Category Archives: Aging

Chapters in December

The skies are grey and heavy with rain on this Saturday a week before Christmas.  I’m supposed to be editing my yearly Family Christmas letter.  The envelopes are addressed, and stamped, the cards are ready to go into the envelopes, and the letter is mostly finished, but it’s been a difficult task this year.

Certain Man is home today, in the house, working on tomorrow’s sermon for our congregation at Laws Mennonite Church.  I’m sitting for the first time since I got up!  And I did sleep in this morning.  In fact, when I got up and saw that it was after eight o’clock, I rattled around the old nursery rhyme in my head, editing it as I went.

Mary Annie has grown so fine
She won’t get up to feed the swine
But lies in bed till eight or nine
Lazy Mary Annie!

This week has been another week in the journey I continue to make in life.  I think the last months I’ve felt more like I was walking in my Mama’s footsteps than I ever have before.  One of the things that is evident to me is that the Mama I remember best was far younger than I am now.  And often things come up that hit me squarely in the face that were things of the years when I considered her “old.”

One of the things that has been entirely too reminiscent of her has been this thing of getting accustomed to my partial plate.  Mama had a bit more vanity than I do, and she went the route of implants and caps for most of the teeth she lost, but as the years passed, she was forced to go with dentures.  They were a sore trial to her, and they hurt, and they didn’t fit right, and they wouldn’t chew the things she wanted them to chew.  Lots of times she had sores in her mouth from where they rubbed, and she was dependent on me or someone else to take her to her dentist in Dover to get things adjusted or repaired or replaced.  I feel so sorry sometimes when I am dealing with even a minor maladjustment to my partial plate and I think of how she must have felt and how miserable she must have been with the constant lack of satisfaction with her teeth.  I wish that I had paid better attention and tried harder to help her get that one issue resolved.  I felt like I did run her to Dover a lot, but if she felt the despair in proportion to what I feel, I’m certain that she often wished that either she could just do it herself, or that I would have understood better and done more.

And then there is that issue with her feet.  In the last months, the feet that I inherited from her have been giving me a fit!  Last week I had a few days when I felt like I couldn’t walk!  I have been seeing a specialist, and he had told me on my first visit to his office that my feet were not in any kind of good shape.

“The arthritis in your feet, particularly your left one, is very advanced,” Dr. Menendez said that day in September.  “You have some bones in there that are ‘lipping’ and there are calcium deposits and just bad arthritis.”  He sat at the end of the table, holding my foot so gently in his hands, like he was willing it to be better somehow.  I saw a look in his eye that I decided to read as “compassion” instead of “pity” but I knew that he had seen something on the x-ray that told him that I wasn’t lying when I said that my feet sometimes hurt.

“I don’t feel like I’m in any sort of a crisis right now,” I said to him.  “Rather, I’m here for sort of a base line consultation at the advice of Dr. Wilson, and because I have a feeling that in the not too near future, I may need some help.  I also wanted to know if what I am doing now is the best thing I can do for them, or if there is something more I could be doing.”

He affirmed all of the things that I had been doing, prescribed a different anti-inflammatory, and told me that if I ever felt like I needed some shots in those feet, I shouldn’t hesitate to call him.  He did think that “putting them up whenever I could” might be a good practice to pursue.

I went out of his office that day with a heart that wanted to turn away from this aging process.  Dr. Wilson has told me (more frequently than I care to remember) that I’m “a young woman trapped in an old woman’s body.”  Excepting that over the years since he started to tell me that, the “young woman” has mutated to being a bit more age appropriate for the body, I’m rather forced to admit.  I remember hearing Uncle Johnny talking at one of our family reunions some time before he died.  He said, “You know, I’ve always been able to count on this body of mine to pretty much do what I want it to do when I want it to do it.  But something has started to change, and this old body is letting me down!”  Yepper, I’d say that pretty much catches it.  This old body is letting me down.

