role models, aging gracefully

I’ve become acquainted with a 91-year-young woman through a very dear friend who’s in her mid-70’s. They belong to the same senior center’s group. I’ve only chatted with the elder woman 2 or 3 times, but I’m always amazed at her vitality. She still drives herself to their weekly gatherings where they do needlework, chat, and snack on goodies they, or others, bring to share. This acquaintance dresses stylishly, right down to matching earrings, handbag and shoes. I admire her youthful glow which obviously emanates from within. Her image is always in my mind’s eye when I think of someone aging gracefully.

My friend who’s 70ish is admirable not only because she’s such a fashion-plate, which she is, but also because she is laden with health issues that would bring a younger, stronger woman, like me, to my knees. I’m a wuss by comparison. Like an older sister, sometimes a mom, my girlfriend was a smoker for many years, but was finally able to kick the habit. Whether as a result of smoking or having had it beforehand, she continues to suffer with emphysema which is compounded by asthma. Weighing under 100 pounds she’s a lightweight, but she can be as “tough as nails” when debating her opinion. I’ve never tested her, and am not about to try. I’d rather have her in my corner. When a coughing fit overtakes her, she can easily bruise some ribs. As a last resort her doctor prescribes prednisone which eliminates the cough, but leaves my friend with side effects that linger. She has bouts of diverticulitis which has her curled up in great pain. Throughout our 13 years of friendship, she’s been poked, probed, xrayed, cat-scanned, MRI’d more than anyonelse I know. With the help of a physician who’s cared for her, REALLY CARED, my amazing friend always seems “as fit as a fiddle.” I forget her medical history until another episode occurs, and it always does.

I think I dress rather smartly, but when I’m out with my friend and her husband I know she’s outdone me. Not that I mind, for I am simply in awe of  her sense of style, wearing skirts and dresses that I never would, simply because they wouldn’t look as well on me. They’re not my “cup of tea,” but they suit my girlfriend to a tee. And the jewelry, she can wear several gold bangles, rings on several fingers, including on her toes, and of course, earrings. Stunning is the only word to describe her. Whether she’s lounging at home or stepping out, in my estimation, she’s always “dressed to the nines.”

Her hobby, more like a full-time job, keeps my girlfriend in constant stitches. (Pun intended.)  She is never without a knitting project spread out across her lap, fingers and needles furiously working “knits” and “purls.” Her handiwork is so exquisite that I’ve often said she would make good money selling her sweaters, vests, shawls, afghans, and baby things. But she takes such care that she prefers to give them as gifts, rather than sell them. A few Christmases ago, my husband and I received a deep, red afghan pieced together with several large, knitted squares in different designs. Needless to say, it’s rarely used as a coverlet. The afghan lays decoratively across the back of an oversized, upholstered chair. 

With little success I’ve tried to knit, my friend sitting patiently at my side, encouraging. But when I’m alone I’m in a quandry as to how to correct a mistake, so I undo everything and start anew. Exhausted and frustrated after several hours of undoing my knitting and redoing it, I put my yarns and needles aside. They still sit in a Nordstrom shopping bag against the far back wall of my closet. Now that I’m blogging, who knows when my attempt at knitting will resurface. I wouldn’t place any bets.

My girlfriend is one of the most charitable persons I know. In spite of the toll it might take upon her health, she is committed to helping family and friends in need. Regardless of her step-mother-in-law’s incessant complaining, my friend and her husband regularly visited the aging woman who lived a few hours away. While there they would help however they could. Until she died they spent Thanksgiving with her, foregoing a gayer holiday with their own children and grandchildren. Before putting her into an assisted-living facility, my girlfriend and her husband helped clean out decades of clutter from her mother-in-law’s home. While she lived, there was no indication of her appreciation for her daughter-in-law’s constant concern and care. But after passing away, my friend was bequeathed the old woman’s engagement ring. A just reward for a just person.

