A silhouette of a person walking through a dark tunnel.

In Pieces


He was  â€œThe Man.â€

Strong,  smart, natural-born leader. Charismatic combination of cowboy and scholar.  My lover, my confidant, my rock. My Man.  As the popular songs says,  “I’m everything I am because he loved me.”

Always “healthy as a boiled mule,” in his parlance, his only nod to exercise  his daily walk with the dog.  He dismisses small nagging health problems, no more than annoyances, really, that set in after fifty. 
Busy years pass, his career flourishes,  grandchildren arrive.  The road ahead is bright as far as the eye can see. 

Nearing retirement, a rare form of neuropathy forces him to a cane   But  still he is a commanding presence.  Distinguished Elder Statesman, striding along with his cane.  His decline not yet detectable even to his inner circle.  Phone calls, emails,  invitations far too many to accept.

Still The Man….  

……even as  his gait becomes slower, sometimes unsteady.  Details began to slip past. his adversaries sense a crack in his armor.  Things seem to take longer.   The questions begin:  “Where will he retire?  Thinking of traveling?  Fishing?  Grandkids?  He’s offended.  He’s not planning to retire!  Always assumed  he’d die on the job.  
Anyway, good luck at replacing him at what he’s paid!  He’s practically indispensable.

Until he isn’t

Until a sudden attack of vertigo leaves him slumped on the podium, sends him to the ER.   Until he slowly, grudgingly begins to  face own mortality, considers retirement.

Which, to his surprise, looks  good!  Parties, plaques, awards. So many people thanking him for what he’s done for them, promise to stay in touch, to seek his advice, guidance.

But  they don’t.

The phone is silent, the  emails stop.  His calendar opens up. His supporters  have found another Man who gets the emails, the phone calls, the invitations.

He’s not the Man anymore.

  • Time to leave town for awhile. Get perspective on things.  Make plans, go on road trips, cruises. Spend time with grandkids.  Go fishing.  Get to the gym, visit friends.
  • But he’s quickly bored of trips; the grandkids are busy, the fish aren’t biting. There’s no assistant trailing him with a notepad.  He’s been “The Man†all his life.   Without the his work, exactly who is he?

A person sitting on the ground in front of water.

My heart bleeds.

And I just don’t understand.  My retirement was so liberating!   Retiring from a career environment gone toxic,  I embraced my  retirement.   Joined a swim team, a jazz band, began writing. But he can’t seem to find new interests.   I fret that he is not being challenged mentally,  push him into various volunteer activities, therapy, support groups, mind games.   One by one he tries them, which I know is only to placate me, and, one by one, finds a reason not to continue.  Surely he deserves, wants, more.  

But here’s the uncomfortable truth:  

I retired to my dreams,

he retired from his.

I don’t know how this retirement things works anymore.  I talk with friends, research the internet, find no answers.  Conclude that is because there are  none.  How A person sitting on the ground in front of water.to finance retirement?   Not a problem. Google  “retirement” and stand back.  Navigating   retirement, not so much.  Our generation has bought the real estate developers”   “active retirement† fantasy –  beautiful surroundings, robust health, loving friends and adoring grandchildren  

That’s not what’s happening for us.

His body, long neglected, begins to exact its revenge.  The buckling knee has to be replaced.  â€œDizzy spells†were really TIAs.   Cancers are narrowly escaped (or postponed)  by  “knick of time†surgeries.  Each treatment, each procedure takes greedy bites from his body, his spirit.

I am losing him.  In pieces.

His calendar fills to bursting once more; this time with medical appointments.  His vision is failing. A fall sends us to the ER on A person sitting on the ground in front of water.
Thanksgiving;  dinner is a glass of Ensure. He walks on his cane at the rate of a wedding procession. I bristle at expressions of pity on the faces of passers-by, wince as people with patronizing smiles address him as  “young man.†  

                    I wake up heartbroken every morning.

A person sitting on the ground in front of water.

His fragile skin cannot sustain the mildest abrasion.  There is almost no time when  a wound is not in in some stage of healing.   Falls are an ever-preset threat.  There is a gaping open wound in my gut.  

