction of the four winds. The reality is we live in a transient society, children become adults and create their careers and lives, often moving to where opportunity takes them.

The weather also seems to be a top draw. But, choosing a climate so far removed from what you lived in most of your life may not be a sound idea. I’ve met scads of people who retired from northern or mid-western towns to Florida, only to sell and move to the Carolinas. Locals call them half-backs as this is about halfway between northern states like Connecticut and Florida.

One transplant from the Bronx quipped about his back tracking, “There was something not quite right about sitting around the pool on Christmas Day in your swim trunks.” For native Floridians there is probably something not quite right about trudging through snow on Christmas Day. My point is before you choose to move to the extreme opposite of what you are used to, think about what you will miss about your native climate, scenery and customs. While I don’t miss the frigid January temperatures, I would miss the changing colors of autumn leaves, the cooler dryer air and an evening by the fireplace.

As I mentioned last week, good close by medical care is a must for me. I’m in good health. However, if a heart attack or accident occurs, I don’t want to be out of range of a hospital or ambulance service. I’m tough, but not that tough. Sue of Life Below Zero is definitely more of a risk taker than I am. Hats off to her. Me? I’ll live bolder in more conventional ways. I recommend scoping out the medical care and proximity in your new destination before you make the move.

One of my retirement mantras is never stop learning. While having a college or university nearby is important as part of my cultural experience, so is a convenient grocery store and farmers market for my cooking at home obsession and farm store and nursery for my gardening habit. Although I live in the country all of these amenities are only minutes from my house along with locally owned restaurants and trendy shops. Also consider your partner’s needs, if you have one. Martin can bicycle right out of our property onto roads with little traffic and fabulous scenery.

Additionally, before making a move, look at housing affordability, taxes on property, income, sales and vehicles including boats or RVs. Some states do not tax food; others do. Some states do not tax social security; others do. Consider the cost of your move including the cost of moving household goods, getting new registrations on vehicles, a new license and anything else your new locale may require. Consider, too, the emotional cost of finding your way around, locating a new doctor, insurance company and other services, registering to vote, making new friends, creating a new social and cultural life.

While many retirees move, the truth is most do not, preferring to stay in their climate with the friends, family, services  and activities familiar to them. If you do decide a move is right for you, think of all the implications before making the leap. Otherwise, you may not be homeward bound.

Retirement Lessons

 

Last Thursday marked the fifth anniversary of our retirement. Martin and I celebrated at a favorite lunch spot, The Blue Porch, with friends. Five years ago I had no idea how emotionally under-prepared I was to retire. Our mantra back then was, “We’re going to have fun!” It took about six weeks for me to realize we weren’t having fun. I started this blog on a whim. Putting my feelings in writing had always helped. Writing not only helped me, but I hope it helped some other people along the way. It also opened up an unexpected world for me. These are the lessons I learned giving way to a more fulfilled life and understanding of what it means to retire.

Ask yourself if retirement is what you really want and need. If you’re running from a job you hate, are just worn out from working or stressed by your work environment, maybe what you really need is a sabbatical. A month away from work may provide an attitude adjustment. Another option may be to work part-time, easing into retirement. Not all companies hire part-time employees, but if it is an option at your workplace, consider it.

If retirement is indeed what you want and need, then have a plan. I’m not talking about a financial plan, although that’s vitally important, but a how will you fill your time plan. If you don’t have a plan of what you will do to fill the time you spent working, commuting to work and preparing for work, you will end up bored, a leaf in the wind with lots of other people ready to take up your time with their agenda. Will your current hobbies and interests fill the gap or will you need more?

Speaking of planning, also give some forethought to your transitionary period. You may hate your job or feel bone tired with working, but post-retirement you may find yourself missing the daily routine, the camaraderie of co-workers and the identity that work provides. It will take time to create a new identity, find a new social network and settle in. Retirement is a major life change. This is a new phase offering plenty of opportunity to do what you want to do with your time. However, after 40 or more years in the workplace, there is also a period of grieving. Yes, grieving for your lost identity and the social aspects of work. If your company offers an Employee Assistance Program including counseling, take advantage pre-retirement to discuss your feelings and expectations with a counselor. Having meaning and purpose in life doesn’t end when you leave the workplace. Purpose is an essential to being happy and healthy. It will take time and effort to find your renewed purpose.

