Archive for January, 2023

In Passing

January 19, 2023

Yesterday I was informed by a dear friend, Jay, that she had rather suddenly lost one of her close friends to death. That friend had apparently been relatively healthy, but in only a matter of a few weeks went from active and engaged to departed.  Jay stated that mentally she understood what had just happened but emotionally she was not coping well because of the suddenness of the loss. 

A few hours later I received a packet of writing from a dear friend of mine who has been living with a progressively deteriorating health condition for many years. He has soldiered through the  steady decline with an amazing adaptability and retention of positive attitude. What was evident, however, in what he sent me was the fact that the core elements that he has retained as his sense of identity are now under attack. He is experiencing difficulties with all forms of communication and becoming an unwillingly isolated shut-in.

In my initial response to Jay, I spoke about the difference between losing someone suddenly and watching a steady decline, the latter situation giving one an opportunity to adjust emotionally as well as mentally to what is coming. However, that latter situation also implies or imposes awareness that the friend suffering the decline is indeed suffering over an extended period of time. What I mentioned to Jay in my initial response was the ambiguity that I have lived with for many years over the “better” way for a life to end. It seems that for the person who is departing this life it must be easier if the departure is relatively sudden. No living with pain, no agonizing over things undone, not really any time to guilt trip oneself, which I realize may or may not be the case, there being no means to ask after the departure whether the person did in fact experience regrets, or depart in peace.

For those of us left behind after a quick death, similar questions can nag at us. By contrast, when there is a lingering illness and progressive decline, the person experiencing the challenges may or may not value the time provided and the advance notice that whatever activities or communications have been neglected can be put right before death. The friend or family member standing beside or watching the decline also has time to sort things out if they choose to do so. Working in home care for many years, I watched all sorts of variations of the slower passing and saw family member caregivers who treasured every moment of their connection to the dying individual. I also saw family members impatient for the end to come, feeling overwhelmed or angry or just immeasurably sad that their loved one was suffering and in pain. 

For myself, I have tried to live by guidance received from my grandfather when he was near the end of his life. He said then that he had only two regrets, one being that it would have been better for my mother, his daughter, if he had remarried but he never found a woman he wanted to commit to. His other regret was that he never learned to play the mandolin. At that time, when I was in my late twenties, I undertook to try to live in such a way that whenever my end came I would have no more regrets than he did. 

I’m comfortable in saying that at this moment I have achieved that goal. I recognize that the goal is a moving target and that I need to be mindful to stay in this space of no more than two regrets. Doing so helps keep me honest in my interactions, respectful of others, and sufficiently self aware to keep myself motivated in pursuing my own next steps.

I cannot speak for those who care for me with regard to what they would prefer, my rapid and unexpected passing versus an anticipated steady decline. That choice seems to be a very individual one for each of them. I do think that living by the mantra of minimizing regrets (making prompt restitution when we err) can benefit us all, so that however an end comes, whether our own or a loved one’s, the transition can be smoother and less emotionally painful for all who are involved in the passing.

May it be so.

Voicing It

January 17, 2023

I am finding that the different free voice to text options currently available to me differ rather significantly. The app built into my Samsung Android phone works very nicely for text messages with few errors and little need for me to make corrections. The Google Docs app that I’m using to create this blog post persistently does not capitalize after a period. I don’t know why. I have yet to find any settings options that would let me instruct the software to capitalize after a period. Fun and games in the new to me world of tech. (new paragraph) That didn’t work either,

So I stopped dictating and edited including starting a new paragraph. I wonder if the length of pause in my dictation following a period is what triggers a capital? I just tried it. Now I need to try it without starting a sentence with I that does regularly get capitalized. Didn’t work.  nonetheless the software does reduce demands on my very painful right arm which is what has led me to try to learn a different way of creating posts. I am very aware that my thoughts flow much more smoothly directly from my brain through my fingers to the keyboard. Stopping to monitor how the software is performing impedes my thought process. One more challenge associated with the ills of aging that I am trying to appreciate as a nudge into continued engagement with an uncertain future.

 In the larger scheme of things I am very fortunate with little to complain about and much to be grateful for. Overall I still have good health and my lowest energy down days are not so severe as to prevent me from accomplishing at least the basics of my everyday routines. Also, those more serious down days are relatively infrequent or at least spaced out and not piled one after the other to the point that undone tasks stare at me and guilt trip me. 

However tedious and somewhat unsatisfactory this voice to text software is, it is nonetheless a gift that I am grateful for as it does allow me to keep to my commitment to myself to resume reasonably regular posts. the difference in how my brain functions, speaking rather than writing, is something to explore. (I just had to stop dictating and correct text that for unknown reasons began appearing in italics). I am reasonably certain that if I need to continue primarily doing voice to text writing I will want to find a program that functions more smoothly.   ( Once again the italics appeared for no apparent reason.)

I think maybe the auto save somehow triggers the switch to italics. At least that seems to be a possibility. I don’t have a lot of patience this morning to play with the software but I did want to put something up on my blog to at least indicate that I am committed to resuming somewhat regular communication and posts. I hope that by the next go round I will have better command of the software and be able to actually reflect on things rather than just report on them. In the meantime I wish all my readers and followers good days and good inner connection.

