One of the hardest parts of getting older: Friends, family, illness, and death

We write a lot on the blog about aging.

See my posts On not growing old gracefully, Invisibility, aging, and perspective, and Women who care most about their looks have the toughest time aging.

These posts concern issues about looks and self-esteem. And while it’s true that aspect of aging is tough, it’s not the toughest thing. It’s also hard having new aches and pains and not being able to do some of the things you used to do in your youth. Me, I’m also having a hard time recognizing that there are now some things I’ll never get to do. Not at all doors remain open. Hard stuff.

But the toughest thing isn’t any of this really. It’s coping with death. Remaining emotionally well as one makes one’s way through life means making peace somehow with death and loss.

When my first friends died I was young. They were young. Men in their forties. One died of H1N1. (Remember that?) The other of a heart attack. Goodbye Steve, goodbye Randy.

Both deaths were awful, tragic, but they felt like a fluke. Death still felt like something far away. I mean, something awful happened to these friends (yes, I think death is bad for the person whose death it is) but it seemed so distant and unlikely. Death wasn’t yet a normal part of my life.

My sister, Sarah, also died in 2009 at the age of 41, after decades of struggle with depression and mental illness. Death seemed closer then. More real.

Then more friends from high school started to die, men in their early fifties. One died of ALS. The other, a high school boyfriend and a sweet, gentle man dedicated to his family, died of cancer. Goodbye Justin, goodbye Kevin.

And yes we all die but these deaths seemed early. They were people in the middle of things, on whom others depended.

And then more cancer, more deaths. Goodbye Gerry, goodbye Peter. I don’t swear but even I say, Fuck cancer.

Two members of my feminist book group died.

And so many parents, Avis (see On counting almonds, searching for Devil’s Claw, and remembering Avis), Tom (On “special weather,” bike commuting, and missing certain people) and my father. Of course, friends of my parents have been dying too. 

Now this year it seems it’s the mothers of those close to me: Eleanor, Rob (see Remembering Marion) and Sarah.

So many parents. I mean on the one hand I know we all die. I know we mostly all have two parents. And that makes for a lot of parental deaths

Yesterday a friend and I joked about that line from Oscar Wilde, ‘To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune to lose both looks like carelessness.”

And in the midst of it all, Sandra Bartky died. See Saying Goodbye to Sandra. I’m away this weekend at a memorial gathering of her former students. I’m thinking again about death, how short our lives really are, and the legacies we leave behind.

I know I can’t keep track of them all but sometimes in my head I recite the list of names of friends and family members who’ve died over and over again. And I know it will get longer and longer, assuming I stay alive. I know I’ll lose track. There are probably people I’m missing now. I didn’t list friends of my parents. I didn’t list my friends’ parents.

Often now I buy sympathy cards in multiplies. I’ve gotten better at knowing what to say. I’ve been to lots of funerals. Always go to the funeral.

My mental list is getting too long. Sometimes now already I forget that someone, usually a philosopher, is dead.

It feels selfish writing about some of these deaths since I wasn’t that close to the people involved. But it’s true for all of us that friends and family members die. It doesn’t let up. Sometimes I just want to tell the world I need a break. “Could no one please die this week?”

I don’t want to get tough in the face of death. I want to stay soft in my heart and open to love and to loss. People sometimes think that my quest to stay physically fit is about fending off death. It’s not. See Fighting aging? Why the battle language?

I’m all for aging. As my dad used to say, it beats the alternative.

But losing friends and family? There’s not much good to say about that I’m afraid. I’ve gotten very protective of the people I love. DRIVE CAREFULLY, I scream at them. I ask if they are eating well, seeing a doctor regularly, you know. I hang on to people tightly. I hug goodbye fiercely. It’s the toughest part of aging, in my experience. Also, so few people talk about it.

My mother lost a dear friend last month. They’d been close friends for decades. Old friends, the kind you’ve known for most of your life, won’t happen again. This is just normal aging, I know. There’s nothing tragic here really. But still. Nothing stays the same. Don’t get me started on the dogs.

Manny and Olivia, two black dogs, looking in through the screen door with a green chair in the background.

Manny and Olivia, two black dogs, looking in through the screen door with a green chair in the background. They both died in 2014.

Hug everyone. Hug lots. Hold people close. Tell them you love them.

How do you cope? What strategies do you recommend? Puppies, I know that one. Long bike rides. Walks in the woods. But what else? 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Post: Everyday Shakti (“Power”)

by Treena Orchard

My yoga journey began in January, as a way to deal with heartache- new year, old sorrows. I needed to move, not just out of my apartment but out of my head and the disappointment that had taken root there. There are only so many times I could cry or limp through my days feeling angry and hurt, only so many times I could listen to that broken heart soundtrack featuring Tina Turner (Typical Male, You Better Be Good to Me- wishful thinking, clearly), Alicia Keyes (Fallin), Lauren Hill (X-factor), and that 1990s favourite by Mazzy Star -Fade into You.

