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!

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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.

Time And Tales

 

 

The rewards of work are not the money and promotions. It is the friendships we make and hold for decades and perhaps a lifetime. Last night a longtime friend from my much younger working days came to dinner with his wife. We had not seen each other for more years than I care to think about.  Keeping in touch over the years is now made easier by social media.

I met Dan in 1983 when we worked for a national storage company. When I left the mid-west to join the acquisitions department in Seattle, Dan took my position as regional manager.

One had to be partially insane, at least, to work with him, or me for that matter. He is still one of the few people who gets my humor. I get his. We usually laughed through most of the more serious company meetings, seeing comical aspects where others dared not tread. I remember one meeting where we attracted the ire of the company president. Later, we laughed about that, too.

And there were days when I wanted to slap Dan myself because he tended to push the limits, like the day we were in Houston on business and he dropped me off at the airport with nine minutes to make my flight to Denver. Those were, of course, before the days of September 11. As we rushed toward the airport, I threatened to shoot him if I missed my flight. After a hurried goodbye, I pushed my way to the front of check-in, then sprinted down the hall and through the door with an electronic sign flashing “Now Boarding”. Mentally, I swore I was going to shoot him anyway. It all happened so fast.  Remembering a trip with a passenger on the incorrect flight, as the plane took off, I turned to the guy sitting next to me and queried, “We are going to Denver, aren’t we?”

We worked hard, but friends like Dan made it palatable. We had a lot of fun, crazy times. We talked about those times last night. We remembered other co-workers, some retired, some still working, some already gone from these earthly bonds.

Our kids are now grown, both of us grandparents. We were dining at my oldest daughter’s home, telling tales of our adventures as five of my grandchildren milled around the table waiting for dessert to be served. My daughter reminisced with us about babysitting Dan’s two children, taking them to all sorts of places in her turquoise colored Dodge.

It is said, “time waits for no one”. And, that is certainly true. The passage of time is inevitable. We often think of time from the perspective of world events, yet for all of us, time is personal. Our time is made up of how we spend it and who we spend it with, fragments woven into tales to be told.

Should Your Kids Take Care Of You?

Last week I contacted my attorney’s firm to make an appointment with him to review our wills. He was no longer with the firm. He gave up his practice and moved cross-country to help his aging parents. What a good son we would all say. And, boy oh boy, is he! He now gets to start over building a legal practice after he passes the bar in another state. Perhaps there is more to the story than what is readily apparent.

But, this reminded me of another day when I sat at lunch with two friends — two childless friends. Somehow the subject of assisted living came up. To my surprise, as we discussed the concept, my lunch mates mentioned how they would be living in such a community one day.

“I plan on aging in place.” I chirped. “Hopefully, I won’t ever go to any type of assisted living.”

Almost simultaneously they both turned to me and said, “Well, of course you won’t. You have children to take care of you.”

Huh? What? Their expectation that my children would care for me was equally surprising. I certainly didn’t have that expectation. My children are my family, part of my emotional support system, but I didn’t have them so they could take care of me in old age.

The primary reason for my planning for independence is my children. I’d like for them to live unfettered with my care. They have their own lives, spouses, children and now, my oldest daughter, has her very first grandchild. Taking care of myself is the best gift I can give them.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be involved in their lives. It means I do everything in my power to remain independent physically, mentally and financially. Contrary to my friends’ assumptions, people with children are no different, than those of us without children. Expecting a child to care for you in old age is expecting them to give up a part of their independence for you.

I grew up knowing a woman who did not have a career, marry or have friends of her own as she spent much of her adult life caring for her parents and a niece who lived with them. Even as a child, I could see she was unhappy with her life. All the neighborhood kids called her “Aunt Ann”.  Even that didn’t bring a smile to her face. Eventually, the niece grew up and moved out. The woman’s father and then her mother passed away. People asked her what she would do now. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and died before she could answer that question. I’m sure this childhood experience colored my view of remaining independent.

We, as parents, should never expect our kids to resign from their lives to care for us. It is up to us to care for us. We owe it to our children to stay physically active, to eat a healthy diet, to pursue our passions, to stay mentally sharp, to develop a community of friends of our own, to stay spiritually true to ourselves. And, if necessary, live in an assisted living community.  That is the best legacy we can leave them.

Retired Spouse Syndrome

Last Wednesday I joined a small class of Furman University students along with Professor Lorraine DeJong and other retired adults in an intergenerational course about what it’s like to be a “senior” in today’s society. Members of Furman’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) were asked to participate voluntarily in order to bring the experience to life for the students. I signed up for a couple of classes. The subject for the class I attended last week was relationships. While we discussed family, adult children, grandchildren and friends, the segment that caught my eye was retired spouse syndrome.

