"Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength. " Betty Friedan

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Heart of Our Family

As most people who know me know, when I am upset (or happy) or even over thinking, I write. I write to get my feelings out. Much of what I write is never seen, even by me because I don't save it all. I certainly don't share it all since I am not always big on sharing my feelings, especially the hard ones.

But, sometimes my feelings are so strong that I just have to get them out. Those who have read "In My 50th Year" know all about me being in the throes of a stereotypical midlife crisis. It is so "I Me, Mine;" using modern technology to talk about myself via blog. The only narcissistic element I missed is a selfie or two.

Right now as I type this, as I whine about my completely petty problems, and my seemingly never ending existential and mid-life crises, my Auntie Jeanette is lying in a bed, in hospice care, slowly slipping away. And, this morning we got news that she is almost near the end of her journey.

To say she's my "favorite" aunt is disrespectful to all of my aunts, and would diminish the love I feel for them. But, to say I am the closest to her also seems like it's not enough. There's never been a time in my life that she hasn't been there, hasn't cheered me on, or held me up after yet another heart break or disappointment. There is nothing I have never been able to say to her or to share with her. 

Mother's Day 2006
Just as she has always been, even now, she remains as my cousin Tracy calls her, "the heart" of our family. While in the hospital she was worried about everyone, including me, and worried about my biopsy (it was negative) and even asked me about the book project from hell that never seems to end. She even made sure to call my cousin on her 40th birthday and she is worried about how hard her impending death will be on my dad, her big brother.

Just as she always has, she's taught me so much through this. I have never gone through the hospice process. I have lost many people in my life, many I have loved deeply. But their impending death was always the elephant in the room, never to be spoken about. This is different, because she is different, and even in dying, she has made it easier on those who love her.

Her courage and strength seem limitless. Her honesty at what is happening to her has been startling to me. We are a strong family, and we take pride in that. We "tough it out" no matter what "it" is. But, we are always warm, compassionate and loving with one another. One just has to get through the tough side first, kind of like a Tootsie Pop: you have to get through the hard outside to get to the soft, sweet chocolate on the inside.

So, after she was moved to the hospice, I finally started to let her see me tear up and said, "I want to get mushy but I don't want to make this harder for you." She told me, "now is the time to get mushy, I am dying and you need to say whatever you want to say." 

As hard as it was to get the words out through my tears, it also felt like such a gift to be able to tell her how much I love her and to thank her for always being there for me. I thanked her for being a refuge and a safe place for me; including me as part of her immediate family; for giving me a sense of normal in an often chaotic childhood, for giving me so many happy Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Rosh Hashanah dinners and parties that have continued well into my adulthood. 

I told her how much I love her and I asked what I could do for her and my cousins.She told me, "keep the Mother's Day picnic going, it is a 66 year tradition, but it's not really about Mother's Day. It's about our family, it IS our family, it keeps us connected to the generations before us and the generations that follow."  And she said to make sure we still have holiday dinners, and that we laugh and eat and love each other. I promised her I would, that we all would.

She told me that she loved me very, very, very much and also told me that she was proud of the woman I have become. She asked me to make sure that I am happy, and said that I need to follow my heart no matter what, even if that might make others unhappy, and said that "maybe we Gerbers don't always need to tough it out so much."  As we said our goodbyes we hugged and kissed, just like we always do, but we both knew it was different.

My sadness and grief at losing her is almost overwhelming.  Yet, I also feel a strange sense of peace at being able to tell her goodbye openly and completely, and at seeing the peace she is in, and that she's no longer in pain because of the compassionate and loving care she's received.

I also keep thinking about how important it is to say what you need or want to say to those you love, not while they are dying, but now, let them know how you feel. 

I think that's also why I feel such peace, I never held back from her, I always told her how much I loved her and my hope is that she can feel that love now in her final hours. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Civic Engagement and Cynicism

Last night as I was tossing and turning and trying to fall asleep (like that's new), I realized that there's no way I could just write about aging, that I wanted, and needed, to blog to get things out. And, as I wrote in my first post, to use this blog as a journal.

As always, if you don't want to catch my brand of crazy, and prefer to just keep your own, step away from the blog. Otherwise, here's my rant for today. Ah, reminds me of Dennis Miller when he was actually funny: "I don't want to get off on a rant here." But lest I digress too much.

So, what's the crazy making du jour? The June 3rd election of course. Those who know me, know that for the past 20 years, I have been an active member of my community, i.e. known to some as the Queen of Volunteering. However, in the past few years I have cut down on my volunteer activities, and the present election is making me consider actually stopping any city related activities.

