The two of you sent a photo from David’s home in North Carolina last week. You’re 52 and 49 now, but the photo reminds me of a 1974 photo of curly headed four-year-old David holding six-month-old smiling Anthony with tender love. Almost fifty years later, the love remains, although there have been bumps in the road.
Your dad had few requests before his death, but one was that you stand together and treat each other with kindness. Love is scarce in this world and demands tending. Thanks for never giving up.
In the recent photo, David with your thick beard holds the camera for a grinning selfie with your brother. You wear a vest with a green logo for the beautiful disc golf course you created on your North Carolina land. Anthony, you lean toward your older brother and make a peace signal, one cheek flashing a dimple. I pray you two will always hold each other up.
After years of caring for my mother and your dad’s mother, I know the burden of caring for old people. I don’t want to do that to you, but who knows what my body and mind will do in coming years? I only know I’m not in charge.
I try to stay healthy, but Meniere’s Disease, hearing loss, and vertigo are erratic and exhausting and remind me of the truth every day. I’m not in charge.
Like many women, I feel a secret shame in growing old and not looking like the women on the cover of the AARP magazine. I wake up in the morning with a little groan. Oh, this spacy not quite in the body feeling of Meniere’s Disease is still here. I focus on my feet and feel my young dog Disco’s warm body at the foot of my bed. I roll and stretch to ease into the day. Then we go out for a morning walk.
I wish my old dog Willow could come upstairs like she used to, but most mornings I find her sleeping soundly, right where she was when I went to bed. She’s almost 14, another reminder that I’m not in charge.
The truth is the body breaks and keeps breaking. Eventually, I’ll need your help. I wish that weren’t true.
I’ll leave you with a lifetime of blessings born of parents who loved you and loved each other. In the realm of love, I’m still in charge. I remember your dad’s request powered by the knowledge of his coming death: “Love each other.”
I’m grateful as I watch you grant his wish. It’s my wish, too.
Does your family live close together or far apart? I remember going to my grandparents for dinner most Sundays, but that’s not possible for most of us now. How does your family handle the separation of modern life and stay in close communication? My hearing loss makes this an extra challenge for my family and friends, but I won’t give up.
For other posts about life with my sons see Grief Rituals Keep Our Family Love Alive. We were also able to give our sons the gift of spending time with the Dalai Lama when they were just little guys in 1979. I wrote about the Dalai Lama’s visit to our meditation center in When the Dalai Lama Blessed the Children.
What a legacy of love you and Vic are handing down to your beloved sons, Anthony and David, that and so much more! Thank you for sharing more of your wonderful family photos too, especially the one of you sat smiling, looking bemused and quizzical, with Disco. I haven’t seen that one before! And when you mentioned gorgeous Willow, I thought hmm, I wonder if Elaine will dedicate a post to her beloved soul animals. I’m wondering if you’ve had many dogs and if you’ve got photos of them all?
Oh, how the loving presence of your beautiful heart, “I’ll leave you with a lifetime of blessings born of parents who loved you and loved each other” opens my wide! And as I’m in a reflective mood this week, I must sit down and write a poem about the pattern of generational estrangement that runs through my family, on both maternal and paternal lines. Although I haven’t been able to break the thousand years of solitude (now there’s a title!) I’ve healed a little of the split in myself.
Love and light, Deborah.
We loved deeply. I felt a child calling me when I was 24. We were in California in the redwoods, those huge fertile trees (I hope some we loved most survived the fires). I stopped using a diaphragm and was pregnant with David in a few days. We weren’t “perfect” parents and I look back and cringe at memories of losing my patience or, even worse, losing my temper. Vic was the more patient parent and also the most fun. My sons are so different, but they both carry many of Vic’s qualities and, like me, they’re excellent gardeners and cooks. I’m grateful we make an effort to stay close to each other.
I’ve had dogs since I was four years old with a break during college. Vic loved dogs as much as I do, so we got a puppy as soon as we bought this land. There have been many dogs and each has a story, a few of them sad. Willow has had the longest life and she still loves to walk around the yard alone or take long hikes with Disco and me. What a great healer she’s been for almost 14 years. Disco is also a gentle soul and more of a snuggler–as you can see in the photo where she leans all her weight into my body. Vic was raised by an angry, abandoned single mother. I was raised by an anguished mother as my father was in the dying process for 12 years. Part of our marriage was healing our childhood wounds, but maybe that’s always true. Dogs have been emotional helpers.
