Posts Tagged ‘women at midlife’
Cindy La Ferle on February 15th, 2013
Be on the alert to recognize your prime at whatever time of your life it may occur.” ~Muriel Spark
A supplement to The Detroit News and Free Press, Michigan Prime (formerly Michigan Senior Living) has a new title and design.
I’ve been writing a personal column for the magazine since June of last year, fulfilling my longtime dream of reaching a large audience of fellow Baby Boomers. So far, I’ve written columns about the decision to place my mother in assisted living; how to write a memoir; anger management; why self-care isn’t selfish; and more.
I’m always open to fresh ideas and midlife adventures for future columns, so please feel free to send me a private message using the “Contact” tab (above) on this site.
My goal for the bimonthly column is to inspire others who want to embrace the freedoms, changes, and challenges of the second half of life. Even if you don’t live in the Detroit area, you can read Prime online, where you’ll find my current column, “A Mother-in-law in Training.”
Cindy La Ferle on December 27th, 2012
They live forever in your broken heart….And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” — Anne Lamott
I‘m on holiday break for the next week, so I’ll continue to repost seasonal pieces. This one was published on Nov. 26, 2006 in my Daily Tribune “Life Lines” column. — CL
No matter how old you are, losing a parent is a difficult rite of passage. Like childbirth, it is such a complex, emotional experience that it’s never easy to explain to anyone who hasn’t walked through it.
My own father died suddenly at 65. I was 38 and had a family of my own, yet I still felt unmoored and abandoned. Even though my mother was alive and in good health then, it seemed as though I’d been exiled to a strange frontier without a map. And in some ways, I had.
At that point, none of my closest friends had lost a parent. They couldn’t comprehend the depth of such a loss — or why my sorrow turned to anger or resentment during the holidays. And I couldn’t begin to articulate the unexpected waves of grief.
Writing about the loss of her own beloved father in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, Anne Lamott said it best: “Sometimes, when I’ve done something fabulous, I feel like a gymnast who has performed a flawless routine in an empty auditorium.”
Before my dad died, I avoided most funeral homes and memorial services. On the rare occasions when I did attend, I struggled to find the right words for the bereaved. I found it awkward to view a casket, open or closed. In retrospect, I hadn’t found a direction for my own life yet — so how could I look death in the eye and make any sort of peace with it?
But a lot of things changed when my father died — and so did I.
I looked long and hard at the self-centered goals I’d been striving for in my twenties and thirties. In the weeks and months after Dad was buried, I listed everything that had been important to him: home, family, hard work, honesty, and kindness. In his honor, I decided to recommit myself to the values he’d hoped to pass along. And, most important of all, I stopped taking for granted the people I loved. The road back to normal was long, but I regained my footing and felt whole again.
In retrospect, I hadn’t found a direction for my own life yet — so how could I look death in the eye and make any sort of peace with it?
To be released this month, Always Too Soon by Allison Gilbert offers words of reassurance to anyone who is struggling with the loss of one or both parents. Gilbert, who was parentless by age 31, discusses the stages of her grief in the book’s introduction.
“My first parentless Thanksgiving came two months after my father died,” Gilbert recalls. “I didn’t feel old enough to be responsible for Thanksgiving…. I was no longer somebody’s child going home for the holidays. I felt overwhelmed, and despite my husband and brother’s support, utterly alone. I was also filled with self-centered anger.”
Always Too Soon features conversations with more than a dozen celebrities who were willing to share their own experiences with parent loss, including Rosanne Cash, Yogi Berra, Mariel Hemingway, Dennis Franz, and Rosanna Arquette. It also includes moving insights from not-so-famous people who lost parents in the Oklahoma City bombing and the September 11 terrorist attacks.
It’s a book I’d recommend highly to friends in need of comfort — and these days there are quite a few.
Within the past year and a half, two of my former college roommates watched their mothers lose their long battles with Parkinson’s disease. Another friend recently answered a late-night call announcing that her father had died unexpectedly of a heart attack.
Lately, visits to funeral homes and memorial services have become routine. I don’t always know the “right” things to say, but I do understand that my presence is important. I try to be the kind of friend I needed when my father died 14 years ago. I try to be honest. I remind my grieving friends that recovery from such a huge loss takes its own bittersweet time.
I also remind them that grief is a remarkable guide, if we’re willing to stay with it through the darkest places on our journey. We learn from our losses and grow stronger. Then we return to help each other heal. – Cindy La Ferle
Cindy La Ferle on January 19th, 2012
We have too little time to waste it in relationships that are not equal and mutually rewarding. Exchanging energy nourishes our souls.”
— Sue Patton Theole in The Woman’s Book of Spirit
In addition to getting my mother adjusted to assisted living — still a challenge — I’m devoting the month of January to organizing clutter. For starters, I bought a portable day planner for keeping track of my mother’s insurance info and medical appointments, plus dozens of other notes to myself.
