Archive for Memoir

Who I Am Now That I’m Retired

IMG_3639It’s the inner person that’s important, right? It’s not the roles we play in life or our position in society. It’s not how others judge us and it’snot the amount of worldly goods we possess. Yes, of course, you say. It’s who we are as people that counts.

I’d always known about the difficulties of adjusting to retirement and the loss of professional status. I just didn’t think it would happen to me. I also know that older women are invisible in our society. Again, I was surprised when I moved to Kingston, Canada’s capital of retired persons, to find I was just another older woman. I’d left behind my status as former psychotherapist and director of The Centre For Focusing. I was the older woman who’d moved into the neighbourhood with her dog, Sammy.

So, what is the essence of a person? My spiritual teacher long ago taught me that we were not our roles, our relationships or our jobs. We are Light, she said.

Later I studied various theories of personality. Ego State Theory makes the most sense to me. We are made up of many “selves,” goes the theory. We are not a unified, static whole.Different parts of the personality function in different situations. Like a nation, each of us needs our business people, our farmers, our caregivers and our social beings. These different parts come out as needed. Generally, the more parts we have, the richer our lives. Pity the school teacher, for instance, who doesn’t change roles when she comes home for dinner.

So who am I now that I have no professional life? I’m Grandma Mary, Great Aunt Mary, Aunt Mary, Sister Mary, Frank’s mother, Julie’s mother-in-law and Harvey’s wife, all roles I had before retirement. I have a new identity: the writer and blogger. Is it enough?macbook-air-all-faded-and-stuff

I figure I couldn’t be more fortunate. I’m surrounded by people I love and who love me. I wake in the morning to the ever-changing Lake Ontario just outside my window. As I write this, sailboats in this sailing capital of the world are making their way around a buoy in a race.

It’s really a great time in life. I don’t have to turn up at work in the morning. Like a teenager, I get an allowance – from the government. I have all the freedom of a teenager with no parents to boss me around. and, unlike a teenager, I don’t have pimples on my face.

All this is to say I’m closer now to being just the I AM than I’ve ever been. There’s little reason to behave as others expect. I have no professional role, no expectations imposed on me by my roles, except to be a loving elder, ready to give whatever I have to offer to the world around me. Not a bad time of life!

A Harmless Delusion

Backs of senior hikers with binoculars on tripI don’t know about you, but I’m always surprised when I see recent photos of myself. Who is that overweight older woman? It can’t be me …. but oh yes….it is. That’s my dress and that’s how I wear my hair. I didn’t realize I’d gained so much weight.

In my mind, I don’t age and neither do my friends. Those close to me remain, as I do, stuck forever in middle age. I’ve always known that other people age. I just didn’t think it would happen to me or to those close to me.

Recently I’ve been reading others’ memoirs about aging. As a result, I now realize that it’s common to deny one’s aging process. I’m not the only one who believed she was exempt from inevitable changes. Apparently, most people seem oblivious to their own aging until aching joints, glimpses of themselves in a store window or a photo bring home the truth.

Recently I had a revealing experience. I was waiting for a good friend in a restaurant. An hour passed and she still didn’t appear. I had notice2014-07-life-of-pix-free-stock-photos-palma-restaurant-pavement-area-table-chair-cityd a woman sitting at another table with some other old people, but she was old. It wasn’t until I stood up to leave, passed the older woman’s table and heard her voice, that I realized it was my friend. No doubt she’s failed to notice me for the same reason.

Actually, I don’t believe it does any harm to delude myself about my age. It probably works in my favour. I think I live more fully because I pay no attention to what a woman who’s nearly 80 should look like and should be capable of. I need to find out for myself just what I can and can’t do. I do respect my limitations, but I need to find out for myself what they are.

Let me know what you think. Leave your comments below to share with other women dealing with the same issues of aging.

The Story Keeps Changing: Aging and Staying in Charge of Your Life

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When I started writing, my new memoir, I had no idea where the story was going. Even now, I don’t really know how my life will unfold. I’ll let you know each Friday when I post blogs to update you on the process of writing my memoir. At some point in your life you too will need to de-clutter, maybe sell a house and move to a smaller place. You might move, as we did, to be nearer your offspring. You can learn a lot from my struggles.

Originally, I planned to move to Kingston with the same man I married 55 years ago. Moving in your later years is exhausting, to say the least. Together, we went through downsizing, giving away our stuff, and hiring an expert to prepare the house for sale. Anything that made the house appear smaller or darker went to storage. After numerous weekend trips to Kingston, three hours away from Toronto, my husband and I bought a small, charming bungalow in our new city. I fully intended to continue life in that little house. Alas, it became clear that, if I were to stay in charge of my life, I needed to leave and live on my own, an unusual move for a woman who’s nearly 80.