In the months since that first visit to Dr. Menendez’s office, I’ve had a life so full of happenings that I’ve hardly had time to think about feet.  There’s been canning to finish, lima beans to freeze, a beloved sister in law living in our yard, a dishwasher that needed replacing, seven family birthdays and a trip to Ohio, parties for my grandsons, Grammy days with my granddaughter, an ordination for Eldest Son, a new foster baby in the family, Thanksgiving, a Christmas Open House for Certain Man’s office friends, Christmas preparations and shopping and then the usual things with Our Girl Audrey and Blind Linda.  Life just hasn’t stopped, and that business about putting my feet up just hasn’t been a happening thing.  And slowly I became aware that there was something just not quite right with these crazy feet of mine. And last week, when it was rainy for a few days in a row, and I could barely motor, I called Dr. Menendez’s office and asked if I could come in for shots. The thing that really put me over the top was that the foot that hurt the most was my “good” one.  That kinda’ scared me because when my “good knee” went bad on me, it had to be replaced before my “bad” one.

They put me on the schedule for Thursday, a week out, and I hobbled about and got ready for the Christmas Open House, and prayed.  And the pain diminished and I felt a whole lot better about things.  I started toying with the idea of not going.  But then I had a regularly scheduled visit with Dr. Wilson, and decided to ask his advice about whether I should have it done.  I thought maybe he would advise against it.  However, it was my first visit to him since he had read the x-rays, and he had some strong words to say about it.  “Go get the shots,” he said forcefully.  “By all means, get them.  It’s Christmas, you are going to be on your feet a lot, and it just doesn’t make sense to not get them.  I really think you should!”

And so, on Thursday afternoon, I tromped off to Dr. Menendez’s office.  I thought I had prepared myself quite muchly for this encounter.  I had taken My Sweet Mama to her specialist often for this sort of thing, and I knew that it wasn’t pleasant, but as I sat on that table waiting for the doctor to come in, I was overwhelmed by such a feeling of Déjà vu that it almost took my breath away.  My feet stuck out the end of the table, and the veins, purple and prominent made their tracks across them in almost the same pattern that I had seen on Mama’s.  And when Dr. Menendez brought his spray for numbing, and sprayed it on my foot while putting a needle into almost the exact same spot that Mama often had hers, the pain from the needle wasn’t even a scosche compared to what was crashing through my heart.  My Mama!  My Sweet Mama!  What she must have felt those many times that she went for these shots, hoping to find relief for the pain that dogged her every step.  What had she thought?  Did she really think it was going to work this time?  Did she think she would spring out of there, able to do all the things that she so longed to do?  Did she somehow know that she was fighting a losing battle with time and aging and a body that was “letting her down?”

It was another chapter in my Decembered grief.  I missed her terribly in that moment, wished for the chance to talk to her again, and ask her more about what was in her heart.  Dr. Menendez put bandaids on the the drops of blood that appeared on the tops of my feet.  He smoothed some callouses off the bottom of my feet and reassured me that I would feel better.  I chatted with him cheerfully over the pain in my heart and took myself out of the office and into my mini-van and headed home.  And then, as I motored towards home, I talked to My Sweet Mama and cried some overdue tears.  The years slipped away so quickly.

But my feet are feeling so much better.  The weeks ahead hold so much promise.  The offspringin’s and the grandchildren are coming home for Christmas and I don’t feel nearly as incapacitated as I did a week ago.  I’m looking forward to the celebrations of Joy that are ahead.  The message of Christmas is that of incredible hope.  A Savior is born!  He came to us, in our sorrow, our need, our pain.  He came to bring Light and Healing and Life.  He came to bring Peace and Joy.  All the things that are wrong with this old world will someday be put right by this Precious Christmas Gift.

And that includes bodies that let us down.  My Sweet Mama’s feet don’t hurt her anymore.  She’s dancing in her brand new feet, and they are beautiful.  What a glorious expectation!  What a thing to look forward to!

My December Heart gives grateful praise.

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Filed under Aging, Dealing with Grief, Family, Grief, Heaven, My Life

Sunday Evening at Shady Acres

Am I the only one who can hardly believe that summer vacation is over and school is starting again?  Wherever has this month/summer/year gone?  People, this is serious!  I’m getting old at an alarming rate.  I’ve been regularly told by my LITTLES that I’m “really, really old!” and I’m starting to believe it.

The other Sunday while we were discussing a younger sibling’s birthday, the discussion turned to how old each of The LITTLES was, and we discovered that we had a two year old, a three year old, a five year old and two seven year olds.  That was good for a couple of minutes of discussion, then Charis looked thoughtful.