I wanted to do something else, but hadn’t done yoga for years. Is this what I want to do? Where? When? Do I still have yoga clothes? These are the questions I asked myself while scrolling through the studio options, weighing the pros and cons of each one: ‘Only does hot- nope, never done that, not ready for that’; ‘Too far away, I’ll never go’; ‘Too trendy, not up for seeing all matter of fit young things sweating up a pretty storm.’ Then I came upon my goldilocks place: ‘It does hot and normal yoga, is only a block away, and it looks cool.’

I chose a non-hot Yang/Yin class because it seemed the most basic place to start and with trepidation and excitement I strode through the red door of The Yoga Collective, ready to begin. As the Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then Sundays too, began adding up so did my strength and desire to do more. It was like rekindling an old relationship with myself through my body, welcoming back the knowledge stored in the muscle’s memory. To remember is to become aware of something again and like our guru Robin often says at the end of class, when we’re all zenned out and just about to utter ‘Namaste” in unison, it’s like coming home.

Does all this goodness mean that I was totally on board with the 30-day challenge when talk of it first began to circulate through the studio? Hell no—NO. No, I can’t do that. That’s what my Vancouver friends did, super fit people who were into super cool things- namely yoga, brunch, and being from Vancouver. Could I do a yoga challenge too? Do I want to? I thought about it a lot and talked with my fellow women yogis, who seemed to be in the same see-saw place as me, wanting to do it but not quite sure about making the commitment. Making a commitment is making a promise and being dedicated to something, serious business.

Despite the positive traction that has been made to reframe how we talk about failure as well as success, I’d be lying if I said the prospect of failing didn’t matter. The image of a circus appeared in my mind, not an innovative, fashion-forward Cirque de Soleil thing but a more carny, less health and safety variety. I am high atop the crowd in a shiny, non-cotton leotard with those dreadful ‘spice’ coloured tights, traipsing inch by nervous inch across the tightrope towards a piece of wood nailed to a pole or some such fictional symbol of a successfully completed 30-day yoga challenge.

Clearly, I really wasn’t sure I could do it. I did not want to fail and my primary concern was related to the physical nature of the challenge. Could I really do yoga every day? I’d only been going three times a week…The tipping point came when Robin said that he decided to hold the challenge when he thought we could do it. Enough said. Fuck it, I might not finish it perfectly but I’m going to do it. I was excited and proud of myself for making the decision.

But, I still felt nervous, especially as Day 1 crept up. These feelings continued into the first week of the challenge, when I was rather obsessive about “doing yoga” and “making time for yoga.” Happily, those feelings began to melt away as the incorporation of yoga into the rhythms of my daily life became ever more seamless. Time itself began to bend to the clock of yoga, which became the measure by which I paced, organized, and rearranged all other things. Tick-tock went the mornings and nights of practice.

As the days passed I felt stronger physically and mentally and those 30 days were an exceptionally creative time too, not just for ‘work work’ but also my own writing, reading, and thinking. The 6 am classes were my favourite. As I walked quietly through my apartment, packing my water bottle and looking at myself in the mirror before heading out into early summer’s dawn, I often thought of Sylvia Plath. During the last months she worked in the very early hours, the only time she could steal away for herself and her beautiful, caustic reflections on a life that was fast slipping away.

Women have always done this, always found ways to make room for themselves and their ideas, the things that matter. They have done this despite and because of others, whether it be the children they love, those who hurt them, or the world that remains caught up in repetitive cycles of patriarchal madness. We must make time and take space for ourselves because no one else will give it to us and because it is essential for our minds, souls, and bodies. Whether it’s a ‘room of our own’ or a yoga mat, amidst lemongrass diffuser mist and beside women and men who have become our friends, we all need that place where we can dwell inside the universe.

Treena is an anthropologist working in the School of Health Studies at Western University in London, Ontario. She lives with her adorable cats Shiva and Mr. Marbles, her art and books, and gets back home to Saskatoon as often as she can.

 

 

 

Snow dreams in summer

Hey, look a new bike!

A second new bike this summer. Both new to me but still, additions to the fleet. Except the fat bike isn’t really. I swapped my cx bike for it. (Actually Jeff swapped it. Thks Jeff!)

I liked riding the cx bike but never did race. The season is pretty short and I discovered that as long as the roads are clear I’d rather be riding my road bike. I blogged about that purchase here.

And when the roads aren’t clear, what’s​ on them? Snow and ice. In recent years the snow hasn’t been consistent enough for cross country skiing. But I’ve been enjoying fat biking. (See here.) Love the idea of commuting through the winter on the river side bike paths that aren’t cleared in the winter. Also, playing bikes in the winter in the park. (And yes, Chris I’ll still ride my road bike on the trainer. Promise.)

