Archive for the tag “grief”

Tears of all

Today the loss of my father now gone five years slammed into me. It’s the insult of an unexpected burn or a pinched finger in the door. I’m left empty and angry at the pain.

As I age, I find there is less and less that moves me to highs or lows. Offenses that once brought immediate reaction and judgment have little effect. I absorb their assault as being more about someone else or something else outside of me. And the highs from a good movie, a get together, a beautiful gift that one day not so long ago overwhelmed my senses are warmly appraised but are processed in a more shallow, less complex place.

Deaths and births, small individual actions and the beauty of nature however pull strongly at me, shocking me as they evoke immediate and unexpected response. Responses that I cannot control. I cry with abandon at small flower or a child skipping and I am at the mercy of whatever it is inside of me that I seem not to own.

Next month a new grandchild will pull me into the unique beauty of a birth. Every birth is a fingerprint—never to be copied or confused with any other birth. I will wonder at this beginning as if I have never experienced another child entering this world. I know he’s coming, I will probably there as he takes his first breath yet the volcano of emotion will again slam into my heart.  Caught up in the purest connection of all life as one—my father to me, me to my son and now my grandson—I will stop breathing as I wait for his first breath and then tears will flow that belong less to me than to the world of joy and suffering.

susan_bioSusan Cain McCarty



Good-by Bailey

old Bailey Puppy Bailey copy

Sadly, I am writing this blog about deep loss. This week I said good-by to Bailey, our old yellow lab who lived 16 long years (and a few months). Larger breed dogs often live 10-12 years so we were very lucky to have Bailey with us for so long.

We think she lived as long as she did because she was so easy going. Bailey never rushed or even exerted herself. We had another lab, Mudd, a chocolate lab. He loved to retrieve anything. If you pulled out a tennis ball, you should be ready to invest some time and energy because Mudd would chase it for an hour. Bailey on the other hand might retrieve the ball once and would only trot to get the ball and then walk back, drop it at our feet and go lay down. She was easy to train because she didn’t pull on the leash—that would require too much effort. We rarely had to ask her to sit or lay because she was in repose most of the time.

But time finally caught up with her. She had terrible arthritis in her hips and shoulders; she had a benign tumor that was the size of a puppy on her side making it hard for her to lay on one side (vet said it was too dangerous to remove at her age and it would grow back); she had almost no muscle development in her hindquarters; her sight was bad though she wasn’t completely blind; she was mostly deaf and was becoming incontinent. Lately we had an increasing in incidences where all four legs would splay out and she’d go down and was not able to get up on her own so we couldn’t leave her alone. In spite of all of these aging challenges, she continued to wag her tail, loved seeing the grandkids and she never lost her appetite. With physical help and lots of love, we helped her maintain some quality of life. Still, I knew the time was near but I wondered how I would know when it was time to let go.

The vet told me I should trust myself and that I would make the decision at the right time. Given how long she lived in spite of great physical loss, I doubted his advice. Yet on Tuesday she did tell me. Most days Bailey would get up in the morning, eat, go outside to relieve herself and come back in to nap for hours. She’d go outside again around 1 pm and then sleep until dinner. But on Tuesday, she followed me around the house all morning. I work from home so I spend time in my office and between calls and projects, I rush around picking up the house, doing laundry and washing dishes. Following me rather than resting was completely out of character.

Finally I sat down next to her, put my arm around her neck and buried my face into her soft, warm neck. Tears slipped from my eyes as I immediately realized what she was asking. I said “OK Bailey.” She looked at me, licked my face and then she walked to her bed and was finally able to rest. Later that day our vet helped Bailey move on to her next life.

With great love comes great pain. I ache physically, emotionally and mentally from the loss of Bailey. I have had a headache for 24 hours and my stomach is in knots. Yet it is this intense pain that forces me to think about Bailey and the manygifts she gave me and to realize that the person I am today better for having Bailey in my life. She taught me the joy of just “being” and of non-judgmental love. I pray that she will watch over me and look for me when it’s my turn to make that journey.

By Susan Cain McCarty

Changing The Discussion From “Age As Loss” to “Aging With Gifts”

Aging into “older” years is often feared and imagined as a sad time primarily marked by losses. The losses begin slowly—for most in their late 40’s: The graying and loss of hair and development of hearing and vision issues; loss of our ideal body image as we lose muscle mass and gain unwanted fat; loss of roles in leadership and power positions within the community and workforce. These may seem significant yet they pale in comparison to the losses yet to come: Of loved ones who precede us in death; of independence as we give up our driver’s license; of dignity as we find ourselves relying on others to help us overcome limitations caused by physical and/or cognitive losses; of our image of “home” as people move into our home to care for us or we move to assisted living facilities. The Government and science dwell on these losses. The Government worries about how to address the wave of Boomers that will all too soon become “needy” for financial support. Science sees dollars and interesting challenges in improving and prolonging life.

Interestingly, at any age or developmental stage, we can measure life by losses rather than gains. Our 30’s—a time of infinite possibilities for many—often includes tremendous loss as we begin our families: Decreased expendable income resulting from the medical bills, day care and education; the concern of childhood illnesses; increased expenses, demanding careers can leave us worried and sleepless. In our late 40’s we are often “empty nested” and find ourselves financially struggling in order to pay for college; perhaps we must downsize our home. Nevertheless, most see this time not in loss but rather as new opportunities to travel, to re-engage with our spouse, to identify a new lifestyle, to get back to a healthy body.

Why is it we aren’t as willing to embrace the opportunities of late life as we are in our younger years? Perhaps because in our 30’s, 40’s and 50’s we have so much life ahead to change our direction, to make new decisions, to experience “more”. Life abounds with external opportunities to prove our limitless selves. In our 70’s and 80’s and beyond, the runway is getting shorter and we become a science and we re bombarded with messages of “age as loss”. Nevertheless research has shown that there are tremendous gifts available to us in our older years that are unavailable to younger adults.

These gifts include the beauty of solitude: of a time when we can spend long hours reflecting on the meaning and purpose of our lives, explore our creative selves, participate in the joy and promise of spirituality. Older adults tend not to dwell on “what if” or “if only”, nor do they become stuck on the “not so good decisions” they made in younger years. Instead life shows itself as a rich integration of each and every experience—the good and not so good decisions. They come together to make us who we have become. This quiet time of reflection, of letting go of the materialistic and even power over our own bodies is a gift that can bring comfort and peace to guide us through the challenging terrain of aging into our final years.

As with any developmental stage of life, this path to an enlightened older self isn’t a direct path and it isn’t automatic or even easy. There is no denying that those experiencing older years will suffer physically and emotionally. However, as we give up control and power, we attain the ultimate gift: the wise spiritual self who is now freed to imagine and embrace that which is yet to come.

The older adult may need support in finding this time as “gift” rather than loss. But that is another blog. If you want ideas about how to support the enjoyment of being an older adult or how to support your parents’ opportunity in older years, watch for my next blog: “Enjoying the Gifts of Aging”.

~ Susan

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