Tag 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

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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Fourth Sunday

It is Sunday afternoon.  Mama’s bird is singing in the sun room.  I collapsed on my chair, the exhaustion of the week caught up with me and I slept a restless sleep.  The music that is playing quietly is Classical Lullabies by Fisher Price, and Certain Man is kicked back in his lazy-boy, sleeping soundly.  He came down with a bad cold and sore throat and needs the sleep even more than I do.  Lena is quietly here, doing something on her computer.  Middle Daughter is sleeping, getting ready for an evening shift with Delaware Hospice.  Youngest Daughter is in Chicago, believe it or not, spending time learning to know one of her daddy’s cousin and his family, Dan and Heather Yutzy and their precocious five year old, Kiran.  Rachel actually went to Chicago for the bachelorette party for her friend, Anna, whose wedding is coming up in a few weeks, but it has been a grand week for God happenings, and this Mama gives grateful praise.

I am just ready to head out to Country Rest Home.  My brother, Nel and his wife, Rose, arrived yesterday and have been helping to fill in the gaps.  Mama’s sister, Alma Jean Yoder, from Harrisonburg, Virginia, caught a ride to Delaware last evening, and her helping hands have already filled in some gaps for us.  It is pretty much the same there for our Sweet Mama.  Sometimes it feels like these days just run together with almost no variation except decline.

Early in this journey, one Sunday morning, while I sat by her bed in the hospital, she reached for my hand and spoke life giving words of love to me that I’ve needed for some time.  I always have known that my Mama loved me, but this last year has been hard for her and us all, and there were many times when it felt like the filters were gone and things were said that would set me back on my heels.  Sometimes when it was time to travel the miles to her house, I would ask the Father for the garment of praise and for wisdom to understand what it was that was best for my Mama, for I knew that she always could tell when something was bothering me and she hated it terribly when she thought I was sad.

“Mary Ann,” she would sometimes say with her eyes all pleading, “Have I been a good girl?”  Often this was after one of her more strident declarations, or actions that were out of character for her. How I hated that question that put me fully in the place of being the parent, while my heart still begged to be her child.  I didn’t want to be the one to tell her that she needed to stop driving.  I didn’t want to be the one to tell her that she needed a wheelchair or a walker.  I didn’t want to be the one to tell her that her days of self medicating were over.

“Everytime you come,” she said earlier this year, “you take something else away from me!!!” And she burst into tears.  Mama almost never cried, and it wrenched my heart as I struggled to know the difference between what was okay, what was negligence and what risks were acceptable.  I almost never laid down the law (we don’t do that with our Mama) but tried to negotiate what she was willing to live with and what she wasn’t.

And now she is suffering so much.  She moves so restlessly on the bed that has been her “home” in these last ten days, no longer asking to go home, not asking me to take her home with me.  She hasn’t spoken my name since Wednesday, and that is okay.  I don’t ask her because I don’t want her to have to think that hard.  I remember her words of love and I am comforted.  How I wish I could fix this for her.  I wish I could transform her into the healthy, young vibrant Mama of my youth, bring back the good, good times, the dancing eyes, the music, the love of beauty and the strong body.  These are the memories that we have of this brave, indomitable woman who is our mama.

But even if I couldn’t bring back the body the way it once was, today I’d give almost anything just to have her be the Mama.

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As an Evening Proceeds

5:00 pm

Today I had to have a molar extracted.  This process went FAR BETTER than I expected, and I give thanks that I live in this era and that the time is now and not even the time of my childhood. The worst part of it was the shot.  The best part was that Dr. Otto Tidwell sings to his patients while doing procedures.  It is a most soothing and consolatory gesture.

“You’re doing very fine,” he sang.  “Hold very still, we are getting done.”  Anything he said to me was a quiet, musically framed intonation.   (He did stop and speak a few disquieting things in a normal tone to his nurse, but I tried not to listen because he wasn’t talking to me.)  Yesterday in my regular dentist’s office, Dr. Steward had told me about this peculiarity, and that it was an excellent diversion, but there was a whole lot more about the man than his singing prowess that inspired confidence.  I was particularly comforted by the fact that He has pulled over 160,000 teeth in his career.  Yes.  That!

But now?

Well, between a the roots coming out in three different pieces, an abscess that needed cleaning out, and some stitches, I suspect that the easy part really is over now, and that the rest of this might not be much fun.  Eldest Daughter, Christina​, (who was my kind and encouraging chauffeur) had Dr. Tidwell just a little over a week ago, (also for an extraction) and she was numb for 12 hours.  I’m less than two hours post and it is ANYTHING but numb. But ice and pain medication and Middle Daughter, Deborah​, as a willing and capable helper  — well, let’s just say that’s a pretty stellar health care package, and I’m looking forward to a quiet night.  (I can at least hope for such!)

Thanks for all the well wishes and prayers on my behalf. Having a tooth pulled feels like such a violation, and with this being the last molar I have on the upper right, it feels like a rather severe statement of my age.  Tonight I am feeling every one of my 61 years, six months and 15 days. I’m sorely tempted to huddle in my chair with my blanket and brood until I get to where I can just sleep these hours away.  But then I might miss something.  And these are exciting days at Shady Acres.

And even though it suddenly looks like it will be anything but quiet around here tonight (Deborah just got asked to work tonight because the on duty Hospice nurse just had a car accident) I think it is time to redirect my heart and choose offer some grateful praise.

8:15 pm
. . . And guess what else!?!?!  I got off my chair to help with supper, and suddenly felt absolutely wonderful.  So there has been no sitting on my chair tonight.  This has to be the easiest tooth extraction I have ever had!  I just cut our best cutting of asparagus out of the garden, and now want to package up some chicken for the freezer that we got in bulk.  Certain Man went to visit his friend, Gary Burlingame.  He has the day off tomorrow, and this gal is eagerly looking forward to a trip to the greenhouse, looking for tomatoes and other vegetables for the garden.  I just might get some hanging baskets of flowers for our pavilion.

What a wonderful day this has turned out to be!

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