family

How I Recovered From My Scary Depression

My granddaughter Reagan told her parents after a March visit that “Grandma slept all the time”.  Despite taking a yoga class to get me settled into a Zen state, I ran right into a roadside I couldn’t “see” because I was so rattled. Sad, blue and feeling panicky about another tough thing happening from the moment I got up, till bedtime when I dreaded going to sleep knowing I would wake up ruminating about some unknown, but certain, imminent tragedy.  Somehow, a variety of big, and many little, events had tipped me from a “little off” and sad at year end, to depression by late January.

It was frightening, and something I cannot remember experiencing before.  By April I was determined to work like hell to crawl out of it and get back to being my neurotic, but basically very happy, self.  I swore never again would I let myself get in such a dark, disturbing place.  And yes, of course I got “professional help”.  My shrink is not only great, he is funny and comforting.  And he reminds me when I forget that ultimately, much of being better is committing to being better, and taking responsibility to change what is not working for what will.

Am feeling pretty good, if not great, today – and it is mid June.  What happened to lift me back up?  The truth is that since I made that firm decision to heal, multiple decisions, events and pieces of support have all helped to clear my head.  And, like many things in life, luck played a part too.

Mid May we left Tucson for our travelling time.  We live in Tucson, Arizona, but come May when it starts to get uncomfortably hot for us, we travel to other places till about mid October when the weather again suits us back home.  We came to New York in May and rented an apartment not far from our daughter and her family in Westchester County.  The change of scene has been a big part of lightening my mood.  We have already taken a couple of mini trips to further mix up our schedule and get away from depression triggers associated with my home in Tucson, which is where I was when the deep blues hit.  It will be fine to go back come October even if I don’t spend money on a deep spiritual healing of the space.

I have also taken the strategy one of my dear friends taught me: being one with something tangible in a room or place – just keeping my mind quiet and focused on a chosen item for a few minutes is very useful.  I am calling it “the tree is me” strategy – pointing mindfully to a tree ahead while walking and just “urging” myself to stay “with the tree” rather than letting my mind ruminate and repeat endless loops of negative nonsense.

And then, there are my many wonderful friends like Betty who called me everyday once I told her what was going on. Cathy P. wrote me emails and tailored my workouts to include pep talks. There was Janice who held a spiritual session where she worked on me breaking bonds with a sad and dangerous habit I had fallen into.  Donna had me over for dinner and listened when I was pretty awful company. Cathy B. set up a date to meet and go to a spirituality center for a special meditation. Pat told me about her journaling effort during one of her depressions and suggested I try it.  And the list went on from there of friends who I mentioned my sadness to who just turned around and offered love and help.

Another really big help was my 50th high school reunion.  I’d been part of the planning process so I was very much excited and invested in the activities.  Seeing, and more importantly, sharing with women who I had shared my adolescence with was amazing therapy.  We weren’t older versions of ourselves – we were new selves that were developed by our history, the lives we have lived, the choices we have made, and the way we have connected and loved ourselves.  The biggest way to know how people REALLY were faring in life, was to listen and watch for how happy they were with who they turned out to be.

Not everyone or even most anyone has the luxury of having the level of support and caring that I do.  Friends were my priority always (in many ways equal or more than family which I am also close to). Their multiple ways and approaches to helping me, coupled with our ability to create changes of scene, proved the golden recipe for dealing with my depression. I want to end with a quote another friend sent me that summarized the heart of much of the wisdom so many shared.

“There are only two days a year that nothing can be done.  One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is he right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.” –  Dalai Lama

Patty

My Husband’s Advice to His Daughters

My husband, Ray, often writes thoughts and stories in one of the many journals he has owned over the 28 years I’ve been with him.  Sometimes he writes about growing up in a small town in South Carolina, sometimes about music, sometimes about a great night on the ocean or in the mountains, and sometimes even about me. He’s a great storyteller and writer and I’ve enjoyed reading what he has shared with me and others.

On January 21, 2010, he wrote some advice for his two daughters. They would have been in their late 30’s at that time, with children of their own.

I asked him if I could share this journal entry with Fabulous Over 60 readers. He agreed.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

“Some Random Notes about Class and Style and Life”

By Raymond Green

Being wealthy doesn’t give you class or style. Class and style are about wit, manners, intelligence, the people you spend time with, the way you entertain others, the books you read and the way you handle key events in your life.

Class is treating everyone with dignity and respect.

Class is being well-spoken and well-dressed.

Class is having good manners, knowing what’s right and doing what’s right.

Someone of quality shows empathy, not just sympathy. Empathy goes well beyond being well-mannered.

Spend your time seeking wisdom and always share that wisdom with your children.

About money – make it, invest it, spend it, and give it away.  Remember: “From those to whom much is given, much is required”.

About giving money away:  It’s interesting. When you give it away, it seems to keep coming back.