As I write this, my girlfriend is hosting friends who are visiting from out-of-state for a month. It may become an annual occurrence, for they welcomed their friends last year at this time. When other friends who live in the same retirement community vacationed at their condo in California earlier this year, my girlfriend took care of their sick dachshund. She went to live at the dog’s home so that it would feel comfortable in its own surroundings. Her husband visited, and she would return home to prepare and have dinner. When we planned our trip to Venice, my friend offered to care for our dog, even contemplating moving into our home so she could also care for our cats. It was a generous gesture, but her husband convinced her that it would be physically challenging for her to walk our dog up our steep driveway without his help, and he was not planning to live here with her. He had their home and dog to care for. We happily agreed to send our dog to their home, and have someonelse care for our cats.

Our family is grateful for the years we’ve known my girlfriend and her husband. I’ve especially cherished her as a role model for living robustly, despite personal hindrances. I hope I have her strong constitution, generosity toward others, and energetic vivacity as I live out the remaining years of my life. With my friend leading the way for a long time to come, I know I’m in good hands.

hugs for role models…hugmamma.

a friendly place

Getting up for 8:15 Mass is a struggle. I’m not a morning person, as I’ve said in previous posts. So making it to exercise and church services is a labor of love, or else insanity, maybe both. The “drawing card” for me are the teachers, Kristina at the gym, and Father Brian at St. Joseph’s. Their common denominator is their compassionate, warm, “open” personalities. Neither basks in the limelight, rather they are humbly passionate about spreading their messages, Kristina “speaks” to exercise as essential for our well-being; Father Brian shares the gospel that God loves and cares for all of us.

Probably the youngest priest I’ve ever encountered as pastor of a parish, Father Brian, is a natural-born “shepherd.” He gathers his parishioners, his “sheep,” about him, with concern for our safe deliverance into the hands of God, our Maker. He doesn’t prod us with pokers, rather he relates stories, personal or biblical, which encourages us to think and to decide by what values we should live. The church fills with laughter when Father Brian tells a joke or humorous anecdote. He’s not even above pointing a finger at himself, whether in fun or to confirm that he too is human. His manner is easy, his smiles always forthcoming. He is accepting of ways that are different from his. If there are rules, and there must be, by which the parish operates, they do not seem “set in stone.” Perhaps his youthfulness and relative newness to pastoral duties has him proceeding with caution, allowing himself to blend into the congregation’s routine, to become one with, not one above, us.

Today my ears were extra perked when listening to Father’ sermon. He spoke of our need to focus upon the “small things” in our lives. These, he said, are the building blocks of the kingdom of Heaven. God does not reward us for “flash”, but rather for what we do “behind the scenes.” As stewards of God’s gifts, our services toward and on behalf of one another will be rewarded. Our faithfulness will be recognized. Romans 12:6-8 from The New Testament testifies to this:

“We each have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” 

As an introduction to his homily, Father Brian spoke of witnessing small, but meaningful, human gestures that “built up the Kingdom of God.” Friends from out-of-town were visiting with him. A couple and their 2 daughters visited the popular tourist attractions. In their comings and goings, Father witnessed the loving care bestowed upon the littlest child by her sister and her parents.

On a recent visit with his elderly grandparents at their assisted living facility, Father celebrated the Mass in their apartment, the 3 huddling together. At the “kiss of peace”, his grandparents turned and pecked each other on the cheek, mouthing the words “I love you” to one another. This demonstration of their affection spoke volumes of their 67 year-long marriage.

After weekday Mass one morning, Father Brian noticed a lone woman moving through the pews, collecting congregation booklets, which she would then return to their housing. On another occasion, a parishioner asked Father if she could bring flowers from her garden to place around the altar. Walking over to it, he fingered one of the daisies, lovingly displayed in a vase. Matching arrangements were staged prominently in other areas.

It is obvious that Father Brian is like family to his parishioners. He freely speaks to us of his mother, other relatives, his friends, his love of basketball, his personal impressions of a recent visit to the Vatican, and his own faith journey. And he eagerly awaits us outside after Mass, shaking hands and smiling broadly. He always remembers our daughter, though she’s not a regular. Because he attracts everyone with his charismatic style, I said to Father Brian one day “You could be a rock star!” To which he replied, after letting out a belly laugh, “Jesus is the rock star!”

no “Hell, fire and brimstone” here, only warmth…hugmamma