I’m focusing on Monarchs and think I see a new way to organize my story. I need the weather to settle so Meniere’s vertigo will settle. It will. Monarchs had a hard winter in Mexico (too warm and too dry) and now the violent weather in the south traverses their migration path to the north. This must be causing more loss, but if I find just a few eggs on milkweed plants in late May or early June, I can start a nursery because females lay hundreds of eggs. They need help more than ever. I hope I can articulate the healing they offer me. It’s easy to feel it, but harder to find the right words and structure. I’m persistent, so it will come. Sending love and spring warmth and flowers.
You don’t need to look like AARP models to be beautiful!!! And, who knows if they can write, garden, nurture sons, grow butterflies, protect bluebirds, and experience the wonders of nature that you share so generously!
One memorable and wonderful thing about your parenting style, and I’m guessing this was Vic’s brainstorm, was the daily (or was it weekly? or as-needed?) Kong award! Long ago (in the late ’70’s) it was presented to the one in the family who was most misbehaved at that time – parents and sons alike. Probably there was no actual “reward,” like a piece of coal or a gold-painted boot – maybe just a notice posted on the refrigerator. But the reward was in learning that nobody is perfect and it is okay to own your badness, a revelation of acceptance and recognition, acknowledgement and forgiveness. A step toward doing better next time. Not unconditional love, but inclusive love.
Let’s hear your take on it, because of course I didn’t see what really happened behind the scenes. But, wouldn’t it wonderful to know that you are loved well, despite any short-term temper tantrums? It gives me a sweet feeling to even imagine that beautiful warmth and generosity of your family.
Sending love back to you,
Thank you, Myra. The AARP comment was made in jest but once I hit a certain age and AARP sent their magazine, and I laughed at the glorified way they presented aging. I know the beauty of old age from my grandmothers (and EllaMay and Eleanor and others) but inherited a little of my mother’s shame, especially when she began losing her memory. I have promises from my sons that we’ll be honest with each other if I have memory loss–and sometimes it’s hard for others to tell the difference between hearing loss and memory loss since there’s confusion about what’s being said in both cases.
Hearing loss is the hardest issue for me because it limits what I can do and enjoy in life. This is not an inherited issue apparently since no one else in my family has or had hearing loss or Meniere’s Disease. I’ve had white hair since I was about 50 and never dyed it. I don’t mind a few wrinkles. The Kong award? I don’t remember that being a big part of family life, but I need to ask David and Anthony if they remember. It sounds like a Vic idea with lots of laughter about owning the shadow, but I don’t think we followed through on this for long. Instead, we talked out family problems or concerns about our kids. When I recently apologized for losing my temper on occasion when they were young, David and Anthony hug me or laugh at me. Apparently they didn’t expect me to be perfect since they weren’t. A Kong Award sounds just like Vic’s humor, so I’ll ask my sons. They remember their dad’s jokes and also his love. With love to you on this sunny morning, E
What beautiful words in a lovely letter to your upsprings, dear Elaina. As you said, there is an intense love in the air between you all. And as you know, we all are ageing slowly but surely, and what remains is the memory. Take care, my wise friend.
Thanks for your thoughts and sharing your experience, Aladin. You know the preciousness of a loving brother and the pain of losing close family members. Vic and I handled his illness with honesty, and I do the same with aging. And I think ahead, so even before I adopted my younger dog, I made sure my sons (probably David who has two dogs) would care for her if I can’t. So far, I don’t need much help from my sons other than tolerance about my hearing. I imagine that will change in time. Have a joyful break from this crazed world.
Whatever else is going on with your body, your words tell me that you have enough energy to climb the stairs and a strong memory to record family stories. Your blog is brimming with precious memories and photos, a legacy I hope your sons will read–and smile about.
In spite of some differences, my sisters and I pulled together when Mother, Aunt Ruthie, and younger brother died. Our personalities and temperaments are different and so there are clashes. I notice this same dynamic playing out in two of my grandsons, brothers born 4 years apart. One has superior talents that IQ tests can measure; the other is a fine musician with great empathy. I believe their conflicts may lessen as they mature.
Vic is right: Love one another, no greater wisdom than this. Thanks for pouring out your heart today, Elaine!
The dogs keep me hiking up and down steep hills, Marian. Stairs are no problem compared to some of the trails. My memory is fine, but my hearing is challenging. The cochlear implant is a big help when there isn’t much background noise and I’m glad I have it, but it’s not like regular hearing and music is unpleasant. That’s a big loss. Most podcasts are stressful because I have to work so hard. It must be like listening to a foreign language you studied a while ago. I have a hearing appointment in April and had my eyes checked last week. So many things were neglected during the covid years. My vision is doing well and I’m grateful. I was told there was nothing more they could do for my hearing, but technology changes, so I’ll have the hearing aid ear checked again. If I don’t try, I won’t know.