Researching retired spouse syndrome, I found many articles as well as research in both Japan and Italy referring to it as retired husband syndrome. It’s no secret men have a more difficult time than women when leaving the workplace behind. More of a man’s identity is tied up in his job description and title.

Conversely, women have taken many roles throughout their lives from work to being the main caregiver of children, perhaps even staying at home for a few years while raising them. Women also are more apt to be the caregiver of parents in their later years. And, for most couples women are the ones who maintain the social calendar. As a result women are more flexible about identity.

That said, I experienced unexpected feelings of sadness and loss when I left work. Those feelings were repeated when Martin retired as I also had many ties with his co-workers over his long career at a single company. Admittedly part of my identity was immersed in his identity. When he retired I was no longer the wife of the vice-president.

As Professor Phyllis Moen, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota and author of numerous books, points out, the first two years of retirement can be a time of enormous stress on a marriage. Both men and women experience the strain as they struggle to create new identities, both as a couple and as individuals. While single men and women also struggle, they may or may not have a partner to consider.

Shortly after Martin retired, I had to remind him I was not going to be his only employee for the rest of his life. Suddenly, the way I filled the dishwasher and the time of day I put clothes in the washer was all wrong. Mind you, we have had a marriage of equal partnership where he washed clothes and did dishes, too. We both cook. It was our habit that whoever cooked dinner that night, the other one of us did the kitchen clean-up. This arrangement worked for decades without comment until retirement.

As I have chronicled in these pages, when we retire, our world shrinks. As it becomes smaller, we are sometimes caught up in minutiae. As I’ve also pointed out, it takes about two years to adjust to a new life and discard the old identity. Avoiding retired spouse syndrome requires an awareness of it in the first place. Once you are aware of it, then it takes commitment and communication as a couple to create the identity you envision for yourselves, together and individually.

Oftentimes, we forget the us factor. Us doesn’t mean we are joined at the hip 24/7; it means we honor and respect each other as we forge new identities. Listening is part of the communication, perhaps the most important aspect. One of the tools Martin and I used was the bucket list. We’d made bucket lists before retirement. We made others after retirement. Then we compared lists. It helped to ignite an honest discussion of who we were and who we wanted to be and whether or not our wants meshed. They did.

As for the dishwasher? Martin loads it — every night.  Renewed purpose takes many forms.  And we do laundry whenever we need to.

BFF

Sixty years ago next week my mother pulled me up on her lap and told me it was my fifth birthday. I don’t remember much else about the conversation, excepting she also told me I was going to school the next fall. It was in Miss Nash’s kindergarten class where I met the girl who became my best friend throughout our school years.

Denise was petite with very, very long blonde hair and blue eyes. To me, with my tall, gangly frame and short blonde hair she looked like a beautiful doll. She took dance lessons like ballet and Hawaiian while I loathed any kind of formal physical activity including sports. But, we had a lot in common. In second grade our mothers became the Girl Scout leaders for our troop, Denise’s mother as leader and mine as her assistant. We both attended Wall Methodist Church where we went to Sunday School and later the Methodist Youth Foundation. And, of course, we were in the same schools and often the same classes.

Like many best friends forever during their school years, we lost track of each other after high school. It was mainly my doing. I moved away to a different state. I attended one high school reunion when I was twenty-three. Then, I fell off the radar as marriage, children and career took precedence along with moves to still more states. As I later learned, at subsequent reunions I was listed as ‘missing’. Denise thought I had died!

A couple of years ago, as I began taking writing courses, specifically memoir writing, I began thinking of my school years and my best friend forever along with other classmates. Where were they? What were their lives like? Who did they become?

The internet is a great invention. What was, in the past, near impossible to put together without a lot of phone calls and letter writing, takes only a few clicks on Facebook in the twenty-first century.  I found quite a few people, but not Denise. One of the difficult parts about finding women friends is they get married, change their last name and some, like me, do not hyphenate or use their maiden name. Even after another former classmate gave me Denise’s married name, I still couldn’t locate her.

But, Facebook did not let me down. One evening as I read a post by a former classmate, I scrolled through the comments. There at the end was a familiar last name attached to a remark. It wasn’t Denise, but her brother Mike. I messaged him immediately. And that is how I recently received a message from Denise saying, “It’s denise ur bff someone’s birthday is coming up”.