Transitions

January 10, 2023

After a 3 week alteration in the pattern of my days, I am once again at the start of a renewed sequence of “here and gone” transitions as my husband returns to work from a holiday break. We had houseguests for the same period, so I am shifting from a four person dynamic back to five days of solitude and two of companionship. We have been in this pattern for several years, with occasional disruptions for vacations or more extended periods of solitude when my husband travels overseas. I am therefore somewhat surprised that this Sunday evening on my own feels unfamiliar and has me at a loss how to navigate it.

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It is now 2 days later and I am experimenting with voice to text in Google Docs. I had to stop writing Sunday evening because my dominant arm is frequently extremely painful and prevents me from typing. This is my first effort at writing by speaking. I am told that the end result will be a more natural written document though at the moment it seems contradictory for my brain to have to think and translate into spoken words what previously flowed effortlessly from my brain down my arms and fingers onto the keyboard. 

I just requested a new paragraph but didn’t get it and had to stop and play with the software to obtain what I asked for. I will now try to pick up the thought that I ended with on Sunday evening regarding the odd unfamiliarity of being back in a pattern that I had taken a break from for several weeks. With the additional insight of these two successive days, I realize that I was not really at a loss as to how to navigate the transition so much as I was a little out of practice at doing so. It seems to be an aspect of getting older, that I notice shifts in routines and am slightly disrupted by those shifts in ways I don’t recall having to manage even just a couple years ago. Which makes the new learning associated with using this speech to text software an interesting challenge and different kind of transition then I was considering when I first started writing on Sunday.

 I’m very grateful for the existence of this software as I know many others are.  One of the members of my  book group spoke about how her dyslexic daughter has relied on this type of software not just to see her through her own studies but now to function as a teacher. We commented on  the different types of brain function that lead people to need voice to text and the different skills that are called upon in using it. Since I have a long-term interest in neuropsychology and what is now referred to as neurodiversity, experimenting with myself in this transitional learning process should be interesting. The first thing I am finding is that there are some tricks still to be learned in order to have this software capitalize the first word after a period. It also seems to randomly capitalize words, perhaps because I put emphasis on them? Much to learn. Which, after all, is a most salient illustration of living with and adapting to transitions.

Uncertainty

January 2, 2023

I have been thinking about, and feeling my way through, this topic for a couple weeks with each day revealing a different aspect of it, or presenting me with a new challenge to consider. As I type, I am aware I may not be able to complete a full post. Not because I don’t know what I want to say, but because one of the constraints on my daily life (intermittent severe pain to my dominant shoulder, arm and wrist) may stop me from typing.

Covid, post-Covid uptick in flu and RSV, unpredictable weather, unstable economic conditions, and a general increase in threats of all sorts (Will Russia deploy a nuke in Ukraine? Who will next host mongers of hate and violence here at home?) all contribute to an overriding atmosphere of uncertainty. For most of us, uncertainty brings with it an uptick in fear, as we fight against loss of control and try to find ways to ward off the worst potential consequences of that loss.

I have been reading essays and opinion pieces about some of these social aspects of living with uncertainty, and have responded in letters to the writers, or to the editor, at the several news organizations that publish the journalists I choose to follow. None of them have taken on the sources of uncertainty that are the main concerns for me these days. The closest any have come is to mention the aging of our population and the lack of adequate support for the many more people who are both older and living alone. In that context there has also been discussion of burnout among health care workers, including doctors who are leaving their profession, worn out by overwhelming caseloads and corporate directorships that dictate quantity of visits and hence revenue, over quality of care.

I am grateful for personal circumstances which suggest I will not be left alone to face the increasing limitations of aging. Though I am alone 4-5 days each week now, I can call on my partner to be here within 2 hours, should the need arise – and we are talking about a change in home base that would permit him to be at home with me each evening.

Stopping due to pain – hoping it is temporary and I can resume later this morning.

Well, that break was not a few hours, not even a few days or weeks, but more than a month. Limited energy forced different priorities for my time and/or I have been still trying to do most of the activities that have given me satisfaction or pleasure and a sense of purpose in my retirement, leaving nothing for writing. I am hopeful that starting the new year with a post will set the tone for 2023 and help me implement my desire to once again be an engaged writer.

Help for achieving that goal comes from a friend who has included me in the group of “beta readers” for his manuscript on living with and managing pain, and from another dear friend who has been using self hypnosis to cope, for a number of years with a level of pain she describes as “screaming”. I have much to learn from them, and from my own inner wisdom, as I seek to continue being “of use” to others in ways that are effective but less demanding of my limited energy.

So the very personal aspect of uncertainty I am now examining in my spiritual practice is that of learning to be maximally focused in the immediate now. For a person raised by a German Virgo father to plan well ahead, with two or three backup alternatives as the means to manage uncertainty, becoming able to just be, in the now of time, is essentially to shed what has been part of my core identity for all of my adult life. As I write those words, I hear the inner voice of my spiritual teacher assuring me that the mentally formulated concept of a core identity of planner is a total illusion – my core identity is Soul or spirit, all knowing and able to manage whatever life brings to my attention, so long as I keep my attention where it needs to be – in the present moment, open to being shown each next step.

So that is what I am taking as my task for this new year. Not a resolution, with its associated sense of mental discipline in order to be implemented, but rather a suggestion for where – and to what – I give the nourishing food of my attention. 

Here. Now. For each set of circumstances that arise for me to navigate.

So be it.


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