Think about where you will retire. Having downsized and built “the retirement home” in 2004, I stayed exactly where I was already. I got that part of it right. Close proximity to a nationally recognized teaching hospital system and colleges offering daytime adult education courses geared toward retirees were essentials on my list. The icing on the cake was discovering an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at a nearby university. The Blue Ridge Mountains where bicycling, motorcycling and hiking are prominent activities that Martin and I enjoy are in our backyard. It may seem like a great idea to live in the middle of nowhere with lots of peace and quiet, but if it takes an hour to get to a doctor or hospital, it may not be a sound idea. I had a fall in 2015 requiring stitches. Martin had me at the ER in 15 minutes. It wasn’t life threatening. However, it made me think about heart attack, stroke or surgery. I was glad the hospital was near.

Choose your timing carefully.  I retired in the fall.  As a gardener and hiker and Martin as a bicyclist and motorcyclist, our timing undoubtedly should have been in the spring.  We may have had fun for more than 6 weeks! I’ve read many, many times that retirement should begin January 1st.  If you are living in the frozen tundra of the north, unless you are a winter sports advocate or plan to escape to a warmer climate for a few months, emotionally, January may be the worst time to retire.  No matter where you live, make your emotional outlook and core retirement activities a priority.  It’s your calendar; do what’s best for you.

Recognize that retirement is not the end, but the beginning. It is a journey, not a destination. Retirement offers the opportunity of a lifetime to try new and different activities. You may not enjoy all the things you try. If an activity doesn’t pan out, give something else a try. This is a time to be adventurous. Renew your childhood curiosity. You get to start all over again without the pressure inherent for success in the workplace. Because people are living longer, years in retirement are also increasing. You have the opportunity to reinvent yourself many times over. I am not the person I was 5 years ago. I look forward to what surprises may unfold for me in the future.

Views on retirement and getting older are changing. Retirement is whatever we choose to make it. There is no one size fits all. There are as many options as there are one-of-a-kind snowflakes blowing on a winter’s day. I hope my lessons help you avoid some of the pitfalls and reap the rewards of a retired life. As always — put your dent in the universe!

Spanning The Brain

When we retire, our overall health is a huge consideration. Every financial planner I talked to pre-retirement, asked the question, “Are you in good health?” On the other side of that question, you may have to retire due to poor health. Even with Medicare and insurance policies, poor health can become expensive. It can also cost you in incalculable ways such as stress and reduced quality of life. Staying healthy is important no matter what your age.  Toward that end, I recently took the BrainSpan testing.

The test consists of a blood sample measuring:

Omega-3 Index
Cell Inflammation Balance
Carbohydrate Index

The second part of the test is a cognitive function assessment gauging:

Memory Capacity
Sustained & Flexible Attention
Processing Speed

The blood test looks at the chemical makeup of your cells, which reflect your dietary intake for the previous three months. What the test is telling us is whether or not we have any imbalances in essential fatty acids. In many countries, including the United States, we have altered our diet to the point where we are eating more Omega-6 than we are Omega-3 fatty acids. According to BrainSpan, there is mounting evidence from research by the American Medical Association, Harvard and the University of Maryland Medical Center that Omega-3 is essential to the overall functioning of our brain and body.

Many of us have been told by our doctors, including me, to take an Omega-3 supplement. But, what we are really looking for is the level of a couple of fatty acids produced primarily by oily fish such as salmon and mackerel — EPA and DHA. EPA repairs tissue, reduces inflammation in the body and supports a good mood as well as our ability to focus. DHA is the most abundant fatty acid in the brain supporting development, cell structure and function.