Fat biking photos from last winter and the winter before:

The other new to me bike is a Cervelo. I moved my Cannondale to Toronto for riding there. The Cervelo is my London bike now. It’s their aero road bike. While not a full on time trial bike it’s good for solo riding. And these days I’ve been doing more of that even though I don’t like it.

For a serious cyclist my fleet doesn’t seem too excessive. I’ve got a commuting (adventure road) bike, two actual road bikes, a fat bike, and a track bike. We used to set a household limit of 15 bikes between 5 family members. One isn’t a cyclist. And these days some of the young adults are moving out for periods of time so there is room in the household for more bikes.

Any other new bike dreams?

I’m still suffering from Brompton envy. Hi Catherine! Hi Alexis!

I even considered putting my $400 gift from Western (for 25 years service) towards the purchase of one. They even come in my school colours. Purple!

How about you? Any new bike dreams? What and why?

Competitor or Coach? (Guest Post)

by Claudia Murphy

I’ve been struggling lately with my exercise routine. In the last couple of years belonging to a fitness group has helped me to avoid a pit of depression, so I have been feeling perplexed that what seemed like a lifeline has now become quite a challenge. Even if I can get myself to show up, I don’t enjoy it or even enjoy having done it.

I am 65 and have been working out with a group of long distance runners for a couple of years. They are a great group of people. They have been very kind and accepting– downright encouraging. Even at my bluest, there is something amazing about high intensity workouts at 5:30 am with positive and affirming people.

But in the last few months, I have been facing motivation issues. There could be several reasons.

First, I have been dealing with a chronic and persistent pain in my left hip. I have pursued multiple diagnosis and treatment options, including orthopedics (MRI, cortisone shot), physical therapy, massage, chiropractic therapy and acupuncture. The consensus seems to be that my left hip and adjacent areas need strengthening. But in the meantime, running, walking, and yoga, and even sitting all hurt. It is easy to feel discouraged.

Second, internalized ageism has become a significant force in my mind. I am one of the oldest in my fitness group. Still quite competitive, I often feel as if I’m losing. I can’t run as fast as I used to run. I can’t run as fast as most of the younger people in the group. I haven’t yet figured out the antidote to this aspect of aging.

Third, I’ve been fighting a giant battle against oppression in the workplace. Here, I’ve had to be very deliberate in guarding against internalized sexism and ageism. I have had to consciously remember my own significance and value. I have had to repeatedly decide to quash the oppressive thinking. My vigilance has been focused on this fight.

In the middle of all of this, without awareness, negative self-talk crept into my exercise time. I found myself thinking “you are too old, you look ridiculous, you are embarrassingly slow.” And these thoughts seemed true at the time, even justified. I looked for evidence to support them. Is it any wonder that my routines became less fun, less satisfying?

I’ve had to become more vigilant about this self-talk. I can be my own coach. I can replace my own negative feedback with something more positive. I find it helps to aim for messages that are somewhat neutral while still being encouraging. My mind revolts against “you are the best” But “go Claudia” or “you can do it!” work pretty well.

I recently tried this strategy in a 10K race, with some mixed results to be honest. I had signed up to run as a member of a relay team in the 2017 Fargo Marathon. About a month before the race, we discovered that the legs of the relay were not very even. One team member would have been required to run 8.5 miles. None of the team members wanted to run that far. So we decided to switch our registrations to the 10K. Even this decision felt like a bit of cop out. Last year I had run a half-marathon at this time. While it is true that I had only been able to do so with the help of a cortisone shot, I still struggled to feel OK about running a 10K.

The night before the race I was still struggling with feeling positive about running. My husband held out the perspective for me by reminding me that not that many women my age could run a 10K. He also agreed to drive me to the race and to cheer me on. The day of the race the weather was perfect. It was cool and clear. We arrived early enough to witness the start of the race for both the marathon runners and the half marathon runners.

I had a good start and ran well. I kept my mantra forefront in my mind—“go Claudia.” Since we shared the route with either the marathon runners or the half marathon runners, there were people out cheering us on for most of the route. There was music blasting or bands playing, even though it was quite early morning. I had two young women tap me on the back as they passed me by telling me that I was doing well for someone so old. (BTW this is not a very helpful way to support an older runner.)

I finished in 1:12:09, 8th in my age group of women 65-69, 37 of us running the race. I was staffing a women’s leadership development conference that weekend and decided to wear my hoodie and medal throughout the day to force myself to celebrate my achievement.

Ageism is nasty. But it helps if I do not participate in my own oppression. This is an ongoing battle for me. I would like to be able to be my own best supporter. What strategies work for you?