Here’s a taste of what’s to come in my new memoir:

There was something troubling me, keeping me from enjoying my luxurious train trip. I don’t usually travel first class. I should have been happy. I had the whole two seats, with nobody beside me. A drop down table in front and adjustable footrests made this feel more like business class on an airplane than a train. The woman conductor – or was she a hostess– interrupted my thoughts. She wanted my ticket. There was no clicking of a paper punch as in days of old. Instead, she scanned the pattern on the printout I’d made at home. Like modern women everywhere, I’d bought my ticket online, choosing my time and class of travel.

The purpose of my trip? I was about to spend a few days with my four-year-old granddaughter while her artist mother prepared 40 canvases for an art show. Why was I tense? I still hadn’t told Harvey, my husband of 55 years, that I intended to move to Kingston – with or without him. (At this point, I wasn’t yet able to acknowledge to myself that I wanted to leave him.)

Maybe you think I’m hard-hearted. Please put yourself in my place. I don’t know how many years I have left as an able-bodied woman with enough energy and memory to function competently. I want to spend whatever years remain, near my son Frank, his wonderful wife Julie and their little daughter Abi. I don’t want to miss more of my granddaughter’s early years and I really miss my son and daughter-in-law. The way I see it, I’m the only one able to guarantee that the rest of my old age is peaceful and fulfilling. I intend to live as fully as my aging body and mind allow. Who knows how much time I have left. If Harvey comes with me, that’s fine. If he doesn’t, I’ll probably be the country’s only seventy-eight year old to separate from a marriage that predates most people’s births. I’m in good health and thanks to yoga and a personal trainer, I’m fit, have only a few aches and pains and might have twenty years left. My mother lived to almost ninety-four.

Don’t get me wrong about my husband. He has many fine qualities. He’s given a lot to the world. In fact, he retired just before we moved to Kingston. Living with a newly retired husband is hard enough for many women. I was accustomed to six or seven hours a day to myself while he saw patients. Now we were overwhelmed with too much of everything in this small, sleek bungalow. There was no privacy. Our relationship deteriorated rapidly. I was losing control over my own life. It was time to do something drastic – move to my own apartment.

How I Ended up Writing This Memoir

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I wanted to be a novelist. Instead, here I am, writing another memoir. I’m calling it Aging and Staying in Charge of Your Life: A Memoir. The following passage from my work-in-process describes how it happened:

It’s breakfast time at The Mad Dog Café. Wayson sits across from me in the high-backed booth. His soft brown eyes study the platter of fried eggs, sausages, bacon and toast in front of him.

“Isn’t that a work of art?” he asks no one in particular.

I hadn’t noticed my own careful arrangement of tomatoes, two poached eggs and whole-wheat toast. Wayson is one of the most present people I know.

Wayson Choy, a well-known writer and one of my literary heroes, brings to life the Vancouver Chinese community of his youth. He creates a world for us to experience vicariously. That’s what I want to do: create a fictitious world of my own. I want to learn from Wayson.

Wayson has dropped into my life like some sort of guardian angel to help me with the novel I’ve been writing for the past three years, ever since I retired as a trauma therapist. I tell Wayson about all the courses and workshops I’ve been attending in my determination to learn the art of writing fiction.

Wayson has brought my previously published book, Confessions of a Trauma Therapist to our session. It’s well stickered with post-it-notes. He flips through it to show me his highlighting of passages he finds significant. He really likes the memoir I published in 2010. Confessions is my own story of child sexual abuse filtered through my more than 30 years as a psychotherapist. I wrote it to guide others in understanding this pervasive, secret crime against children and to offer victims assurance that they can heal and that they are not alone.

We eat our breakfasts and finally Wayson looks directly into my face. He leans toward me over the table, holding up his copy of Confessions of a Trauma Therapist. “Why on earth do you want to write fiction? Your own life is so much more interesting. You’re not a novelist,” he says.

What! I’m shocked. Two things happen inside me. A superficial, rational part wants to say, “What! After all these years I’ve been learning to write a novel?”

Another part suddenly relaxes. His words slide over me like a softly knit glove. I know he’s right. I write best when my fiction is telling my own story. I’m not really very good at creating characters that are different from me.

That’s how my second memoir, came into being. Wayson convinced me I needed to write about my own life. My own life? The life of an old retired yoga teacher and Focusing Oriented Psychotherapist? Yes, I finally realized: I need to share what I know about taking charge of our lives as we age. My whole cohort is living longer and healthier. We need new paradigms for living fully.

What about the title, Aging and Staying in Charge of Your Life, you might ask. When I started writing this memoir, I intended to tell you how, through changing my own behavior, I managed to settle into my marriage. I really expected to stay in that bungalow we bought together. Professionally, I know that the only person you can change is yourself. I hoped that, in changing myself, I could change the relationship. Alas, that did not happen.

I invite you, then, to follow my struggle and my joy as I shape my experience of being an older person in this age of change. This is the first of many blog posts. I hope you’ll follow each Friday as they appear.