Attempts to restore my energy, revive my spirit fail, one by one.  I can  no longer meet the schedules of jazz bands and swim teams.  Surgeries, knee replacements,  medical appointments, take precedence.  Rarely see my friends. Only my love affair with words manages to survive,  crammed between the obligations of home and caregiving.  I ignore the warnings of doctors, family, friends,  that I am not taking care of myself. ” Helloooo?”  I think.  “Easy for you to say.  Have you ever tried this?”

Struggling to right the ship, I begin an aggressive “Age-in-Place†program – remodel the bathrooms,  replace the carpets with hardwood.  Add a porch, re-landscape the back yard against the day when traveling is
lemonaide and cookies on the porch.  Cruises and car trips are difficult now.  We spend more time at our lake house.  I replace the fishing boat with  a pleasure boat, outfitted for comfort, not sport. 

 A near-miss behind the wheel frightens him into giving up the keys.  I am relieved, but my heart sinks.  I dread becoming the family driver,  assuming  the care and feeding of the cars.  One more on the ever-expanding “to-do” list. 

His eyesight continues to dim,  his balance worsens.  Eventually it is no longer safe for him to be alone. He bumbles along at snail speed on his walker.  There are days when he seems the same as ever and I am seduced into believing that he’s back – the nightmare is ended.   But inevitably, days follow when he repeats the same question over and over, forgets what day it is, cannot remember the number of his favorite TV channel. There is no way to predict what the day, the hour, the minute.. will bring.  My attempts to relax, recharge, are interrupted by random calls for help with the TV remote, his iPad, the doorbell,  the dogs, something he dropped, a robocall.  I wrestle with my frustration, knowing his is far worse. 

I’m running on emptyA person sitting on the ground in front of water.

I can no longer juggle the demands of the household and his care on my own.  We activate his long-term care insurance, a frustrating, arduous process.  The insurance companies  seriously underestimated the lifespans of baby boomers; thus their adversarial, miserly approach to claims. But it’s worth the struggle;  the carers  provide much needed support and relief. I renew attempts at self care; enroll in an on-line writing course, spend time with friends, enjoy a weekend in Puerto Rico  with our daughter.  

Maybe I can make this work after all…

I encourage more social interaction, board games, maybe an X-box?  None of these  interests him.   His has become a life in small spaces, getting smaller. Fear of what may lie ahead simmers just below the level of consciousness.  I refuse to succumb to the fear.  Not because I’m strong, but because of what I have seen it do.

Frustrated, my doctor warns  me that I am close to collapse. I need to listen to the carers, let them do their jobs!   I listen, tongue in cheek.  “Doesn’t apply to me,”  I think. ”  I’m tired, of course,  who wouldn’t  be?  But the women in my family have ALWAYS taken care of their family members and with far less help. It’s what we do! 

And here’s something every caregiver knows:

  Love cannot be delegated. To anyone.  And it’s impossible to draw  boundaries in a world where nothing stays the same.  

I struggle to find a balance; resist giving over his care to carers.  Until,  incredibly, it is me that needs a knee replacement, me that is a fall risk, until chronic bronchitis leaves me bedridden  for days. Arthritis, long overdue for someone my age, invades my sleep.    My body’s not cooperating. I am chronically exhausted. Short term memory full of  holes. Miss appointments, misplace keys, phones, books, shoes even.  Caregivers’ fatigue, my doctor says, and this time he is firm.  I have to make changes. He prescribes them.A person sitting on the ground in front of water.

I am losing pieces of myself!

And I cannot clear the path for him  if I cannot see it. So finally,  I take self care seriously. Admit I need help from the carers and take it.   Show up for friends, get time away,  exercise, honor time for things that restore me.  I am learning  to stay in today; to enjoyA person sitting on the ground in front of water. the commonplace;  the aroma of fresh-baked bread, the sun breaking free of the clouds, the musical laughter of children, the  embrace of a friend, the antics of my dogs and most of all the gift of faith. I’m learning acceptance.

And so I go on.  His health and mine will continue to decline.   I do not “have this” and never will. There are just too many moving parts, too much uncertainty.  But  in the final analysis, what we both need most right now  is each other.  I just need to hold his hand and be with him.