Sadly, my election cynicism is not new, but in spite of it, there's still a big part of me that's hopeful, and yes, naive, that people who get involved in community service do so for the same reason that I do. Because they are as passionate about things as I am, and that they say what they mean because they feel as deeply as I do about things and only want to do the right thing.

There are bigger issues in this election, statewide offices, a couple of propositions, but my concern, my sadness, comes from my local election. I don't want to turn this into a political blog, or another local, whack-job's biased and misinformed blog. That means I won't "name names," attack, or rant about specific individuals and what I think they have done. I am just writing about this because it's bothering me and I share what I feel (again, not a big shock to anybody that knows me).

It's funny, I find that as I age I hear or understand songs in an entirely different way.  All I keep hearing is the line from Simon and Garfunkel's brilliant Mrs. Robinson:
"Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon. Going to the candidate's debate. Laugh about it, shout about it, when you've got to choose. Every way you look at it you lose."
It breaks my heart that just 8 years ago, that the candidates that so many of us supported and worked together to get elected to get rid of a divisive, unethical and polarizing office holder, are now just as divided. And, that at least one has resorted to using those same half-truths via negative mailers, phone calls, and simple intimidation.

The most heartbreaking thing for me is the level of fear I see around me. I never thought I would see the same level of fear amongst my friends and neighbors to simply speak up about who they are supporting and why. The fact that many feel this way speaks volumes, if you are afraid of retribution or retaliation or for being the next person on the hit list, ask yourself this, "is this somebody that should be an elected official?" Is this the way that we want people to get elected.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Just How Much Sweetness is Too Much?

Here is my post about the changes to my physical health. You notice I am not calling it my "weight loss" post. That's because while my weight loss has been a great perk of me eating better, my diet change was not focused on weight loss so I would "look" better, it was so that I would live longer and more healthfully.

As usual, this will be long (I am me after all), but I think worth writing about since from what I hear, my experience isn't all that uncommon. Which until it happened to me, I had never heard others talk about. In fact, this lack of communication about the very normal processes of aging is one of the main reasons I have started this blog.

It was a year ago this week that my doctor finally told me something that actually scared me into acting. I have had the same primary care physician since I was 27 (remarkable as that is) and she's seen me through both the good and the bad of my health.  And, for the past 10 years, she's been after me about my cholesterol being too high, my weight gradually increasing, and my blood pressure also going up. And, each year, I tell her the same, "I will work on it, exercise more, eat better etc." and of course, had never done it because I was "too busy," in complete denial, or just plain lazy.

So last May, as we were chatting about my lab results, my general health, and especially the dreaded Permanent Pause, she noted, I see your OB/GYN is concerned that your Vitamin D is so low (yeah, apparently that's a thing too), but that's nothing "Did you know that you are pre-diabetic?" Excuse me? I am WHAT?!

She went on to explain that it puts me at higher risk for heart disease as well as diabetes, but, that it is possible to slow down or even stop, its progression naturally, but that she was only going to give me 6 months to show her I was serious this time. As I alternated between anger, denial and finally hitting her with a barrage of questions, she said, "I know you, you like a lot of information, we have a class that will answer all of your questions.It is a pre-diabetes/metabolic syndrome class taught by one of our dietitians and it is free to members." As I was heading out the door, the last thing she said was, "and it wouldn't hurt if you lost a little weight too."

Needless to say, I left her office in a less-than-happy mood, feeling powerless and angry at myself for getting here. But, I did as she suggested and signed up for the class. Which was one of the best things I have ever done in my life.

The bottom line is not going to be a surprise to anyone; there is no magic bullet, no miracle weight loss program or diet, it is as simple as eating what is good for you and avoiding what is bad. I hesitated to just write that I went on a "low-carb" diet because that's too simplified, and just one piece of what I do. It's not just about carbs or sugar or fat, but about everything and at the top of that list is moving more.

I learned that pre-diabetes is a combination of medical conditions that make it more likely for you to get diabetes. And, that I had every single one of these conditions except one: 
  • Increased blood sugars
  • Increased abdominal fat
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased LDL cholesterol 
  • Increased triglycerides (surprisingly, this is the only one I didn't have)
  • Sedentary Lifestyle
  • Family history of diabetes
The dietitian went on to tell us that it might seem overwhelming (no kidding) but that if you lose weight, start exercising, and eat a healthy diet, you can decrease your risk for diabetes by 58%. And that if you make these changes now, "you might be able to prevent or delay getting diabetes." She also said that just trying to make one lifestyle change will improve your health so don't think you have to do it all at once.

