Cindy La Ferle on November 9th, 2013
It takes a long time to grow an old friend.” — John Leonard
True friends occupy the top of my gratitude list this Thanksgiving. I can’t imagine where I’d be without the dear ones who chatted past midnight in college, coached me through my pregnancy, or held my hand at my dad’s funeral. And most of all, I cherish the troopers who still show up for emergencies as well as holiday parties.
As we age, our friendships change. As Irene Levine, PhD points out, finding the time to maintain strong friendships — and knowing where to look for new ones — can be challenging in our middle years. That’s the topic of my November column in Prime, which includes some helpful tips on friendship from Dr. Levine, also known as “The Friendship Doctor.” If you subscribe to the Sunday Detroit News and Free Press, look for a print copy in your November 10 edition. Click here and flip to page 12 to read it online.
Researching this topic for my column, I ran across lots of good material on friendship, in addition to Dr. Levine’s blog. Here are just a few articles you might enjoy:
On friends you should fire: http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikaandersen/2012/11/17/3-kinds-of-false-friends-you-must-fire-from-your-life/
From Psychology Today: What makes a true friend: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/happiness-in-world/201002/what-makes-true-friend
Why it’s hard to make friends after 30: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/fashion/the-challenge-of-making-friends-as-an-adult.html?_r=1&
Must read: On friendship and paybacks in the Wall Street Journal.
Cindy La Ferle on November 2nd, 2013
So I’ll try to see into your eyes right now, and stay right here, ’cause these are the good old days.” — Carly Simon, “Anticipation”
My grown son, who’s married and lives in Chicago, is back in town with his wife for a friend’s wedding. It’s a short weekend visit, but I plan to enjoy every minute of it.
This morning I recalled an earlier autumn homecoming, nine years ago, when Nate first left the state for college. As a brand-new empty nester, I’d been anticipating his fall break and return home. I looked forward to being Mom again, if only for a few days.
Two weeks earlier, I channeled my inner June Cleaver and planned a week’s worth of family meals and favorite snacks. I reorganized my work deadlines, freeing extra time to take him out for lunch at his former haunts. My husband repaired the plaster damage from a roof leak in Nate’s bedroom, and then repainted it.
As soon as our son walked in the side door, the truth hit home: What the kid really needed was a low-key week. Stressed-out from exams, Nate wasn’t expecting a fanfare or fancy dinners. He’d been looking forward to sleeping in and simply hanging out with family and friends. In my efforts to turn his visit into a special event, I’d forgotten that my son didn’t want to feel like a guest in his own home.
Realizing my error, I released my grip and let the week unfurl without a plan.
In retrospect, the high points of that first break were the times we ran a few mundane errands together. Driving around town, between trips to the dry cleaner and the drugstore, we chatted about Nate’s classes, his new friends in the dorm, and the music he was listening to then. College was turning my snarky adolescent boy into a thoughtful young man — and I found myself enjoying his company.
More than wrinkles and gray hair, our kids never fail to remind us of our own aging. Overnight, they morph from preschoolers in OshKosh overalls to college students in size 12 running shoes. Letting go also requires that we accept the fact that time isn’t standing still for any of us.
It’s a sobering thought — and ever more poignant when autumn leaves start to scatter across our doorstep.
Earlier this fall, for instance, I watched from a distance while the neighborhood teens posed for homecoming photographs in their formalwear. Giddy with anticipation, the girls could barely stand still while a group of proud parents focused their cameras. The boys struggled to look comfortable in freshly pressed suits and ties. Their youthful beauty took my breath away, and my heart ached a little.
It occurred to me then that my days of snapping photos of prom gowns and homecoming suits were over. And I wondered: Had I fully experienced those moments, or simply captured them on film to savor later? How often had I dashed mindlessly from one “special” event to the next?
Recalling the lyrics to Carly Simon’s “Anticipation,” I’m struck by the fact that our “good old days” are unfolding right here and right now. But we have to slow down long enough to appreciate them.