The new planner now combines my personal data with my mother’s, all in one handy notebook that fits in my purse. While transferring names and numbers to the new pages, I remembered the following essay from my book, Writing Home. It was first published in a local column when I was a younger mom with a school-age child.
August 15, 1999; Reprinted from Writing Home.
Some things will always defy our control. Keeping a kid in the same shoe size for more than six months is one example; maintaining a neat, fully updated address book from one year to the next is another. I’m talking about the old-fashioned (not electronic) address books that keep us in social contact — the dog-eared pages we’ve crammed with birthday reminders, letters to answer, and cards announcing new addresses for relocated loved ones.
My own address book is a bit confusing, even to my husband, but it does have a system. For example, one page might be scribbled with little arrows and codes referencing another section of the book (“Look under H/Hill”). This usually means that someone has remarried and changed her name, or that a cousin has left for college or moved to his own apartment.
No matter how badly it’s organized, my address book is irreplaceable, especially during emergencies. This hit me seven years ago after my father died. One of the first things my mother and I did was comb through our address books to locate former coworkers, distant cousins, and old friends who needed to be notified of Dad’s passing. Each name, each address, was a chapter in my father’s history.
Your own address book is probably a chronicle of your ever-evolving relationships — an autobiography in progress. And since relationships are inherently messy, it stands to reason that your address book is messy too. Flipping through mine recently, I made the following observations:
– Reflecting the national average, many of my friends are divorced or working on second marriages.
– Divorce often forces us to choose between friends who used to be a couple.
– Having kids makes a huge difference in our social circle, not to mention the restaurants we frequent.
– The more people we know and love, the harder it is to send birthday cards on time.
– As we age, the line between friends and family starts to blur.
Catching up on the phone last week, Margaret, my former college roommate, and I decided that our midlife definition of “old friends” covers people we’ve known and loved unconditionally for at least half of our lives. They’re the first ones we call when the biopsy results come back or our kids win the big tournament at school.
That’s not to say I undervalue the various gifts my newer friends bring to the table. Some are skilled counselors or tireless cheerleaders; others are better at listening than advice-giving. One brings comic relief to every party, while another is the perfect companion for a silent retreat at a monastery. All have expanded my outlook and enriched my life, and I look forward to our future together.
But I’ve also found that while most of us change or evolve over time, our friendships don’t always change or evolve with us. One friend and I drifted so far apart in our interests that we might just as well have moved to opposite sides of the planet. Another disappeared without a trace after a heartrending divorce.
While every relationship has its low points, the stronger ones survive conflict as well as change of address. But I’ve learned it’s never healthy to cling to an alliance that has turned draining, one-sided, negligent, or destructive. As Emerson said, friendship should offer mutual “aid and comfort” through all of life’s passages. I think it should be fun, too.
A few people with whom I’ve lost touch or parted company are still listed in my address book. At one time, those relationships filled crucial gaps in my life and helped shape the person I am today. I still feel twinges of regret whenever I pause at the pages showing their names and numbers. And because there are a few good memories also attached to those names, I can’t quite bring myself to erase them. – Cindy La Ferle
Click here to read another column I wrote last spring on the benefits of maintaining healthy friendships.
– Writing Home can be purchased at Amazon.com and is available at the Yellow Door Art Market in downtown Berkley, MI. –
Cindy La Ferle on January 6th, 2012
Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” — Maya Angelou
Yesterday, while labeling my mother’s clothing and underwear, I had a surreal moment in which I felt as if I were moving another kid to college. In reality, we’re getting ready to transfer Mom to an assisted living residence, where she’ll soon have her own studio apartment.
Doug and I spent the past week moving pieces of Mom’s furniture (her apartment comes with some basics) along with decorative accessories, photos, clothing, TV, microwave, and toiletries. We also shopped for a bedspread and items for her kitchenette.
The new apartment looks traditional and beautiful — the style my mother is accustomed to — yet we know, deep down, that all the elegant things in the world won’t fool my mother into thinking this other place is superior to the condo she’s grown to love so much.
When Doug and I aren’t consumed by the moving process, I’m usually on the phone with a social worker or a physical therapist at the nursing center where my mother is undergoing rehab now. The social worker is concerned about my mother’s delusional behavior this week. Mom doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong with her health — nor does she remember last month’s visit to the ER at Beaumont Hospital, which ultimately led to all of this. Sounding like Dorothy on a broken record, she just keeps asking to go home. To her real home.
While I know this move is inevitable and right, I still feel twinges of guilt for uprooting my mother from everything that matters to her.
