The “Circle of Life” for Mothers on Mother’s Day

mothers-day-300x214 The "Circle of Life" for Mothers on Mother's DayHappy Mother's Day to all of you who are mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers and daughters. I've realized that Mother's Day has changed for me over the years. For so many years Mother's Day was a tribute to my mother, two grandmothers and for a short time my great-grandmother. Although none are still alive, I still think about them on many occasions, and, especially on Mother's Day. I think about the role of women as they were growing up and raising their children, how they lived their lives and their roles in my life. Even though I know it's one of those “Hallmark Card Holidays”, nonetheless for me, it is a day of added reflection.

During the middle years of my life when I wanted children and didn't have them, it was often a sad day for me. I wanted so much to be a Mom and realized it was a high wish on my “bucket list.” When I finally became a Mom, Mother's Day took on added specialness. Early on we started a tradition of a “Mother's Day hike” and often a picnic. We only missed a couple of years when it was raining so hard I chose to “bail out” of the hike. This year is the first year that my son is away at school. We drove to his school last night and had a special “Mother's Day” dinner with him. He picked out a funny but significant card for me; he and my husband gave me a nice gift and we drove home. Today my husband made me breakfast and,with our dog, Ziggy,we went for a hike. Later he made me a delicious dinner.

Although it was a lovely day, I missed not having my son here and realized how my role has been shifting as he has become more independent. I know I'll always be his Mom, but my role as Mom has changed as his needs have changed. He needs me in different ways, not as actively involved as he moves towards finding his own independence and identity. It's a strange feeling for me, recognizing that it's appropriate that I'm no longer the center of his life. I know in my head that it's normal, but I struggle in my heart with the change and loss. Perhaps down the road I'll have the experience of being a Mom, mother-in-law and grandmother. But, who knows-those will be his choices.

I read an article this morning in the NY Times Sunday Review section by Madeline Levine, a clinician, consultant and author that strongly resonated with me. Her most recent book is Teach your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success. Her article was entitled “After the Children Have Grown.” Basically she was discussing the conflict of who she is now and who she will be going forward as her children have grown and need her in different ways-but with her core identity of “I'm a mother.” At the end of the article she reflects,”Gracefully and gradually, we must eventually give up our front and center position in their lives, to learn to be quieter, to give fewer answers and to ask more questions. Our children's independence is a reminder of how much we had to give and all that we have accomplished. It is a pleasure to remember that it is not a form of abandonment but an expression of a job well done-and is something to keep in mind as we move back into the center of our own lives, in ways that will make our children proud.”

At this stage of life, as we celebrate Mother's Day, it's a time to think about being a daughter to our own mothers. Whether alive or dead, we reflect on the roles they've played for us, the ways they found or tried to find their selves as we were growing up and separating and, in a parallel way, how the cycle continues and we take less center stage with our own children and, in the process, redefine ourselves. Happy Mother's Day to all of you as you continue in the process of finding, re-finding and redefining yourself in this journey of reflection and discovery in the second half of life.

The Importance of Family and Friends During Times of Crisis

boston-marathon-300x199 The Importance of Family and Friends During Times of CrisisAs I reflect on these past few weeks, since the senseless and tragic bombings in Boston at the Marathon, I am reminded of the resilience of people and the human spirit and the importance of family and friends. Lives were lost and others maimed or injured. Boston is a small town and it's like “2 -3 degrees of separation” of people knowing other people directly or indirectly forever changed by these terrible events. Whether in Boston or elsewhere it felt like a “coming together” in the sense of outrage and sadness. Although from Boston, I was actually away at the time, and longed to return to hug family and friends and help those more impacted. I found that phone, email, texts and virtual hugs had to suffice until I returned home.

I imagine that many of you also took time for self-reflection, conversations and hugging loved ones, in real time or virtually, whether you were from Boston or elsewhere. It's so easy to take our lives, relationships and health for granted. As we discuss in The Couple's Retirement Puzzle, there is much we cannot control, so it becomes important to control the parts we can, which means good self-care, partaking in important and courageous conversations and clarifying values, priorities and goals so we live our life with purpose and meaning. During this time I found myself talking more with families and friends, writing about my feelings and reactions and turning to poetry and music. I also found myself pulled to drawing, which is less usual for me. We all have different ways of coping with fears and grief, and to heal. I encourage all of you to take time for yourself and/or with your partner to learn from the events, to understand your feelings during these past weeks so you're able to emerge with more conscious intentions of how you want to live your life, honor your relationships and, if you desire, to “give back.” I encourage those able to support more directly through any of the individual funds for victims and survivors and/or give to www.onefundboston.org or to give in any other way that make sense for you, whether it be through giving of time or perhaps a more tangible form of giving of blood through a donation. There is no “right way.” What's most important is to decide what's “right” for you.

What’s next in your work life?

Encore-Career-Handbook-205x300 What’s next in your work life?Pope Benedict resigned in February citing his failing health and energy. Just recently Mayor Tom Menino in Boston decided not to run for re-election after serving 20 years as Mayor, knowing he could run again and probably win. His failing health meant he wouldn't be able to perform the duties in the way he valued. TV celebrity Barbara Walters announced that she’ll be “stepping down” from some prime roles  in May, 2014.  On a daily basis, “ordinary people” as well as those in the high profile positions are faced with these decisions. How do you decide it’s time to retire from your work and/or to reassess how to work in a different way? It takes honest reflection, facing the realities of your own life and abilities and often crucial conversations with other people  important in your life and work.