A person sitting on the ground in front of water.

I can do this.  





A person sitting on the ground in front of water.In the early days of the pandemic, it was easier to stay hopeful.  After all, surely it would soon be over.  But as the days, weeks, months drag by, as our problems compound, it’s easy to become discouraged. But as Emily Dickinson reminds me in her beautiful poem, “Hope Is The Thing With Featuers,†hope is an inside job.

On the footpath where I walk in the mornings, people have begun leaving messages of hope painted on colorful stones.  As I walk by, my spirits are lifted by these small thoughtful gestures.  And they remind me  of all the goodness and beauty in my life. Hope is always there. I just have to look for it

A person sitting on the ground in front of water.HOPE IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
                          Emily Dickinson, 1891

The beautiful photo was provided by my good friend Carlton, a master photographer.

A body of water with trees in the background.


A person sitting on the ground in front of water.Brilliant red and gold leaves blanket the forest floor.   Bare branches appear in silhouette against the twilight sky.  Fat raindrops splattering on the lake turn to pelting rain as the storm advances.   Gathering winds sigh and whisper warnings to the pines along the shore.   Ducks bob  in the choppy waters, cackling and fluttering.
A person sitting on the ground in front of water.


A sentinel drake breaks away from the flock and with a raucous cry, beats his wings A person sitting on the ground in front of water.against the water and rise  to sound the ritual call.  Bird by bird they follow,  soulful cries echoing over the lake as they ride the southern winds into the darkening clouds. 


A person sitting on the ground in front of water.



A group of people that are standing up

The price of longevity

…is getting old.

A person sitting on the ground in front of water.
A Fountain of Youth, 1917 – Cuno Amiet

We Americans are youth worshippers.  We are repulsed by old age and all of its trappings.

Recently, I realized with a start, that, incredulous as it seems,  I am approaching my 80th birthday!   I had expected to grow old  A person sitting on the ground in front of water.mindfully, gracefully,  not to be “struck old.”   In her nineties, my  mother used to say she  “felt 18 inside.”  It seemed ridiculous, evenA person sitting on the ground in front of water.
embarrassing then,  but  to my chagrin, now it’s my turn to feel   younger than my years.    Friends say I have “aged well” (putting me in mind of a Camembert round) but the benchmarks are there.  People  rush ahead to open doors for me,  offer to walk me across the street, pick up things I drop and,  (worst of all)  call me “cute.”  There’s no escaping  it.   I look…. I am….well..old.

Which is not all bad.   I am grateful to my ancestors for the sturdy genes that allowed me to reach  this stage in life, still  healthy and somewhat sound of mind.   I am blessed in so many ways.  I have wonderful friends and neighbors. My husband and I enjoy a very  comfortable life in a  beautiful community.  My family  actually likes me.

But getting old is not  easy.   Aging is a  process of letting go, of loss.  We outlive friends and family, we lose mobility, it takes concentration to perform tasks that were automatic a few short years ago.   Our A person sitting on the ground in front of water.health, once taken for granted,  becomes unpredictable.   We spend more time in clinics and more money on medications.   We have less energy;  we need more rest.  It takes regular exercise just  to maintain the status quo.  We avoid ladders and stairs,  give up night driving.  We struggle to maintain our independence.

But even with all its obstacles, aging has really never been easier.  Our livestyles would have been  inconceivable to our grandparents, even our parents. There is a rapidly growing industry devoted to  social activities and services  for seniors.  There are  cruises, exercise programs, trips to exotic locations,  clubs, sports, educational courses and programs, retirement communities. A person sitting on the ground in front of water.Treatment for conditions that incapacitated our grandparents are now  almost routine; cataracts, joint replacements, heart surgery.    Cancer is no longer a death sentence.   There is a steady stream of new information on aging in  books, and TV.

We should take full advantage of all of these resources.  We  need to keep active, to take care of our mental and physical health, engage with our communities.  But we must also feed our souls.   We need to be mindful of who we are  and the person we are  becoming.