And I don’t know how I’d survive the stress without Doug, the world’s absolute-best husband. It breaks my heart a little, too, when I remember that Doug plowed through a similar scenario less than two years ago when his late father (who had Alzheimer’s) had to be moved several times until he and his mother found the right nursing home. (Ain’t midlife grand?) Doug’s experience with lease agreements and medical/legal paperwork alone has been invaluable, not to mention his willingness to sit with me and write my mother’s name on dishtowels and socks with a permanent marker.
The big move from the nursing center to assisted living is scheduled for Sunday. What a long and winding road it’s been. While I’ll be relieved to get my mother in a safe place, finally, I know there’s a boatload of emotional work ahead of me. Mom will need time and patience to adjust. And so will I. -- Cindy La Ferle
– Top: Our family with my mom on Christmas night, at Woodward Hills nursing center cafeteria. My mother has been recovering at Woodward Hills following a week at Beaumont Hospital last month. Bottom photo: A detail from Mom’s new apartment at a local assisted living residence. –
Cindy La Ferle on August 18th, 2011
Field notes on an empty nest
Last week I found a bird’s nest on the brick walk leading to our backyard. I’m guessing the nest fell from a nearby silver maple; or maybe a neighbor found it while jogging and left it by the garden gate for us to admire.
Not much larger than a cereal bowl, the nest now perches indoors on a shelf near my desk. Crafted from hundreds of delicate twigs, strands of grass, and patches of moss, it’s truly a work of art — and a timely reminder to prepare for my son’s return to college after the long summer break.
Children of baby boomers are heading off to college in greater numbers than children of previous generations. At the same time, the age-old ritual of “letting go” is the final frontier for those of us who’ve made child rearing a major focus of our adult lives.
I’ve been discussing this tender rite of passage with other middle-aged parents. And we all agree there has to be a better term to describe our next season of parenting – something that doesn’t sound as final or forlorn as “The Empty Nest.” Our nests, after all, are not completely empty. Not yet. My only child, for example, still has a bedroom here at home in addition to a loft in a crowded dormitory four hours away in South Bend, Indiana.
Whatever you want to call it, this to-and-from college phase is a thorny adjustment for parents and their almost-adult kids. College students are bound to ignore house rules when they return home for summer and holiday breaks. (“Curfew? What curfew?”) Even the most agreeable families discover that this can be a volatile time – a time when teen-aged tempers ignite and middle-aged feelings get scorched. All said and done, we’re all learning how to grow up and move on.
“When mothers talk about the depression of the empty nest, they’re not mourning the passing of all those wet towels on the floor, or the music that numbs your teeth…. They’re upset because they’ve gone from supervisor of a child’s life to a spectator. It’s like being the vice president of the United States.” — Erma Bombeck
A lot has changed since my son started college. I’m still adjusting to the hollow echo of his (oddly) clean and empty bedroom, looking for remnants of my old self — my mothering self — in the bits and pieces he left behind. The family calendar in our kitchen has some blank spaces, too, and is no longer buried under neon-color sticky notes announcing band concerts, Quiz Bowl meets, school conferences, and carpool schedules. At first, this was not cause for celebration. I’d become what our high school mothers’ club affectionately refers to as one of the “Alumni Moms.”
While I suddenly found myself with unlimited bolts of time to devote to my marriage and writing career, I mourned what I perceived to be the loss of my role as a hands-on parent. Despite the fact that I had a cleaner, quieter house, I missed all the athletic shoes and flip-flops piled near the back door. I missed the boisterous teenagers gathered around the kitchen counter, or in front of the television downstairs. I missed bumping into other parents at school functions, and wondered if life would ever be the same.
Life isn’t the same, but I’m OK with that now. I’ve come to realize that a mom is always a mom, even though her parenting role changes over time.
Not long ago, I stayed at my own mother’s place for a few weeks while I recovered from major surgery. When I apologized for disrupting her normal routine, she said, “My home will always be your home, too.” I found comfort in knowing that. Yet at the same time, I missed my own house. And I felt grateful that Mom had encouraged me, years ago, to craft a life — and a home — of my own.
It’s hard to believe my son is packing for another year of college this week. The hall outside his bedroom is now an obstacle course of boxes, crates, and suitcases stuffed with everything he needs for the months ahead. I’m still not very good at saying good-bye when his dad and I leave him at the dorm and steer our emptied SUV back to the expressway. I manage to compose myself until I notice the tearful parents of college freshmen going through this ritual for the first time. But it does get easier each term.
So, is the nest half-full or half empty?
Reflecting on the small bird’s nest perched near my desk, I’ve come to believe that every family is a labor of love and a work in progress. It’s a bittersweet adjustment, but I’m at peace with the idea that our household is just one stop on our son’s way to his future. He’ll be flying back and forth over the next couple of years or so. And hopefully, patience and love will be the threads that weave our family together, no matter how far he travels. – Cindy La Ferle, September 2006
– Top photo: Detail from “Nature,” a mixed-media collage by Cindy La Ferle. Bottom photo (nest) by Cindy La Ferle –