Claudia Murphy is a philosopher who is semi retired but still teaching part time at Minnesota Technical and Community Colleges.  She is also likes to run, bike, garden, cook and knit.

Sam counts steps with the over achievers!

I’m on holidays in Madrid. And today, in the way one does in large European cities, I walked a lot. Really a lot. Like 21,855 steps. The only day I’ve achieved a higher step count from walking alone was last year at this time in Edinburgh. Those were also very hilly steps. But today’s steps were also warm. It was so warm in Madrid that they’ve cancelled the afternoon bike tours of the city that we’d planned on doing.  So I am tired. My feet hurt. I’m drinking lots of water and feeling a sense of achievement.

I am looking forward to logging my daily steps. You see I’m doing this workplace health and fitness step counting challenge. I blogged about it here and Tracy wrote about decision to try it again after hating it last year here.

I’m on a team that is composed of multi sport athletes. We’re not just walking and counting steps. We’re also swimming, running, and biking. Me, I’m mostly just biking. (My biggest step count day was the day I rode over a 100 km.) It’s a team of over achievers. Given that a few of us are training for Ironman distance events our numbers are high. My very big day in Madrid is still below the team daily average step count of 23,500.

It’s funny being the weak link. But in a bunch of ways it suits me. What do I mean exactly by being the weak link?

I’m not doing that badly. My average daily step count is about 15,000 (that includes a conversion they do for cycling.) My biggest day yet was over 40,000. Not too shabby right?

There was one challenge day we were supposed to mark as a team by picking a day and aiming for 150,000 total steps on that day. We didn’t need to pick a day. This team does that everyday.

So do I feel guilty dragging down the team average? No. I feel motivated. I probably wouldn’t feel motivated if I were the high achieving member of a team. I might even get annoyed at people on my team who weren’t trying.

I like riding people who are faster than me, lifting with people who are stronger than me, and so on. So in this I’m motivated by step counting with the big dogs.

How about you? Are you motivated by riding with people who are faster, having workout buddies who are fitter? Or does that just depress and demoralize you? I know it works different ways for different people? What’s your way?

A long bike ride in my future? Sam dreams of Sweden

 

I’m no fan of bucket lists, see Bucket lists bug me, but there are some rides I’d really like to do. One of them is the Vatterrundan, THE WORLD’S LARGEST RECREATIONAL BIKE EVENT. I found out about last year when I was at a conference in Sweden (Children’s Rights – origins, normativity, transformations, prospects, Linköping University, June 7 – 9, 2016) and asked the conference organizer Bengdt Sandin  about the sign pictured above. He enthusiastically told me all about the event as he’d done it several times in the past.

It’s 300 km and is held at a time of the year when there’s lots of daylight in Sweden. My usual worries about running out of light were somewhat allayed.

Vätternrundan (pronounced vet-turn-rund-an) is the largest recreational bicycle ride in the world. The 300 km course follows the shoreline of the beautiful Lake Vättern and early starters can see the sun set and rise over the lake during the ride.

Vätternrundan starts and finishes in Motala, Sweden, whose population swells to three times its size during the cycling events. The cyclists, their friends and relatives and the thousands of bicycles create a festival atmosphere, making the bike ride that extra special. Many cyclists return year after year to be a part of this large and welcoming cycling community.

The course appeals to all sorts of bicycle enthusiasts and the level of service along the course is very high. Word of this well-organised event has spread far beyond the borders of Sweden. More than 50 different nations is represented.

Because Vätternrundan is a recreational ride, no winners are listed. Instead cyclists wear a timing chip that registers their individual times. These times can be seen under Results. Everyone can check what time they started, when they passed the check points and what time they arrived at the finish in Motala.

There’s more about the history of the event on its Wikipedia page.

Here’s a shot of the lake around which the cyclists ride:

image

What appeals to me? It’s not a race but it is a challenging distance. I’d have to train up to it. It’s a beautiful, friendly part of the world. And also I love breakfast and coffee in Sweden.

I’ve even blogged before about my dream of doing this ride!

What’s your big, dream event? What attracts you to it? Why?

A question for our community: Which animal would you most like to do yoga with?

As you know, this blog, if not all the bloggers, has been a big supporter of goat yoga. We’ve written about it often.

Today when I posted about cat yoga on our Facebook page, Tracy said she thinks that it makes more sense than goat yoga. She shared the story and added, “Much better idea than the perplexingly popular yoga with goats.” Tracy’s not a goat yoga fan. To each their own. But that got me thinking.

What animal would you most like to do yoga with?  This is different of course than that animal doing yoga!  (See Animals doing yoga better than me.and Penguin Yoga.) Bonus points if you can share why. What about yoga with that particular animal attracts you?

I love what my searches for unicorn yoga turned up!