My sons read the blog before I posted it because I asked for their permission first. Permission granted. They know the importance of being there for each other, so lots of projects get done when they visit each other or me. I remember you working with your sisters to clear out family homes and I’m working of sorting and clearing out now. I’m sure you did that when you moved to your “new” place. Have a beautiful day.
Hello Elaine – thank you for this beautiful post. It’s quite a thing this aging business … I never imagined getting to the age I am or my two sons being the age that they are (40 and 35) and that I am a grandmother. Whatever I may have learned in this life, and I thank people such as as you, Deborah, Jean and many others, the most important thing is love and opening to the energy of the heart. I’m still learning. I learn from so much and I am deeply grateful.
Thank you, Susan. I know you have two sons, too, and a cutie grandson who’s probably playing a keyboard by now. My friends with grandchildren are in love with the little ones. All that baby love goes to dogs in my world. I studied theoretical Jung in my 17 years of three classes a week with my first philosophy teacher. I hope I’m taking that knowledge deeper through dreamwork, poetry, and writing. I nearly stopped dreaming for a while (dream fatigue?), but they’re back again. It’s a challenging time in my country and yours, so we have to have to find a higher and more positive perspective. Sending you love and a beautiful journey.
Oh, Elaine. What a tender and moving post this is. I got a kick out of your “secret shame in growing old and not looking like the women on the cover of the AARP magazine” comment. I’m feeling that too these days. But I agree with Myra. We don’t need to look like AARP models to be beautiful. Or to age gracefully. For example, I stretch and work out at the local Wellness Center gym a couple of days a week and am always uplifted and inspired by the energy, good humor, and determination the senior citizens display. I leave each session with a deep sense of well-being: partly from the endorphins that come naturally with exercise, but also from observing these models of graceful aging. Thank you for another thought-provoking post. Love, Jeanie
Vic and I had a standing joke about being on the cover of the AARP magazine with weights and a glass of red wine. I hike the hills an hour a day, some days faster than others. I worked with a physical therapist for six months, and a chiropractor specialing in vertigo and balance issues for over a year. Pilates was the most helpful, but Meniere’s Disease is challenging and acts up when she wants to. I always feel a little off kilter, and I’m a woman who felt grounded all her life. It’s just what is. Thanks for your insights and reflections. I remember you going to spend an hour with your trainer when I was in Orlando. Go, Jeanie!
What a beautiful, moving post Elaine, the brotherly togetherness that is so clearly demonstrated in that wonderful photo of your boys is testament to the love you and Vic showed and instilled in them. I have two brothers with large age differences between us all, however, sadly, we are not in regular contact despite my best efforts to bring us all together…it works out that way sometimes, I guess.
I admire you for the way that you keep active and overcome the obstacle of Meniere’s to do this! I walk regularly (when it’s not blowing a hooly outside) and am a fair-weather cyclist – I hope to be doing both these activities myself for as long as I possibly can. For me it’s so nurturing for the soul to connect with the outdoors as well as being good for the body! Just a thought, have you considered Bowen Technique for the Meniere’s – there’s a couple of case studies mentioned in this article that may pique your interest…I’ll send you links via FB.
I’m sorry you don’t have much contact with your brothers, Lin. I imagine it hurts, but we can’t make others want to stay connected and an idealized view of family doesn’t help. My sons are very different from each other but also share traits and values. I don’t know what would have happened if Vic hadn’t made a passionate plea for them to love and support each other. They were both close to Vic and would do anything for their dad. After his death, they worked to keep their connection strong with each other and with me. I’m grateful for their perseverance and love.
Meniere’s Disease is a constant hassle and an isolating issue. As a natural extrovert, I had to learn to be an introvert. I see friends, but usually just one or two at a time. I skip movies, musical events, restaurants, and large social gatherings. Covid lockdown didn’t change my life much. Thanks for sending information. I’ve tried many techniques and practitioners, but I’ll check and see if anyone knows about the Bowen technique. I’ve gone to a few chiropractors who were skilled in dealing with Meniere’s Disease, but apparently I’m a tough case. I have one friend with Meniere’s, but hers is intermittent. Mine is progressive although I’m hoping to save the hearing that remains in one ear. Thanks for caring.
Beautiful to see your sons together. It always breaks my heart when I hear about estranged siblings. My father and his sister stopped speaking to each other when my brother and I were teenagers. We made a pact then to never let that happen to us and to always have each other’s backs.
It’s beautiful for me, too, Diana. I love the pact you have with your brother.
My brother was rarely part of my adult life, but he reappeared when Vic got sick and after Vic’s death. We had about ten years of weekly phone conversations and in person visits. I was grateful to be with him when he had cancer and hold his hand when he breathed his last. After almost seven years, I still miss our Sunday conversations.