“Grammy!” She said, “How old are you?”

“How old do you think I am,” I asked, because I always love to hear their responses and I’m never offended at their answers, only entertained.

“Well,” she said thoughtfully, “I think you are probably 77!”

Her friend, Amanda, a frequent visitor to the class said disdainfully, “Nah!  I think she’s 58!”

“Well,” I said, “I’m 62!  I’m going to be 63 on my birthday in a few months.”

“Oh,” said Charis, philosophically, “Well, Amanda and I were almost right.  We were each just one off!”

That made me laugh, of course, and I thought about how a child’s mind works, and how totally logical it seemed to them that anything in the 60’s would only be “one off” from something in the 50’s or 70’s.

My LITTLES have given me lots of pause to consider over these last months.  There was an especially impressive time on the Sunday that we discussed Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit.  I struggled with how to make this lesson real to this age spread, and wondered about how we could even begin to catch the importance of the Holy Spirit. One of the suggested activities was to tie red crepe paper streamers to a fan, and to explain how even though we cannot see the wind, it has an effect on the streamers.  It is a force that is very real, even though it is invisible.

I had thought about this lesson a lot over the week before, and had decided that the streamers and the fan were a good idea.  While I was pondering what else I could do to emphasize the lesson for the LITTLES, I saw some of those small windmills on a stick sticking out of an end bin at Walmart, and had a flash of inspiration.  This was something that the children could hold in front of the fan and see how a fast they would go in a strong and forceful wind and they could take them home at the end of the class period and it could be a reminder.  I pounced upon the stash and procured the five I needed and felt like God had provided a small miracle and burst of inspiration especially for me.

Sunday morning.  Certain Man helped me to carry the large fan up to the classroom and I attached the red streamers to it.  When the class started, the kids were so excited to see the fan, and of course wondered what in the world we were going to do.  The windmills were held in reserve until after they had a chance to hear the story and I could turn on the fan to show them how the streamers worked.  They were duly impressed.  They gathered around and tried to catch the dancing and swaying streamers and laughed and talked and jostled for a place in the strong breeze.

Then I brought out the windmills and gave each of them one.  This was high attraction. The fan was very large, and there was plenty of room, but it didn’t take long before there was more than friendly competition for what was perceived as the best place, and whose windmill was spinning the fastest and there was much stomping about trying to have the most air.  I contained the commotion for quite a while, encouraging them to give each other room, to share the space, and to not shove.

When it seemed that they had all had adequate exposure, and enough time to watch their windmill spin merrily around, I said, “Okay, kids.  Let’s take our windmills back to our seats.  You may take them home with you and play with them there.”  And I turned off the fan.

You would have thought that I was depriving them of their personal oxygen supply.  There was great disapproval and grumbling until one enterprising youngster said, “Wait!  Look! You can blow on these windmills and they will still turn!”

Immediately there was great huffing and puffing while the five of them attempted to make their windmills turn under the power of their own breath.  In comparison to the fan, the windmills barely turned but the five of them were so occupied with the fact that they were moving that they barely noticed that they were about to hyperventilate.

And that was when the Spirit of the LORD spoke to my heart.  I stood there, watching my beloved LITTLES, and it was almost funny until I felt like God said to me, “That’s just what you look like to ME!”

“Excuse me?  Is that you LORD?”

“That’s just what you look like to me when you step away from the mighty power of the Holy Spirit and try to produce results in your own power.  It’s every bit as ridiculous, and it’s far more futile.  So often you try to do or say things in your own strength, and it really doesn’t go anywhere because it’s not of me.  Pay attention, Daughter.  This lesson wasn’t as much for your LITTLES as it was for you.”

I really can’t tell you much about the rest of that class period.  I had so much to think about.  There were so many thoughts and pictures running through my mind.  Pictures of times when intentions may have been good, but the power source just wasn’t right.  Pictures of times when the Power was blowing, but my little windmill was off on a shelf or looking for another breeze.  Times when I just didn’t get it at all, and was depleted and tired and almost “hyperventilating” from trying to reproduce in my own strength what I could have gotten from the Power that was far greater and not only promised to me, but readily available.