It’s a worthy thought to ponder before the onset of the winter holidays – before all of us get tangled up in holiday lights and lists, decorating marathons, and long lines at the malls.
In anticipation of Thanksgiving, I’m adding all things beautifully mundane and uneventful to my gratitude list. I’m counting my commonplace blessings — the bowl of red apples on the kitchen counter; the mischievous cat chasing the pens on my desk; a pot of vegetable soup simmering in my slow cooker; a weekend visit with my son and his wife.
This season I’ll practice coming home to the present moment, to the grace of ordinary days on my calendar.
Cindy La Ferle on October 16th, 2013
At midlife, our hearts and bodies often become increasingly sensitive to things that no longer serve us.” — Christiane Northrup, M.D.
Long before the weird heart palpitations started, my first warning was a never-ending series of medical appointments on my day planner.
Not one of those appointments was for me.
Three years ago, I’d purchased a new day planner to keep track of my widowed mother’s care management. While transferring dates and phone numbers from my previous planner, I noticed I’d driven Mom to nearly 50 medical appointments in less than a year — yet I’d neglected to schedule an annual physical for myself.
Unable to drive due to her progressing vascular dementia, Mom lived alone in her condo then, relying solely on me to help maintain her “independence.” Between regular trips to Mom’s cardiologist, urologist, audiologist, primary care physician, pacemaker clinic, and various surgeons, I was lucky if I could book a free morning to get my teeth cleaned.
Friends told me I was looking tired, but I ignored them (and thought they were being cruel). Months of worry and caregiving were starting to take their toll — yet I was too frantic to notice.
The beat goes on and on
Since March of this year, Mom has fallen twice, first fracturing her back and later shattering her ankle. (By this time, we’d finally made the difficult decision to move her, totally against her wishes, to a skilled nursing care facility.) These episodes required three extended hospital stays and two surgeries — plus weeks of physical therapy.
Meanwhile, I endured two minor surgeries of my own, but ended up spending my recovery time overseeing my mother’s care at the hospital. I would try to care for myself later, I promised.
Visiting Mom at the hospital, I could feel my blood pressure rising every time she insisted she was “perfectly capable” of caring for herself at home. Deluded by the insidious fog of dementia, she refused to believe she’d broken her ankle and was unable to walk — even when we pointed to the cast on her leg.
Over and over, she’d ask: Why are you keeping me here, there is nothing wrong with me … Why can’t I go home now?… When are you taking me home?
By August, I’d developed some alarming new symptoms of my very own — including heart palpitations — and a wretched case of insomnia. My heart would pound for no reason — even while I was relaxing in front of the TV.
It scared the hell out of me, unpredictably, several times a day.
I was terrified enough to finally schedule an appointment with Dr. Paul Ehrmann, my family doctor, who ordered several tests. As Dr. Paul explained it, I’d been living on adrenaline fumes after functioning on “high alert” for the past couple of years.
Taking versus giving
More than one-third of caregivers who provide continuing care for a spouse or another family member are doing so “while suffering poor health themselves,” notes a study cited by the Family Caregiver Alliance (www.caregiver.org). Not surprisingly, middle-aged and older female caregivers are more susceptible to heart disease, hypertension, and depression than those with no caregiving duties. The stats are sobering, so I won’t go on here.
“In many midlife women, heart palpitations are primarily caused by increasing heart energy trying to get in and be embodied in a woman’s life,” explains Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of The Wisdom of Menopause. “My experience has been that our bodies speak to us only when we can’t seem to ‘hear’ them any other way. When issues of love, issues of the soul, or issues of a woman’s unmet passions cry out for attention, they often take the form of heart palpitations.”
Dr. Northrup challenges women to ask what could be weighing heavily on our hearts — including our key relationships. Are friends and loved ones “investing” as much in our emotional bank as we’re investing in theirs? If not, why do we hang on to unbalanced alliances?