Sixty years ago sitting on my mother’s lap I hadn’t met Denise yet, the internet was not even anyone’s dream, computers were gargantuan machines taking up large amounts of building space. Yet, despite all the miles and life events in-between, Denise and I still have warm feelings for each other fueled by our memories of common childhood experiences. There are some things that never change, especially best friends forever.

Peer Pressure

When I think of peer pressure, I usually think of my teenage grandchildren. Yet, strangely enough, I’ve encountered more peer pressure in retirement than I thought possible. Oh, it’s not the type of pressure kids face like being hassled to smoke a cigarette or drink alcohol or experience an illegal drug. Rather it’s the push by peers to join the activities they enjoy assuming you will enjoy them, too. Or it’s the pressure to take part as a volunteer because volunteers are needed by their chosen organization. Or, it could be the person likes your company and may want to further the friendship by doing more together.

In just the last few weeks I’ve been asked to join book clubs, a monthly mahjong game, a gym, another writing group, a gardening club and a political action group. While I may certainly enjoy all of those activities, if I said, ‘yes’ to any or all of them, what is important to me would be swallowed up. In the past, saying, ‘no’ was not one of my strong points and sometimes it still isn’t. Why we agree to do something we really don’t want to do is usually based in our wish to keep the relationship.  Thus we try not to offend the other person by saying, ‘no’ to their request.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was busy nearly going down in flames because I didn’t say, ‘no’ often enough, I learned a valuable lesson. I learned to say, ‘yes’ to me. This twist in my thinking made it easier to turn down the requests to join in too many activities. Not to sound mean, but I also figured out sometimes I was agreeing to partake with someone I didn’t really enjoy being around. My wish not to hurt another person’s feelings was taking a toll on me.

How did I arrive at this change in thinking, making self-love (not selfishness) a priority? I remember a spring day where I sat on the couch recovering from pleurisy. The night before Martin drove me the six blocks from our house to the local hospital. I didn’t think I was having a heart attack, but the hospital staff did. Describing chest pain and difficulty breathing got me an immediate wheelchair ride to the inner rooms of the ER where two nurses shoved oxygen tubes up my nose and took my pulse and then blood gases. Finally, a chest X-ray revealed inflammation of my lungs. Whew! In comparison to a heart attack, pleurisy sounded good. The ER doctor told me rest, rest, rest.

The thought of a heart attack scared me. Between naps, I spent the next day in deep retrospection of what my life was at the time. I likened myself to a small plane in a fiery nose-dive about to hit the ground, exploding into flames upon impact. This was not the first time I was in a nose-dive going down in flames. But, I knew it had to be the last.

As I sat in my internal revery that afternoon, a friend, who knew I was home from work sick, called to ask me to watch her eight-year-old daughter as “something” had come up that she just had to take care of. To my surprise I heard myself telling her I couldn’t possibly watch an eight-year-old in my condition. When she coaxed me with how quiet her daughter would be (I knew this kid was not quiet), I said, “Look I know you’re in a bind, but I’m also in a bind. I need rest. I have to take care of myself first.”

Even as I said it, I felt guilty, selfish. Yet, after we ended the conversation, I felt empowered. I felt good. I had said, ‘yes’ to me. That’s when I realized the operative word in these situations isn’t ‘no’; it’s ‘yes’… ‘yes’ to me. I needed to say, ‘yes’ to me and clear my life of activities and relationships that were not passionately important to me.

Although that may sound selfish, participating in activities because we feel we ‘should’ can take a toll on our psychological well-being. I call participating in activities we ‘want’ to partake in self-love as these are the activities that feed our spirit. Conversely, if an activity drains your spirit, it needs to go.

With the possibility of so much unstructured time in retirement, it’s more important then ever to know what you want, what is best for you and how to say, ‘yes’ to your priorities. In order to stay focused, write it down. The bucket list is a good place to start creating your agenda. If you are unsure about an activity, ask yourself if you are truly passionate about participating in that activity. With an unambiguous agenda it’s easier to set clear-cut boundaries with our peers. And, that helps us limit peer pressure at any age.

Fences

Setting boundaries

Setting boundaries

In the past few weeks I’ve had more than one friend tell me how, now that they are over 60, they’re having an easier time telling people what they actually think. They are having an easier time saying, “No” and putting their needs first.

One said, “Do you think that’s selfish?” My resounding answer was and is, “Absolutely not! In fact, it’s healthy.”