My LITTLES took their windmills home, and I hope that they remember something about that lesson.  But even if they never do, I will!  It sits in my heart, a cherished lesson for this teacher of LITTLES, who desperately needed it in this time and in this place.

My time with this group of LITTLES is coming to an end.  Today is my last scheduled Sunday for teaching.  Next Sunday is our Church Retreat weekend, and the following Sunday is the beginning of our new quarter.  How very much I shall miss them!  But this is a good move.  A young couple will team teach and they have relationships in place already within the class.  I am content, as well as certain that this what should be.  Certain Man and I want to do a little traveling (yes, ME, TOO!) and I am looking forward to a bit less chaotic Sunday mornings.  We’d like to have more Sunday company, and I also am greatly looking forward to being a part of the Older – (Ahem!) Mature Women’s Sunday school class.

And so, my heart gives grateful praise for the blessings of my life.  I am so blessed.  May each of you see the blessings that are yours as well.

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“They Called Him Laughter”

It’s been a wild ride in the Sunday School Class that I call The LITTLES at Laws Mennonite Church.  When December rolled around and it was time for Christmas, I was so behind in the curriculum that it wasn’t even Christmas in the lessons.  There were numerous reasons for this — sickness, schedules that precluded a separate class for the children, and my deep desire to not “waste” any of the already purchased study aids and lesson plans.

But I cannot bear to not have a good celebration of the birth of our LORD, so I set about the first of December to write my own lesson plans, find crafts that  were pertinent and to wing my way through.  The thing I didn’t remember was that December 1st began the new quarter in our Menno Media’s SHINE series.  So as December hurried to its end and the New Year loomed, I realized that I was without new material and that I needed to get stepping.  So I did some thinking and praying and decided that I was going to start with Genesis 1 and tell stories from Genesis until March 1st when the new quarter would begin, replete with Easter appropriate stories and activities for my small fry.

And we’ve had a blast.  I purchased some big beautiful pictures from friend Karen’s bookstore and looked online for child friendly crafts that were not copyright protected and set to work.  We went through the story of Creation, the story of Adam and Eve and the fall of man.  We covered the story of Cain and Abel and then the story of Noah and the flood.  We touched briefly on the Tower of Babel and then marched Mr. Abraham right  on out of Ur of the Chaldees to Canaan and talked about The Promise made.  In today’s lesson, we were talking about the birth of Isaac, how it takes patience to wait for things to happen, and about how God keeps his promises. Children love to talk about babies and they love the idea of old people having babies.

“What would you think,” I asked Katie Burkholder this morning, “if your Great Grandpa Millard and Great Grandma Lura (Benner) had a baby?”

She paused to consider.  “I would think,” she said carefully, “that THAT would be really funny!”

“And Charis,” I said, “What would you have thought if Grandma Yoder had had a baby?”

She laughed out loud.  “That would have been really, REALLY funny!” she said.  And giggled again at the thought of it.

“Why would that have been so funny?” I asked.

“Because they are so OLD!” was the chorus.  (Nobody feel insulted, here.  I’m regularly reminded by this group that I’m really old, too!)

And so I told them that Mr. Abraham was older than any of those people.  He was a hundred years old!  No one could think of anyone who was a hundred years old.

“Why do you think you don’t know anyone who is a hundred years old?” I said.  They looked very thoughtful and then one of them said, “Maybe because they are already in Heaven?”  And of course, that was a good answer.

And so we began the story of Isaac and how Abraham had to wait so long to get his little baby.  “Have any of you had to wait a really long time for something you wanted?” I asked them.  They were ready with the usual “My birthday,” and “Christmas.”

“Anything else?” I questioned.  “Anything else that you had to wait really long to do and your thought you just couldn’t wait?

“Yes,” said Charis.  “I had to wait and wait to be born!  I really wanted to get out of there!”

“Me, too,” said Katie.  “I had to wait so long, too.  It was so long and I was uncomfortable!  I wasn’t born until August Twelff and that was a long time!”

“Grandma Yoder was so lucky,” chimed in Charis, getting tuned in to that thought.  “Her birthday was on the first day of January.  The rest of us have to wait way longer in the year for our birthdays to get here!”