Of course, some relationships — family, especially — are not dispensable. I have no choice but to show up for my mother and to manage all aspects of her life, from finances to healthcare. But when others make silly or unfair demands on my time — or ignore my emotional needs — I have every right to question those relationships. My heart depends on it.
“When issues of love, issues of the soul, or issues of a woman’s unmet passions cry out for attention, they often take the form of heart palpitations.” – Christiane Northrup, M.D.
Reading Dr. Northrup’s advice, I also realized I’d been putting everyone else’s needs ahead my own for the past two decades. Starting in early motherhood, I’d completely redesigned my career goals around the schedules of my husband and son. As soon as my son left for college, my widowed mother’s health began failing, throwing me unexpectedly into the role of full-time caregiver again.
Hearing the heart sounds
Once we “listen” to what our hearts are telling us, Dr. Northrup says, our symptoms begin to fade — though it’s always best to have them checked by a physician, as I did.
Even though Mom has been in a nursing home for several months, I have to remind myself that I needn’t worry about her 24/7. Professional caregivers are being paid to tend to her needs.
I’ve also learned that it’s best to avoid visiting her when I’m feeling especially depressed or exhausted. Mom still begs me to take her “home” — which inevitably leads to more heartbreak and frustration for both of us. The social worker at the nursing home has suggested “redirecting” our conversations to focus on happier memories — which rarely works for anxious dementia patients like my mother, but I keep trying.
Though it might seem otherwise, this post isn’t a pity party. I fully accept the privilege of being part of a family — which often includes caring for a chronically ill (or incredibly difficult) elderly parent. I hope it serves as a warning for anyone fulfilling the role of caregiver while navigating her own middle years — years that inevitably present health challenges and other turning points she might ignore at her peril.
It’s time to listen up. Listen to your heart.
The artwork in this essay — “Cycles of the Muse,” by Cindy La Ferle — is featured in The Rust Belt Almanac, a new anthology of art, fiction, and poetry about growth, change and loss in America’s Rust Belt. Copies available for purchase on Amazon.com.
Cindy La Ferle on September 7th, 2013
It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself.” ~Joyce Maynard
Did you hear all the school bells ringing last week? Though autumn isn’t officially here yet, the start of the new school year never fails to begin the season for me. Change is in the air — and I’m ready for it!
For many who’ve launched their kids to college for the first time, it’s also the beginning of the empty nest transition.
If you’re having a tough time letting go of your student, you might find some comfort in my new column for Michigan Prime. The September issue — which also features great back-to-school tips for middle-aged and “senior” students — will be delivered this Sunday with The Detroit News and Free Press, or you can click here to read it online.
Cindy La Ferle on August 28th, 2013
“Wishing to be friends is quick work, but real friendship is a slow-ripening fruit that needs our time and attention.” — Artistotle
With so much going on in our lives, it’s hard to find time to nurture our longterm friendships, let alone start new ones. Yet countless studies show that social relationships are crucial to our well-being — especially as we age.
Furthermore, the benefits of using social media don’t rank as high as person-to-person contact. “Face time” isn’t a luxury; it’s key to our health.
With that in mind, Dr. Irene Levine (“The Friendship Doctor”) created The Friendship Blog – a terrific resource for anyone who wants to master the art of friendship or resolve sticky relationship issues.
Featured in national media, Levine is a psychologist and author of Best Friends Forever. As she notes in the introduction to her blog, friendships are both rewarding and complex: “These unique bonds often run deeper than family ties, and sometimes last longer than our relationships with spouses or lovers. Yet there are few agreed-upon ground rules or roadmaps,” she says.
Maybe you need to detoxify your relationship with a difficult coworker, or regain balance in a one-sided friendship? Or maybe you’d like to rebuild your network with new contacts — but worry about appearing too pushy or needy? Does your child need help making friends? Whatever the dilemma, Dr. Levine’s Friendship Blog invites community conversation on any friendship topic you can imagine.