According to the USDA Nutrient Data Lab 3 ounces of cooked wild Salmon provides 1564 milligrams of EPA/DHA combined. We need that at least 5 times a week — at the least. When recommending an Omega-3 supplement, my eye doctor told me farmed raised salmon is fed corn, making it high in Omega-6. Wild caught salmon is high in Omega-3. Reading labels both on the fish you buy and any supplements is important! In a study done by Tufts University researchers found that people with higher levels of DHA may lower their risk of dementia by as much as 47%. Be sure you are buying what you think you’re buying. Your longevity and quality of life may depend on it.

The cognitive function portion of the testing is done online with a series of challenging exercises. For example, I was shown 3 numbers, which quickly disappeared from the screen, and asked to repeat them in the exact order on a keyboard as fast as I could. Easy right? Not when it gradually increases to 9 numbers to remember in exact order. I actually did well on this portion of the test. On a scale of 1 to 7, 7 being optimal, I scored an average 6.5 on all three sections. On the other hand, I didn’t fair so well on the blood test. It revealed I was eating way too many carbohydrates (Omega-6) and not enough Omega-3 to be at optimal health. Consequently, I increased my Omega-3 supplement as well as Omega-3 foods and, while we need carbs, too, I am watching the intake of my old boogeymen of potatoes, rice, pasta and bread.

As an incentive to stay on track, I’ll be retested in January. Basically, I feel pretty good about my results, especially my cognitive functioning. As always, it’s a struggle to keep my body in the same shape as my brain. But, my brain depends upon me to take care of my body. I remember seeing a quip someplace in my travels to the effect, “If you don’t take care of your body, where will you live?” I think that pretty much sums it up.

What’s Your Definition of Intelligence?

 

 

This is the second time I’ve participated as a volunteer subject for the Furman University Adulthood and Aging course, which is part of the Psychology Program. We volunteers are age 60 and over, are interviewed individually by a student assigned to us and answer questions about age related topics such as our perceptions about cognitive and physical changes, our beliefs toward aging and social relationships. The student then writes a paper about their interpretation of our views.

I find the entire process interesting as it makes me think about what I truly believe about (for want of a better word) aging. I also have the opportunity to influence a younger generation’s mind-set about growing old.

One of the recent questions asked of me was, “What is your definition of intelligence?” Hmmmm…mine is not a dictionary answer.

There are many forms of intelligence. There’s book knowledge that we acquire in school and beyond. In school I took all kinds of intelligence tests. I’m not sure they measured intelligence as much as memory and recall ability. There’s intelligence drawn from life experience. There’s a type of intelligence embedded in our decision making capacity, adaptability to change and willingness to take risk. I would say that’s wisdom gleaned from experience.

Part of our decision making abilities is problem-solving. We think we have the solution to a problem, make a decision to act upon it in a certain way and take action. But, what happens if our problem-solving doesn’t work? Do we try another possible solution? Do we retreat, afraid to make another bid? I’d say there’s an innate intelligence in the person willing to change direction, attempting to solve the problem another way.

Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Throughout my life, this has been one of my favorite quotes. It’s a reminder to adapt to life’s curve balls. In life, change is the only aspect we can depend upon. Growing old is just further change.

We all know the parts will eventually wear out — another change. We all know we will decline in some ways — more change. It is those of us who possess a willingness to adapt who have the greatest chance of surviving the longest with a quality life. That is the kind of intelligence to cultivate.

 

 

Grady

 

This is not the usual type of post for me.  It is more of a short story written in memory of our cat, Grady (7/1/2006 – 9/29/2017).  

 

Grady

The first time I saw him he was one of four little tails standing straight up around the old Cool Whip container I used to feed his mother. Huge green eyes set in a gray and white striped face looked up periodically just to be sure his mother was still there. I named them all — Mars, Odie, Blue for his blue eyes and Grady. Martin, my husband, called him ‘Mr. Gray’.

My Snacky Cat, as I called his mother had given birth the beginning of July. I had no idea where. I just knew she was no longer pregnant. As July gave way to August and now September, Snacky spent summer days lolling on our back veranda. I wondered if her litter was still alive. My annoyance at her apparent lack of mothering skills earned her my sarcastically applied description of ‘The Mother of the Year’. I would later find out how smart and loving she really was as she stayed away from her brood in our stifling South Carolina heat, nursing them in the cooler evening hours.