I think the Irish poet  Dylan Thomas says it best:

Do not go gentle into that good night

Old age should burn and rave at close of day

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Although at  first glance this may sound like a call to arms for  a frenzied assault on mortality,  I think that is an oversimplification.  I believe the poet was challenging us to face our mortality and to live out our best lives courageously and with grace. The journey to  the end of life doesn’t have to be; shouldn’t be,  a  morbid and dreary slog of  loneliness loss and pain.

But it’s not easy.  The people I know who have aged well have confronted their  mortality head on and early on.  They planned for it just as one plans for any stage of life, education, career, marriage and children.  They expected  medical expenses to increase at a time they would be living on fixed incomes. *  They were not surprised when  sudden life-changing events required  a transition to new, more restricted lifestyles.    They were aware of the  need strong inner resources and for  each other. They  learned  the art of interdependence.  Preparing for old age is hard work.

A person sitting on the ground in front of water.Fortunately there are  models for aging well.   One in particular stands out for me.   She seems to  navigate this challenging passage effortlessly.    In her 90s, she is alone, but not lonely,  busy but not burdened,  engaged but not entangled.  She takes her appearance as seriously as she did in her 40s. OK, she’s a little vain, but she is still beautiful.  You are unlikely to find her on the sofa watching TV; more likely she will be  entertaining  her great grandchildren, gardening,  or volunteering in the local sewing guild.  A person sitting on the ground in front of water.She drives herself to church, does her own shopping and is not much interested in discussing her ailments.    Unfailingly cheerful and slow to criticize, she is the first to reach out,  expecting, and more often  than not, receiving,  nothing in return.   Although she has outlived two husbands and most of her friends, she is surrounded by people who love her.   Her faith is strong and  she doesn’t believe in entitlements.

It’s a high bar, but I’m going to give it a shot.  After all, old age  is simply a season of life for those  who live long enough. I am fortunate to be among them.

*According to  a 2016 GOBanking Rates survey, 35 percent of all adults in the U.S. had only a few  hundred dollars in their savings accounts and 34 percent had zero savings.








A woman with red hair is holding her hands to her chest.




The unkindest cut.  The one we never expect because only those we A person sitting on the ground in front of water.trust can betray us.   It happens to all of us.

I hadn’t thought about her for years until I ran across an annoucement about an award she had recently received.  I was surprised at how quickly the old painful memories replayed themselves in my mind.  The initial shock and disbelief,  stabs of disappointment,  rushes of anger, and eventually, more in my interest than hers, forgiveness and acceptance.

She was my student, my star student at the time.  The one for whom I had such high hopes.   The one I rescued from the slums and nurtured. Supported, financially and emotionally.  Provided a network.  Advocated for.    Defended.

It was wonderful to watch her grow and flourish.  She was like a kid in a candy store.   Everything was magic for her; the university, her classes and research, the malls, the internet,  even the night-time sky.  She glowed with happiness.  We were a team.

Until she found a brighter star and  moved on to follow it, leaving behind a trail of lies and broken promises.

A person sitting on the ground in front of water.
Shades Down Tight, Ashley Adcox

Painful as it was, and uncomfortable as the memories still are, I am grateful for the experience.  It taught me  that my expectations for her were a heavy and unjust burden.  No one has the right to require  loyalty from another person.  In spite of and maybe because of,  my good intentions, I caused her harm.   And probably more importantly,  it brought me face to face with my own past betrayals and the lies I told myself to justify my cowardly behavior.

She must have carried a heavy burden of guilt.  It’s the only logical explanation I can think of to explain the  smear campaign she launched  among the faculty and students.  I never knew the specifics or the extent of it, but the averted glances and hushed whispers told me all I needed to know.

Make no mistake; the release that comes with  betrayal exacts a heavy price.   A plausible justification for  cowardly behavior must be fabricated and a web of lies concocted.  The  guilt of my betrayals will always follow me,  nipping at my heels,  threatening to expose my lies,  until I finally face them and the people I harmed.

Each of us has the right and the responsibility to be true to our own convictions, even though acting on them may take all the courage we can muster.   And if this means severing ties with another human being,  we harm ourselves most of all if we hack them apart in the  dark corridors of betrayal.