The Lifestyle Changes she recommended and what I do now (some with my own modifications based on the reality of my life):
  • Exercise - try to get 30 to 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (such as brisk walking) every day and try to add in resistance/weight training 2 days per week. I made a commitment to exercise at least 5 days a week for 30 minutes because I know there's no way I could do it every day, and I do my arm weights at least 3 days a week, because it's easy to just get up from the computer and do them, it forces me to take a break too. And remember, you can break up your exercise into shorter periods, do 15 minutes twice a day if you have to.
  • Lose weight - This one actually seemed easier than all the others after she told us even smaller weight losses like 5 to 10% of your body weight are significant. When I went to the class I was at my heaviest weight ever, and a 5% loss was about 9 pounds, and when I realized that, I stopped feeling so overwhelmed and thought "I can do that." The fact that I have lost 34 pounds would have shocked me then, but I did it in a year, not in 6 months.
  • Eat Healthy - No shock, it is just to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, reduce or eliminate sugars and limit refined sugars and refined starchy foods, reduce or eliminate salt and high sodium foods, reduce or eliminate fried foods and processed meats like bacon, sausage and lunch meats, eat more fish, eat skinless turkey or chicken instead of red meats, eliminate or eat meat sparingly, eating no more than 6 ounces of red meat a week. She basically told us what I think we have all been told, what we all know but for some reason, don't all follow: Avoid foods high in saturated fats and high in sugar, limit alcohol, and starches and add in vegetables (2-3 cups a day), 2-3 fruits a day, Legumes 4-5 times a week (peas, beans, and lentils), whole grains, and small amounts of unsalted seeds and nuts, healthy fats and EXERCISE!
So, that's what I did and how I live now. I have not given up anything, I just eat things that I once considered as daily items, much more infrequently, especially sugar and sweet things, including my beloved chocolate, croissants and sourdough bread. I would say that as someone who had at least one piece of candy every day, my sugar addiction has been the hardest thing to kick and I haven't kicked it completely.

The other thing that has been the biggest help has been My Fitness Pal. Someone else in the class told us about it. It tracks everything, your weight, your goals, your exercise and I have used it faithfully every day, even on vacation since you can use it on your phone, tablet and on your old-fashioned PC. I feel like someone is there with me, that I have to be accountable to and it motivates me. And it helps me know just how much I have eaten, how many carbs, how much sugar so that if I do want to splurge a little I can without making my blood sugar spike.

As everyone can see, I have been successful at the weight loss. But, I am happy to say that my health has also improved, my total cholesterol is now below 200 though my bad cholesterol is still higher than she'd like since I have a hard time giving up my cheese addiction, my blood pressure is good, my blood sugar has gone down two points (while still in the pre-diabetics range, it's going in the right direction), even my heart rate is lower. I have been the same weight now since March (give or take 1-3 pounds) so I think I have found what works for me.

And, I feel better! I have more flexibility and when I stretch I notice I can do exercises that I haven't been able to since I was in my 20s. I would be lying if I didn't say it wasn't nice to be down 3 sizes and at the same weight I was at 25, especially since I have gotten there in a healthy way.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Going Beyond 50

For those who read and followed "In My 50th Year" you might be surprised to see I am back. Or, maybe not. Writers are both social and anti-social. Writing is one of the few occupations you do in complete privacy, alone, with the intention of sharing with others. And I think we are also at least slightly narcissistic. I think you have to be in order to let others see what you have written. But once again, I digress.

Turning 50 seems to have stirred so much more in me than any other milestone birthday before it has. Maybe that's because it's the first milestone that actually had me feeling (and seeing) the physical changes that my body is going through as I age. While I am sure that they have been happening for a lot longer, it seems like I suddenly woke up in my 50th year and had them.

It is now two years past the big event and I am still grappling with these changes and with the fact that inside, I still think I am somewhere between 25 and 35. I keep waiting for the wisdom or maturity that everyone tells me comes from aging.

So, while one of the biggest things I am grappling with is whether or not I should even write anymore, can write anymore, ironically, writing about my life, journaling (or in this case, blogging) is what I do to help myself deal with things. I also thought by sharing this phase of my life that it would help me feel less alone, knowing that others might also be going through some of the same things as I am. And, it might help them feel less alone too. So my hope is that you will share here so we can all benefit from your experiences.

As promised, for my first "official" post, I will blog about one physical change that I have had control over, and that is my diet and how and what I did since many of you have asked. I just wanted to post an intro. to the new blog so you'd know where to find me. So, please be patient with me, I do have actual work to do that pays me!

While I might end up bitching a lot about aging, I do know that I am fortunate that I am aging, and I thought this quote is a good reminder of that fact.