I told Martin, “Stop at Lowes and pick up a trap.”

“Why?”

“Because. I don’t want fifty of ‘em running around here.”

The double open-ended trap proved to be useless as we watched kitten after kitten run in one access then out the other. They played with it as if it were a toy. Grady, the largest of the four, was also the fastest and still too light to spring the openings shut. Frustrated, I asked Martin to stop at Lowes to pick up a one opening trap.

He sighed. “OK.”

The second trap proved to be effective as I spent a week hearing it snap shut every morning around 6 a.m. Grady was the first to take the bait of tuna on a paper lunch plate.

Mewing on the entire ride to Animal Allies in Spartanburg, he seemed to be begging me to let him go. By the time we reached the parking lot off Asheville Highway, the towel draped over the trap, in hopes of calming him down, was tattered where Grady clawed at it.

Late that afternoon I picked him up. A sedated and dazed Grady swayed back and forth in the carrier as we made our way home in silence.

When Martin came home, he peeked into the carrier. “How long do we keep him like this?”

“Overnight.”

“I still don’t know why you’re going to all this trouble. They’re wild. It’s not like they’re going to be lap cats.”

***

Eleven years later tears were already floating down my cheeks as I listened to the vet’s diagnosis. Cancer. A tumor in his stomach. He was in rapid decline. As Martin watched me, he teared up. He knew it wasn’t good. I ended the call and said, “He’s dying.”

Martin let out a howl. “No! Not Grady.” I stood up, hugging him. Sobbing we clung to each other. Grady was Martin’s favorite. I knew this was going to happen someday, just not this day. Sweet and loving he came in every night to lay on Martin’s lap as they watched TV together. He wouldn’t come in for me, only Martin.

The next day we brought Grady home to say goodbye then back to the vet. Martin held him. Dr. Carol gave Grady anesthesia. She left us alone as he drifted off into a deep sleep. Then she came back with her assistant Cheryl to finish her task. As she fed the needle into Grady’s hind leg, Dr. Carol let tears waft softly around her eyes.

“Are you ok?” Cheryl asked.

“No, I’m not.”

I wondered what it felt like to be the Angel of Death. Martin and I cried. I petted Grady’s head telling him how he was going to see Blue and Odie and his mom. Dr. Carol took out her stethoscope and listened. She looked at Martin and me.
“He’s gone.”

We rode home in near silence, the contents of the large box in the back seat the focus of our thoughts. In my mind I resurrected the day Martin came home with a company van filled with synthetic decking. “What’s that for?” I queried. “I’m building them a house.” It was winter. The boys were growing. The cardboard boxes on the veranda no longer adequate for holding them or keeping them warm. Martin also insulated the Kitty Kondo, as we named it, with SolarGuard, putting carpet remnants on the bottom to make a cozy nest. On nights when the temps dropped below freezing heated pads were inserted.

We fired our vet their first year. He was happy to see our two indoor cats; he wanted nothing to do with any feral. A few phone calls later I located a vet willing to give them booster vaccines. Getting still wild cats into a carrier proved a challenge. Martin and I both wear scars. Once at the vet, all but Blue were subdued. While his brothers hid in a corner, Blue bounced around the four walls like a cartoon cat knocking over displays and anything else in the way of his mania to escape, but as the years passed even Blue settled down.

Late weekday afternoons they all stretched out on the front porch in anticipation. As I came up the driveway, their eyes followed me as I pulled my Mazda into the garage. But,when Martin turned his car into the driveway, the cats bolted to the back veranda. Treats, pets and love had arrived. I loved them, too. But Martin was the giver of treats, that elixir for taming the wild beast.

Some say pets pull at our heart strings. This colony of lost boys tore our hearts wide open with their vulnerability, need and love. Like humans all they really wanted was to be loved and give love in return.

As I turned my RAV-4 into the driveway, I saw Mars on the front porch under the bench – the last man standing. We buried Grady on the back slope among the wildflowers. A hundred pound stone pulled from our woods marks his grave. We’ll miss you Grady.