On the other hand I encountered someone trying to please everyone. As she found out, not for the first time, pleasing everyone is an impossible task. I’ve learned the act of trying to please one person often means being unfair to another person. Then, when that person squawks and you try to alter the situation to please them, the first person is affronted. What a mess! It’s a no-win situation for the people-pleaser.

Being a people-pleaser takes its toll on our stress level. While the people-pleaser is trying to please others, they are usually putting their feelings and needs aside. We already have our own problems. Increasing that burden by accepting ownership of someone else’s feelings or problems also increases our stress level. The current mantra of “Not my circus; not my monkey” is a healthy thought. Leaving someone else’s monkey on their back means you are setting boundaries.

All too often we look at setting personal boundaries as building fences that keep others out. In reality we are making others responsible and accountable for their situation. Remember the old saying, “Good fences make good neighbors?” Just like a physical fence along a lot line, setting personal boundaries tells others which space is yours and which space belongs to them. It sets the tone of respect for your emotions, your time and your well-being.

One of the situations I’ve come across in retirement is people who think I am sitting around with lots and lots of time on my hands just waiting for them to give me something to do. Before I retired I was warned by an already-retired acquaintance how I would need to guard my time jealously. He was correct. This is where I found it necessary to set boundaries time and again as people thought I would make a great volunteer for their organization or I had time for one more class or an afternoon of playing cards or joining one more club or group. I struggle at times, but for my personal sanity I learned to say, “No.”

Most of the time I’m in a give and take relationship where my decision is accepted graciously. There is mutual respect. However, if my decision is not respected and pushback ensues, I have no qualms about pushing back myself. And, yes, I find it easier to tell people what I want, need and think now that I’m in my sixties. After decades of caring for others, sometimes to my detriment, this time is for me. Oh, I still have people I care for and want to take care of, but I put my needs at the top of the pecking order.

Working on self-awareness is wholly necessary to reach self-confidence in setting boundaries. Being mindful of who you are in retirement, what you want from these years and what you need emotionally to achieve a fulfilling lifestyle will help you stay on your chosen path. Fences do not keep people out; fences allow you to thrive on your terms.

Happy Holidays

This post originally appeared on November 22, 2015.

 
This is not the type of article I usually write. For some, it may be a little controversial. That’s O.K. – this is just my thought and perspective – comments from my readers are always welcome. I find as I age, I am less interested in ideology and more interested in spirituality. I feel a shift in my world view.

Globally, we are facing humanitarian crisis after crisis of gargantuan proportions. Yet, once again, it has started — the continued arguments over the term ‘Happy Holidays’. The articles, news comments, Facebook posts and even political candidates weighing in on what for some is apparently a controversy invoking the idea of a ‘war on Christmas’. Last year I had someone say to me, “I hate Happy Holidays!” As a Christian, I asked myself, “How is it someone is using the word hate in this season of peace, love and joy?”

So, I decided this year to weigh in myself in an attempt to give a different perspective in order to quell what seems to me a silly thing for concern, considering how the world is currently ripping apart at the seams, filled with war, terrorism, hunger, homelessness and on and on and on. In this season of giving thanks, this season of peace, this season of love, I offer this.

The use of the term Happy Holidays is not a recent occurrence. As a child in the 1950s and 60s, I remember my Mother often used the greeting Happy Holidays. My Mother sometimes worked at one of the local stores during the Holiday Season, which in the United States, started around Thanksgiving. In those days, we were a country primarily of Christians, most notably of Protestant faiths. I remember my parents talking about how it was a big step for many when Kennedy, a Catholic, was elected President of the United States.

If, like my Mother, you worked at a store starting around Thanksgiving, can you imagine the clerks saying, “Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,” before handing you your package and receipt? Instead, they said, “Happy Holidays.”

From my point of view, and I was a child at the time so I could be totally off kilter on this one, but it seems to me Happy Holidays was a wish of inclusion. Heck, when I was a kid, Andy Williams sang a popular song, Happy Holiday, which was originally sung by Bing Crosby in 1942 and written by Irving Berlin in 1941. To me, it is still a Christmas song I listen to at Christmas. But, it could be a song for any of the other celebrations during the Holiday Season, as well. So, Happy Holidays was used way before I was born! Yet, some people take offense at its use like it’s a recent occurrence designed to be a ‘war on Christmas’.

I don’t remember any controversy over the use of the term Happy Holidays when I was a child. So, why in recent decades has it become such an issue for some people? Perhaps it is because in the 1950s and 1960s, Christians were pretty much in the majority, at least in the United States. Well, folks, a 2016 poll by ABC news found that 83% of Americans still identify themselves as Christians.