Some people reach a point of burn-out. Others begin to realize that the demands of work no longer align with their strengths and capacities. Still other people are forced out of work because of mergers or downsizing and don’t want to stop working. Are you struggling with this decision? It you’re part of a couple you may also realize that you and your partner are “out of synch” with each other. You may be different ages, have different energy levels or different health issues. It’s also not unusual that women may have entered the labor force later than their partner and may be in their” prime” when their partner is ready to wind down. Talking together about your values, goals, interests and needs is extremely important. It’s helpful to establish time frames as you “puzzle” this out.

If work has been your primary identity you may want to take some time to begin to explore other interests so you don’t feel like you’ve lost your identity if you’re no longer working. In addition, work provides a structure for your time as well as a means for connection, engagement and a sense of purpose and meaning. Think ahead so you can anticipate how to “replace” some of these important needs in your post-work life.

You may also decide it’s time to use your skills in another way and want to begin an “encore career.”  Marci Alboher, VP of  Encore.org. recently wrote a  terrific book called The Encore Career Handbook.  She offers some helpful  information about encore careers as well as offers exercises, tips and resources to help in the decision-making process.  Some of you may not want to work at all (paid or unpaid) but instead explore other interests. There is no “one way.” Retiring from work does not mean retiring from life. The second half of life can be an exciting time if you open yourself to new possibilities.

If you’re interested in this topic you may want to read an article  I wrote (with some interesting comments from readers)  in the NY Times online.

Legacy: Celebrating A Life Well Lived!

legacy-300x300 Legacy: Celebrating A Life Well Lived!Last week I went to a lovely memorial to celebrate the life of a dear friend who lived 91 very full and vital years. I mention his life and death since I think he can be a role model for all of us.  I  had mentioned him in our book (The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle)  on page 133.  Fred was a very special person, having come to  America from Germany when he was 17 years old, with only $9 in his pocket. Lucky for him, he had some relatives in New York who were willing to sponsor him.  His father took his own life, not wanting to be killed by the Gestapo. His mother,  hospitalized  after her husband’s death, avoided capture in the hospital and was eventually brought to this country by Fred after the war.  Fred married a wonderful woman, Irmi,  also from Germany who was also able to bring her mother to this country. Eventually Fred and Irmi started a business together which was a great success. In 1956 the business was bought by Gerber foods.  Fred and Irmi retired, started their own travel business and traveled the world,over 80 countries, over the next 40 + years. Their home was like a museum, with artifacts from their travels.

We met Fred over 30 years ago when skiing in Utah, and our friendship has spanned these years.  Fred and Irmi  didn’t have any children of their own and, at the request of our son when he was four years old,  who didn’t have any grandparents, they agreed to become his  ”Opa” and “Omi.”  We were family to each other and it was very special for all of us.  Although they lived 3 hours away we got together as often as possible at a variety of locations.  Irmi died six years ago after a long illness. Fred celebrated many events with us and played an important role, representing the “grandparent generation,”  in our son’s Bar Mitzvah.

Although initially thinking about living by himself  at their lovely Connecticut lake home after Irmi’s death or moving into a condo near-by,  Fred  was open to discussions about alternatives and decided to move to a terrific Continuing Care Retirement Community in Connecticut which provided opportunities for friendships and activities as well as additional help as his health needs changed.  When preparing for his move, he found a letter from his father which told him to remember those less fortunate if he ever found himself having more than he needed. Very moved by his father’s values and advice,  Fred made some generous contributions to local hospitals.

Although he said he would never fall in love again, I encouraged him to  ”never to say never.” Four years ago he met a wonderful woman, Joan,  who was also a widow and lived in the same community. They developed a loving and wonderful relationship for these past four years and Fred was fully accepted into her family by her children and grandchildren. We had all joined together to celebrate his 90th birthday and again all came together last week to celebrate his life. He was loved by many people and embraced life fully to the end.  People die, but relationships last forever, in the hearts of everyone who live on. Fred, in his final bequests, continued his generosity to institutions and friends. His memory and legacy will live on for generations.

Amour: A compassionate and masterful movie about aging, loving and care-giving and care-receiving

amour-movie-poster-2-221x300 Amour: A compassionate and masterful movie about aging, loving and care-giving and care-receivingAmour is not an easy film to see–but it’s   honest and real–about love, aging, care-giving and care-receiving. It’s a movie that will trigger a variety of emotions in you–crying, laughing, smiling , questioning,  etc.  My husband and I went to see it the other night. He was ready to leave early on, but stayed, when I held his hand and assured him that I felt  it was important for us to watch together. He agreed, as we left at the end of the movie.

It’s an extremely sensitive film which shows us how a chronic illness can impact a loving relationship. We watch as Georges becomes the care-giver for his wife, Anne, who does not respond well to surgery and, over time,  has a couple of strokes and declines and deteriorates and loses her identity and  independence. We watch as the dynamics of the relationship change in front of our eyes, as Georges need to wash and bathe Anne and take care of her daily needs. We watch as we see the shame, frustration and despair that each experiences, and how difficult it is for Georges to share his pain with others. We watch as we see how this impacts their adult daughter and her family.  Anne is ready to die, but how hard for others to hear and see that, often viewing it as their own failure. It confronts us with some very difficult issues about love, life and death and quality of life vs quantity of life.

For me, it also confirms the importance of couples having end of life conversations.  Roberta Taylor wrote a post about “The Conversation Project,” a relatively new project which helps people have these difficult and courageous conversations about end of life wishes on our Couples Retirement Puzzle blog. I encourage all of you to see this movie and take the step to have these important conversations with the significant people in your life–whether it be your partner, adult children, siblings, parents or friends.  There is so much we can’t control in life, but we can be clear about the values that are most important to us and what we want and do not want as we confront the last chapter of our lives.   The goal is to be conscious and intentional about how we want to live this last chapter of our lives.  It’s an act of love to share these wishes with those most important to us. It provides an opportunity to be clear about how we want to live and die with dignity and to enable those who love us to help us on our journey.