A person sitting on the ground in front of water.It’s been said that in order to know love, we must first know pain.  It follows that in order to trust, we must travel through  betrayal, be crushed by it,  burn in its crucible, and be released.

There will be another friend, lover, child, to love in the light of day, free from the dark spectre of betrayal.

A person sitting on the ground in front of water.


A woman in white dress posing on red background.




I would definitely not light up after dinner  in my  favorite restaurant these days, but there was a time when..A person sitting on the ground in front of water.

Smoking was a rite of passage, a symbol of sophistication.  Movie stars smoked: James Dean, Elvis, Kathryn Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe,  Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day, to name a few.  Smoke rose along the edge of the TV screen from  Edward R. Murrow’s ashtray as he delivered the evening news.   Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson smoked.  Doctors, including  the Surgeon General, smoked.   EvenA person sitting on the ground in front of water. Fred Flintstone smoked!  Cigarettes dominated the advertising market and heavily supported prime time TV, sponsoring  such popular family  programs as    “I Love Lucy,”  “I’ve Got a Secret,” and “The Adams Family.   All, among many others, brought to us by the cigarette industry.  In this vintage Philip Morris commercial, Lucy tells us “how to keep your man happy” by choosing the right cigarette.

Click here to view.

Most  men, including my father and uncles,  in the small Louisiana community where I grew up smoked.  Sundays after church would find them clustered on the steps or under a nearby tree, hastily lighting up or stoking pipes, although it was considered immoral by A person sitting on the ground in front of water.some,  and especially on church property.  However, it was more or less accepted as a good man’s reward for bringing the family to church.  There was no debate, however, on the subject of smoking for women.   It

A person sitting on the ground in front of water.
A pack of cigarettes in 1957 cost about $1.75.

was “trashy” and everyone knew it. I never smoked until years after leaving home and then never, ever, in the presence of a family member.   The only woman I knew who was able to escape the ire of the community for  flaunting the “smoking ban” for women was my wonderfully eccentric Aunt Ivalee.  But then, she was from New Orleans…

 I began smoking in earnest in grad school.  And I loved it.   I loved it all.  The ambience,  the romance  of it,  that special camaraderie among smokers.  I loved blowing smoke rings.   I loved a cigarette with a cup of coffee after dinner.  I loved the  way it made me feel.  And it didn’t hurt that it helped me keep the weight off.  And after all, I  could always quit…whenever I was ready.

On July 12, 1957, the Surgeon General issued the first official, and greatly understated, warning about the harmful effects of smoking.   Seven years later, the American Cancer Society released a slightly stronger warning.  However neither acknowledged the compelling evidence of the link between lung cancer being suppressed by the tabacco industry.   A virtual war ensued over the next three decades between health care advocates and the powerful Tobacco Institute.   Eventually  health advocates won an uneasy peace, taxes were levied, warning labels required, and smoking rates declined, as more and smokers attempted to kick the habit.   But  what no one knew then,  was that the power of the nicotine addition is comparable to  that of heroin, and for most people,  more powerful than alcohol.

I eventually quit smoking in the 80s,  my resolve being fortified by the  growing public disfavor of smoking.  Secondary smoke had been implicated in lung cancer and  growing number of restaurants restricted smoking to designated areas.   Some airlines banned smoking on flights less than two hours and by 1990 all smoking on airlines was banned.

But breaking the nicotine habit turned out to be far more difficult than I had imagined.   A few days (or hours) after gathering my resolve, throwing all my cigarettes in the trash, out the window, giving them away, etc.,  would find me scrounging for cigarettes under sofa cushions,  jacket pockets, even trash cans.  Those humiliating experiences gave me a new understanding of  the power of addiction and compassion for those under its spell.

Today, with all the knowledge at hand about the harmful effects of cigarettes, smoking would seem to be a game-stopper.  However, about 15% of adults and sadly,  20% of teenagers, are smokers today.  I  would like to think that if my rebellious teenage self had known what I know now about smoking,  she  would have exercised the good  judgment not to light up.   But, sadly, good judgment  seems to be something we learn by making mistakes, assuming  we live through them.

Click here to view a history of the effects of smoking on health.