One Day More

Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

 

Only one day more before we leave on our trip to California to celebrate not only my birthday, but also a new decade. But I am always anxious before I fly. I think of all the terrible accidents as I go through the motions of getting ready to travel: cleaning the house, doing the laundry, paying bills, emptying out the ‘fridge, sending out birthday cards ahead of the person’s birthday so I won’t forget or have to take them with me….. And I think, “Will this be the last time I do this?”

A few months ago I read Steven Levine’s powerful book, A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as if It Were Your Last. The whole idea of the book is to act as if you only had one year left before you die and provides ideas on how to conduct your life so there are no loose ends — mentally, spiritually, physically, financially — before you leave the planet. The book gave me a lot to think about and also how to plan for the inevitable end of life, a topic too few people talk about. But because this is a new decade for me, and having outlived my father, my mother, older sister, and almost my older brother who died earlier this year, thoughts of how to live the last days, months, and years of my life have been on my mind.

 

Another book that has been helpful is Susan Abel Lieberman’s book: Getting Old is a Full Time Job. Each chapter is about a different topic to tackle as you grow older, such as downsizing to a smaller home, dealing with financial matters, and putting all your important papers in order. I now have a three-ring binder called End Notes that contains important papers for my children, so that when I am gone, there will be no mysteries about the names of my banks, my checking and savings accounts, a list of what I want to give away to family members, etc. Rather than feeling morbid about this, I feel somewhat relieved, because everything I can think of is in that notebook.

 

So as I clean, do laundry, pay bills, and pack, I ponder. If tomorrow is my last full day here, what is important enough to dwell on? My assets? Definitely not, especially since I have none to speak of. My ex-husband went bankrupt with our family business and we lost everything and I had to start over again at age 52. My jewelry? No. I have only a few good pieces I received from my (second) husband since we married a decade or so ago, and those few pieces are already on a list.

 

Instead, what I am dwelling on are thoughts about a life that has been good to me, despite the divorce — a life filled with love of family and friends, good books to read, healthful foods to prepare, and cultivating an “attitude of gratitude.”  I also dwell on something that I learned as a Jew, which is the idea of Tikkun Olam, translated as repair of the world. In my first marriage, my husband and I were emergency foster parents to 12 children. Doing this gave me a sense of doing a mitzvah, a good deed, although I think I benefited as much or more than I expected.

 

I also volunteered at MANNA for a couple of years when I moved to Philadelphia, helping pack food for people with life-threatening diseases. Since I am a food nut, doing this gave me a good feeling of helping others eat well. Likewise, I was a volunteer for The Hunger Project in the late 1980s, presenting a four-hour program at schools on the topic of Ending Hunger. I learned that while hunger exists, it doesn’t need to, and each person can make a difference. So I now strive to make a positive difference in everything I do.

 

Finally, being a mother who strived to raise children to be “good citizens,” which they are, has permitted me to see that motherhood is probably the least appreciated and most important job I have had amongst all my other paid jobs in my life. Actually, I have been paid, because my children have turned into wonderful adults that are making their own lives meaningful to themselves and those around them.

 

Finally, December is a time when I receive solicitations from many worthwhile non-profit organizations. ( A list will appear on Dec. 1st.)  My budget allows only small donations, but I give these small donations willingly, because I do believe we are our brothers’ (and sisters’) keepers. So as I pack my clothes, pay my bills, and prepare to fly to California, I feel a mixture of anxiety, gratitude, and peacefulness. Life has been good to me and I hope I have been good to others in my life. I have come full circle and trust that I have made a difference in the lives of people I have touched, and that if this is my last day on the planet, I have no regrets!

Healthy Reading: Part Three- Death, Dying and Dessert by Susan Lieberman, Ph.D.

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Why would I review a book on death when the first two reviews are about Healthy Reading as part of my ongoing “series” on Healthy Aging? Perhaps Dr. Susan Abel Lieberman’s first sentence in her book, Death, Dying and Dessert, which came about as a result of her periodic meetings with other friends to discuss death over dessert, will explain: It is clear that most of us understand that we will die. We just don’t expect it to happen in our lifetimes.

Death is a topic that many people, including me, avoid. But this book has helped me breach that fear, especially as some of my contemporaries have already died. Actually, Chapter 3, “Why Are We Afraid?” deals with this very topic. On page 21, the author writes: Urging us to face death is an invitation to engage in life.

I believe this is a clue as to why we are so fearful of death. We haven’t fulfilled out life’s expectations and time is growing short. As Hillel said, “If not now, when?” (Now a book by Joseph Telushkin)

The first six chapters deal with issues such as these, which I call philosophical ones, while chapters 7-11 deal with more “practical” concepts, such as advanced care directives, power of attorney, organ donation, etc. Chapters 12-20 are entitled Forms Summary, which is where all the information from the previous chapters are coalesced and explored, such as the topic, When is Hospice a Good Idea? Or Can Death Be Funny?

The author has done her homework and provided us with many resources that the subtitle promises: Reflections on 20 Questions About Dying. There are actually 20 chapters (plus appendices, such as The Croak Book, which I wrote about in my review of Susan Lieberman’s book, Getting Old is a Full Time Job. Here is the link:   ) and each one does pose a question.

I believe everyone needs to read this book and especially seniors like myself, because death is inescapable and why not be enlightened by all the ramifications of leaving our precious life? Knowing we are more prepared and so is our family because we have explored these questions and answered them to the best of our ability will ease some of the fears. Finally, the author also includes in the appendices a section called Organizing a Death, Dying, and Dessert Group of your own. (I plan to approach the social worker at our weekly meeting on retirement at the local senior center.)

Death, Dying & Dessert is available directly from Amazon and also from the author at: susan@lieberman.net.

P.S. Women’s Voices for Change recently posted an excellent essay called “The Need to Say Good-bye,” which ties in with Lieberman’s book. Here is the link: http://womensvoicesforchange.org/on-emotional-health-the-need-to-say-goodbye.htm


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