Tag Archives: the elderly

Quality Time Vs. Play Dates

6 Aug

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Certain times in our lives are more flush with close connection. For me, elementary school, high school, and college were such periods. No one carried the adult responsibilities we do today, which made friendships easy to cultivate and maintain. Everyone was in close proximity, which made things convenient, particularly when living on the university campus. There was always someone around to share a meal with or to chat with. And it didn’t matter what time of day.

I also recall wonderful summers with my grandparents that were rich in social interaction. There was a slow lazy rhythm to the August days. My grandfather would go to work while my grandmother and I ran errands, baked cookies, and tended to all things domestic. Then when my grandfather came home, we’d eat dinner together. Afterward, we’d go for a walk or work in the garden. Sometimes we watched a show on television. Other times we read books together.

In my twenties, when living in Manhattan, my friends and I would take the city by storm. We spent hours verbalizing our dreams over glasses of wine and walks in Central part. Even in my thirties, I still had some single friends with whom I pondered the meaning of life while sharing meals and life together. Although my friends’ marriages altered the dynamics of our relationships, there were still incredibly meaningful moments spent together. When my friend’s son was an infant we’d take him in the stroller for long walks, cherishing him and each other. We lived in the same neighborhood so it was easy to get together on a regular basis.

But then there are the seasons where no one has time to do anything. When both parents are working and kids are hyper-scheduled, and no one’s children attend schools anywhere near their homes, which results in hours of chauffeuring time. That sentence is a mouthful for a reason. It’s exhausting and exhaustion doesn’t lend itself to intimacy.

But human beings need depth intimacy. Whether falling in love or maintaining friendships, relationships need time to grow. Without that time, there are gaps in connection.

Of course when people pair up and find a significant other, most of the relationship investment gets funneled into that union. But as a friend of mine said to me the other day, (and she happens to be married), “It’s unhealthy to make your spouse your only go to for companionship. It’s way too much of a burden on one person and it makes for a stale marriage. We need to feed our friendships too.”

Modern life doesn’t accommodate well for depth relationships. With everyone’s busy schedules, we pencil in “play dates.” These might consist of a coffee, a dinner, or if we can spare a few precious hours, maybe a movie. In an age when people rarely even talk on the phone anymore, play dates are welcome. But I miss the wonder of unstructured, spontaneous time when it was easy to cross the street and hang out with someone.

The more we indulge in a frenzy of hyper-scheduled activities, the more difficult it becomes to nurture quality time. Even people living under the same roof are not necessarily bonding well. We can’t stand to sit still for longer than a few minutes before looking away and grabbing our Smart phones.

The only way off the merry ground is to step off it, but that doesn’t necessarily solve the problem, if everyone else is still on the ride. Loneliness settles in and we wonder if anyone else is feeling it too.

Years ago I worked in an outpatient program that served the high functioning, elderly population. Not many of our clients had a history of mental illness. However, many met criteria for situational depression and anxiety brought on by the death of a spouse or retirement or illness. People were lonely and little to do during the day. They came to our program in the morning, attended a psycho-education lecture, ate lunch and then attended two process groups. Within a few weeks most folks were thriving again thanks to the friendships created and a renewed sense of meaning.

I’m a fan of play dates. In fact, I have two today. But I’m even more a fan of quality time that emerges when there is no plan, no rush, and no strain. When intimacy just happens like the sun rising and setting each day.

Like Standing On Fishes

31 Jul

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It was as if he was waiting for me. When I peered into the living room as I put my key in the door I could see Hafiz sitting in my desk chair where he had a thousand times before. Only this time was different. I had slept separated from him and this morning was my morning to say goodbye. It was as if he knew and had rallied all his energy within him. After a month of sleeping through most mornings and no longer sitting on my lap, he wanted to cuddle.

At one point, Hafiz had started dropping weight fast. Terrified that he had cancer, I took him to the vet where they ran some tests. When the vet called me a few days later with the results, I expected the worst. Instead, in her chipper voice, she relayed that he had a thyroid condition and that it was completely (and inexpensively) treatable. She was right. Hafiz’s weight held steady for a number of years thanks to his thyroid medication that I handled wearing rubber gloves because apparently the pills could hurt me.

Hafiz and his brother Rumi came to live with me when they were six years old. They were siblings and their owner, who had raised them since birth had just landed in a nursing home after falling and breaking her hip. I had been a reluctant pet owner. But like most things in life, their arrival was part haphazard, part orchestrated. Had my friend Christiane called me on a different day, I probably wouldn’t have driven down to see them. Yet being that it was a three-day weekend, I had a little spare time.

Then there was no hesitation. One look at Rumi, who greeted me with a gentle openness, informed my decision. “But you need to meet the other one,” Christiane insisted. “He can be more temperamental.” It didn’t matter. Kneeling down, I peered under a chair to get a look at Rumi’s brother. He returned my stare with a ferocious hiss.