Yes, well. Now you know.

Back to the subject of Isaac we went and we had some projects to complete and the story to finish.  My LITTLES did so well, catching on quickly to why his name was “Laughter” (after first thinking that it was because he was a happy baby and laughed a lot).  They helped to make an instant pudding snack while we talked about how hard it is to wait for something to happen.  The vanilla pudding was divvied up into four containers with lids and they worked on other projects while we waited for the pudding to firm up.

The bell rang before  we were ready, just like it usually does, and there was a mad scramble for the coloring papers and projects and snack bags and out the door the four of them tumbled on their way back downstairs to their parents.  I looked around the room, all in disarray with crayons and markers and glue sticks and cutouts and stars and snack remnants all lying askew about.  It made this Delaware Grammy smile,  and I heard “Isaac” lingering in the corners and all around the cheerful, well equipped classroom.

This Delaware Grammy, short on grandbabies, and at an age when most gals have enough little ones in their lives, finds it to be soul satisfying to have these precious four LITTLES each week, entrusted to my care, to learn to know their hearts, their individual personalities, to hear their observations and to listen in on their thought processes. Each of them fills a different spot in my heart, and they and their families and especially their parents often find their way into my prayers.  Such a happy privilege is mine!

Thank God for the laughter!

 

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Marking the Years

She was lithe and young and beautiful.  Her long navy dress with its spaghetti straps looked out of place at the minimal services roadside rest area.  Her hair was flawlessly casual, and she washed perfect hands under the free standing sink beside mine.  I halted in my handwashing, my hands suddenly still under my own stream of water.

“Wow,” I said softy.  “You are all dressed up!”

She laughed.  “Oh.  Well.  Thank-you!”

I finished washing my hands and went around the corner to the side power blow dryer and held my wet hands under its blast.  I watched as the skin on my hands rippled and moved under the powerful stream of air, and the skin looked old and droopy — like my Grandma Yoder’s did when I was a little girl, and I watched her peeling peaches or washing dishes or braiding rugs. The similitude startled me and I felt a sudden sense of strangeness with the hands that have been mine all my life.  I finished the drying and went back out into the sunlight where Certain Man was waiting on me.  He was in his usual good humor, and he smiled when I walked over to him.  The smiley crinkles that I love so much ran along those perfect eyes and deepened as I came towards him.

“Are you ready to go?”  He asked in his pleasant voice.

“Sure am!” I replied in an effort to keep my voice light, happy.  I couldn’t voice the unrest I was feeling, how old and clumsy and worn out and uninteresting I felt.  We both got back into the mini-van and headed on down Interstate 81 towards Delaware and Home.

It had been such a restful weekend for me.  We had been planning this Yoder campout for almost a year, and it had been on a whim that I had signed up last November.  I had thought that maybe even My Sweet Mama would feel good enough to go along, and I had rented a cabin that would hold six people as soon as it became available.  But instead of planning and packing for Mama’s comfort, I had spent the week (before we went to the campout)  helping my sister in law, Rose, clean out some cupboards in Mama’s house, and we (mostly Rose) had even made great progress in the room that I had dreaded the most — My Daddy’s study.  It was a satisfying week, we accomplished a LOT, but there is still a long way to go, and the reminders of the passing of time and my own mortality were rife in the boxes and files and notes of a lifetime.  Where did the years go? How did I get to be almost sixty-two?  Am I really ten years older than Grandma Wert was when I was born?  I mean, she was old!  Am I really only two years younger than Grandma Yoder was when I was born?  She was ancient!

I felt the years in the pages of the memories that I packaged and brought home to peruse.  I felt the years in my bones as I realized that there were a whole lot of things that weren’t going to get done.  I felt the years in these replaced knees as Rose crawled around on the floor, getting into places that were just not accessible to me.  I felt the years in the weariness that came from activity that, even ten years ago, would have been remedied by a good night’s rest.  And it was with a sense of how mortal we all really are that I packed for the weekend away with my cousins, and knew that we would have even fewer faces than we had only a year ago.