I can’t speak for the rest of the world. But, these days, we live in a much more pluralistic nation and for that matter, the entire world is more diverse. Today, a store clerk would have to add Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Winter Solstice and, a new one I recently heard, Happy HumanLight. If we are a diverse people, a welcoming people, a people wanting to include rather than exclude, than Happy Holidays recognizes our diversity, it welcomes someone regardless of their faith or even if they don’t have one. It includes everyone.

If I know someone is a Christian, I say, “Merry Christmas.” If I know someone is Jewish, I say, “Happy Hanukkah.” And, so on. To me, that is just common courtesy. As a Christian, I am not offended if someone says, “Happy Holidays” to me. It is all inclusive, welcoming and courteous. I recognize the person most likely has no idea what my affiliation is, but is still showing me common courtesy with a wish for a Happy Holiday. It’s about acceptance of differences and not making this all about me and my faith.

This season is not about us individually. It is not about self-righteous indignation. It is not about hate. It is not about creating still more us vs. them situations. It is not about red cups or whether a retailer or someone on the streets says Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. We certainly have larger worries as a world. We are all connected as a world. When one suffers, we all suffer. And there is already way too much suffering.

In this season of love, peace and joy, let us put our small differences aside and accept each other regardless of faith or any other differences for that matter. Let us give thanks for our diversity and that we have the ability to make the world a better place. Let us truly make this a season of love, peace and joy.

I leave you with the Buddhist prayer of loving kindness:

May you be well;
May you be happy;
May you be peaceful;
May you be loved.

To all my readers, wherever you are in the world, whatever your circumstance, whatever your faith – Happy Holidays

Kathy

Rumors

My first lesson in rumors and gossip was in Miss Niles’ first grade class. A young woman with dark curly hair and a kind smile, she had all of her students line their little wooden chairs up across the front of the room and sit in them. Then she whispered something into the ear of our classmate in the first chair. I was somewhere near the end of the line and by the time I heard the whispering in my ear and passed it on to the next child, the saying was no where near what Miss Niles originally whispered. We were, of course, playing the game of ‘Telephone’.

Rumors and gossip, however, are no game. Quite often they hurt, especially if the rumors are so far from the truth as to be malicious. Every time I hear a bit of gossip that doesn’t make sense, I think of the game in Miss Niles’ first grade. We don’t always intend to pass on hurtful gossip, but each time a rumor is repeated, it seems to grow or the story changes ever so slightly, so that by the time it reaches the last person, it is no where near what it was at the start.

Why do people spread rumors? When I worked, I found the gossips to be envious or jealous of someone’s prowess in the workplace. Conversely, other workers might make fun of a co-worker’s mishap. Talking negatively about a fellow employee made the gossip feel superior, if only for a moment. Then I retired thinking all of the negative rumors were left behind along with the water cooler.

Gossip, however, apparently doesn’t retire. Just this week in a casual conversation with someone I didn’t know, we started exchanging our thoughts on writing classes. Before I knew it I was being warned off from a teacher I hadn’t heard of before. Along with some other tidbits “he’ll rip your work apart” rung in my ears. I found myself responding about how I liked critiques, but maybe I wouldn’t take that teacher’s class.

Later when I looked up the class and read the teacher’s bio, I shooed away the seeds of doubt. Honest critiques make me a better writer. Maybe the person warning me off was overly sensitive. They probably meant well, but the bad feeling lingered both about them and the teacher.

In retirement we have better things to do with our time than gossip. We have other subjects to talk about like our retirement adventures. We know who we are and what we are about. We don’t need to put someone else down in order to feel good about ourselves. We have arrived at a stage of life where we don’t want to be the victim or victimize someone else.

If you have been a victim of gossip, you know it can be hurtful, perhaps even ruining your reputation with exaggerations or worse yet, downright lies. Even innuendo can leave its mark. If someone is doing that to you, you can try talking to them about their unacceptable behavior or you can stop contact with them altogether. We have a choice. This isn’t like the workplace where we had to go to the office every day and wend our way through the trail of rumors. Now, we don’t necessarily have to continue the relationship.

If you have promoted gossip, retirement is the time to turn your energies to something more productive. You also have a choice. People who spread rumors often see themselves as victims, blaming others for their life circumstance. It is when we choose to stop being a victim that we no longer have to victimize others by gossiping about them.

In retirement we don’t need to devalue someone else in order to feel important. We are more than that. We have arrived. And we choose a life of positivity rather than negativity.