Although litter mates, they looked and acted nothing alike. Rumi was pure Siamese. His black and brown coat was as sleek as a mink’s, soft and gratifying to touch. He was slender with midnight blue eyes and a very gentle “meow.” So sweet and docile, he was almost effeminate in nature. Hafiz on the other hand was built like a football. Pale grey with huge blue eyes, and remarkably defined cheek bones, his body weight felt like an infant in my arms. His meow varied in tone depending on his moods and he often grunted when he ate.

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Rumi walked compliantly into his carrier cage when asked. I took him to my car while Christiane brandished a towel and lured Hafiz out from under the chair. As I drove away, my companions made distressing meows from their cages. Gripping the steering wheel, I took a deep breath.

As I opened their cages, they peered out and then took a few tentative steps. They immediately went into my bedroom closest and only came out to eat, after which they returned directly to their safe house.

As I fell asleep that night, they ventured from the closet and jumped onto the bed. I was later awakened by the sound of little paws pattering on the hardwood floor. I hadn’t anticipated sounds coming into my world. They were like newborns home from the hospital. Everything about my routine was suddenly altered. I drifted back to sleep and later awakened to a humming sound. As I became conscious, I realized their little motors were running. They had settled up against my prostrate body.

Two days after Rumi and Hafiz were getting settled, I received a call.

“Hello?” I repeated a few times into the phone.

A shaky voice asked, “Are they okay? Are they okay? Something is wrong. I can feel it.”

I realized it was Christiane’s great-aunt, experiencing intense separation anxiety, as well as grief and loss.

“They are doing very well. I promise I will take good care of them.”

“Mouse…He gets urinary tract infections…. I raised them since they were babies. I fed them milk with eye droppers.”

(I had renamed the cats).

“I’m sure you miss them terribly. I promise I will love them dearly.”

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The woman started to cry. After sitting in silence for a bit I gently said, “You can call me any time you like.”

The woman was now starting to sound confused. She’d just lost her beloved animals, her home, and independence. I understood more than she realized.

Grateful for Granny

27 Nov

I saw my 94 year old grandmother yesterday and today will have Thanksgiving dinner with her at my aunt and uncle’s house, although we are doing things a day early. At 44, I reflect back on the many blessings of having been close with my grandparents, particularly when I was young. Here are some thoughts:

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My parents wisely made sure that I spent time with their parents despite the geographical distance between California and Wisconsin. From the time I was five years old, they put me on an airplane to spend an entire summer month with my grandparents and extended family. Likewise, many Thanksgivings and Christmases were also spent with this lovely company.

For someone with divorced parents this was a rare treat, as I was able to witness marriages still in tact. I was also enamored by the fact that my grandfathers went to work while my grandmothers stayed at home. To me this was a thrilling arrangement that meant children didn’t have to go to daycare and delicious dinners of pot roast or pork chops would be served every night instead of just on weekends. It triggered my deepest fantasies that until this time had only been fostered by watching shows such as “Leave It to Beaver” and “I Love Lucy.” I remember being seduced by the smell of bacon and coffee wafting down the hall lulling me gently awake on my first morning with my grandparents. These were not smells I identified in my own home on weekday mornings. For one thing, neither my father nor mother drank coffee. They both preferred Coke and Diet-Coke instead. And there simply was no time to cook breakfast in the morning before my mom went to work and I went to school. Eggs and bacon were something I tended to get for dinner instead. For breakfast, my mother often gave me a Twinkie or Ding Dong because Hostess Treats didn’t require any cooking. Later when I got older, I made myself oatmeal, which I liked very much because it was hot, creamy and supposedly “Old Fashioned.”

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I loved old-fashioned things. In both of my grandparents’ homes I would gaze longingly at the china displayed in hutches and sterling silver tea sets displayed on fashionable tea carts. I would help polish the silver to keep it from rusting and as I rubbed the cream into the silver with a cloth, I would eventually see my own reflection looking back at me. I loved that extra sets of sheets and linen were kept in hall closets and I would spend hours playing in the attics and basements of each respected house pretending I was Nancy Drew. Likewise, the architecture in Wisconsin was so different from that in Southern California that I would stare out the window as we drove along Lake Mendota to the University where my Grandpa Porter worked at UW Madison as a biochemist and fantasize about which houses I wanted to live in when I grew up. I loved the Tudor style homes best. I told myself I would eventually live in Madison and would be a writer and professor there.

Those summers in Wisconsin were incredibly idyllic. My dad’s parents both grew up on farms so they kept a huge vegetable garden out on an actual farm. After dinner we’d often go work in the garden. Well, they would work while I ran through the cornfields, sang songs and did lots of cartwheels. Then we’d clean up afterwards and go to A & W for a soft cone.

There was always activity going on in my grandma’s kitchen. She made her own jam, Ketchup and applesauce and froze and canned the surplus produce, which in addition to vegetables included raspberries, cherries, peaches and apricots. I would often take jars of things down to the cellar after we labeled what was in it and put a date on it. Sometimes Grandma would name something after me like what came to be known as “Lise’s cherry jam”.