The weekend was wonderful.  My cousins are mostly older than me, and I looked at the beloved faces and saw the tears and heard the laughter and felt the joy of belonging to a family who knows they aren’t perfect, but still enjoy the heritage and the memories of being a part of Dave and Savilla Yoder’s expansive family.  Most of the weekend, there was only one of the older generation there.  Uncle Paul came early and stayed to the end.  On Sunday, Uncle Jesse and Aunt Gladys and Aunt Miriam put in brief appearances, and there was a smattering of the next generation, but mostly it was the cousins and their spouses, sitting around, talking and remembering.  The thing is, from the youngest of the grandchildren to the oldest, there is only 24 years.  When you consider that there were sixty-one of us, that’s pretty impressive!  Over the years, we’ve lost some — Rhoda Arlene and Steve (Uncle Monroe and Aunt Naomi) Robert and Joseph (Uncle Jesse and Aunt Gladys) and Eugene (Aunt Miriam and Uncle Elmer) but there were 35 of us born in the 50’s. (15 in the 40’s and 11 in the 60’s.)  So what that means is that, as cousins, most of us are growing old around the same time.  This weekend, along with the memories and songs and eating and tears and laughter, there was talk of retirement and pensions and aches and pains.  There were assistive aids and talk of surgeries.  We really are getting older.  But in that company, with the people I’ve known and loved from my youth, I didn’t feel old.  I just felt typical and familiar and ordinary and comfortable.

But now, at this roadside rest, face to face with this adult and vibrant youth, my age and mortality were sitting uncomfortably in the pit of my stomach.  “You don’t mind getting older,” I told myself, chiding the wistful longing for the vitality and opportunity that suddenly seemed long gone.  “You have always embraced the passing years, relishing maturity and wisdom and experience and the stages of life as they come and go.  What is going on here?”  I shook back the tears in the seat beside Certain Man and redirected my attention to the book on tape that we were listening to.  The stories of James Herriott filled the car and we went on down the road.

I stole a look at the profile of this man that I love most.  His observant eyes were on the road, his strong hands on the steering wheel.  I saw his muscular arms, tanned dark from his many hours outside on our farm.   His hair is silver, his beard white.  The glasses have been a constant since before I knew him, but I never think of him looking old.  His face is unwrinkled except for those smiley crinkles, cheekbones still that defined, chiseled look above the beard that he has had without reprieve for forty years.  I think about the life that we have had together for over forty two years and everything seems so timeless — yet brief.  I think about our children, scattered and making their own lives and I think about My Sweet Mama, now home to Heaven, and how very short everything about this life really is.

It’s an old, old story, and it’s been told to every generation from the beginning of time:  Life just goes so swiftly.  Time doesn’t stop for anyone.  Before we know it, we will be — well, HERE!  And it hasn’t taken but a blink of an eyelash to get here.  And someday, down the corridors of time, but in that not too distant future, our grandchildren and great grandchildren may gather on a lovely September day and talk about the kind of people we were, the loves and misadventures of our lives, and the implications of the mistakes, the value of the successes and the memories they have of who we were and what we did and how we lived our lives and how we died.

And in all of these things, I pray that they laugh.  I pray that they will forgive.  I pray that the memories will be encouraging and that there will be understanding granted for our humanity.  I pray that they will be able to say, as I did this weekend, that when there was nothing else for Grandma Yoder to do but to hold on through the hard times, that she did what needed doing because it was the right thing to do, and she was committed to doing the right thing.

But if they talk of nothing else, I pray that they will speak of the Faith that held me steady.  That the One who died for me is a Redeemer, not only of broken lives, but of broken hearts, and bad situations and mistakes and follies and foibles of a woman whose humanity sometimes causes her to catch her breath with longing at that which is gone and can never be regained.

And I pray that they will think of me There!, in that land where we will be forever young, forever whole, forever healthy, and that they will know beyond all doubt that I am more alive at that moment than any of them are.  And that there will not be a single thing There! that will cause me to turn a wistful glance towards a long ago past.  It will be forgotten.  And what I’ll have there will be far better than what I left behind.

Ah, my friends, my cousins, my siblings and most of all, that Man that I Love Most– hear this, once again one of my favorite quotes from the pen of Robert Browning:

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!”

And so, for what has been, what is, and what is yet to come, my heart gives grateful, expectant praise.


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