Sometimes you will want to give with no strings attached and no expectations of a return. Be clear if it’s a gift.

Give money where you want to have a voice … your church, a political cause or candidate or a legal fight to oppose some wrongdoing.

You will not be able to give equally to your children; they will have different needs at different times. Don’t keep score.

If you loan money to your children, insist on being paid back. It will teach them to be responsible. You can always give it back or forgive the debt later.

From Walt Whitman…”Read the leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life; re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in books, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul”.

About Religion:  It’s more important to be spiritual than religious.

About Friends:  Choose them wisely and stay in touch with them often.

About Your Word:   Say what you will do and do what you say. Your word and your actions have to be exactly the same – there are no exceptions.

About RSVP’s:  Answer them. And, if you say you will be there, then be there. If you must cancel – speak to the person(s) directly – always.

Never show up empty-handed if you have been invited to stay in someone’s home. They have carved out a place for you in their world. It means that they consider you a special and trusted friend. Honor that decision.

About being on time:  There are no acceptable excuses for being late. Your children will learn from your example.

About People:  Everyone’s important, but there are some you will not want to spend time with. That’s OK. You will know who they are.

About Thank You Notes:  Always write them. There are no good excuses not to.  And, always be timely. Never email a thank you message. Write a note. Teach your children to do this, too.

Remember to treat others as you’d like to be treated – but understand that sometimes others won’t have the resources to treat you exactly the same.

Find as many opportunities as possible to watch the sunrise and the sunset and to smell the ocean and the mountains.

Always be fully engaged in life and celebrate!

Ray Green, 2010

Thanksgiving in the 50’s at Grandma’s House

In my memory, Grandma’s house is really big. It sits on a hill in the West Price Hill section of Cincinnati with at least 20 concrete steps from the road up to the porch. The front door opens into a main living room, dining room, and kitchen, a steep staircase leads up to the bedrooms and bathroom, and an equally steep set of stairs descends to the basement and garage.

I now know that the house was actually small (less than 1200 square feet) and very narrow. But from the time I was born in 1950 until my mid-teens, somewhere between 15 and 30 family members gathered noisily at my Grandma and Grandpa Coyle’s house for Thanksgiving. Mom and Dad showed up with the first two grandchildren, me and my sister Christine, and then later with my little brother Tom. Mom’s four younger brothers were there with girlfriends, then wives, then an ever -expanding number of children … about 13 of them (added to our three) by the mid-60’s.  Did I mention we were Catholics?

I remember the smell of roasting turkeys (at least two of them) and the sound of silverware clattering as Grandma and the women prepared the stuffing, potatoes, green beans, corn, gravy, biscuits and desserts – all from scratch. I remember the loud voices of the men as they watched football on television, drank liquor and snacked on pretzels and potato chips.  As the years went by, the commotion of babies crying and young kids running up and down the stairs added to the chaos.

It always seemed to take way too long for Grandma to call us to her huge dining room table. Having smelled the food cooking and salivating for what seemed like hours and hours, we were ready to eat and hurried Grandma to finish the Thanksgiving prayer.

Once the food was passed around – the turkey piled high and everything else in large steaming bowls – the noise level went down considerably as we dug into the feast.  There was always plenty of food for everyone, and more than enough for leftovers later that night.

A “basic” turkey with stuffing. Nothing fancy from Grandma!

A “basic” turkey with stuffing. Nothing fancy from Grandma!

Grandma is the best cook in the world, I thought.

Actually, she wasn’t. Grandma only cooked “basic” food – food her mama taught her to make as she was growing up in what she called the “hills of Kentucky.”  Nothing fancy, not many spices, no decorative touches … just good, old-fashioned turkey, stuffing and “all the fixins.”   Simple but delicious.  And dessert? Her pumpkin and apple pies, made from scratch and bubbling hot as they came directly from the oven, made our mouths water. (Later in her life, she was the cook for the priests and nuns at Saint William Church, who got to appreciate them too.)

I have many images and memories of Thanksgiving at Grandma’s house, but five of them stand out from all the rest.

Story #1:   Little Cathy pees on the floor.   My dad loved to tell this one. Apparently, when I was about 2 ½ years old, in the middle of Thanksgiving food preparations, I didn’t get something I wanted. According to Dad, and other witnesses including my uncles, I got mad, stomped my foot, cried and peed on the dining room floor – deliberately.  I got swatted, Dad said and “…that’s when I knew she was going to be a pistol!”Story #2:   Uncle Jim, Whiskey, and a Toaster.  My uncle Jim, who never married, worked for GE, played softball in an adult league and lived with Grandma and Grandpa until his early death, was like a big kid. He didn’t watch football or hang out with his brothers and my dad. Instead, he played with his nieces and nephews. On Thanksgiving, he would sneak “cocktails” to us — 7 and 7’s, made with 7-Up and what probably amounted to less than a teaspoon of Seagram’s Seven whiskey. We went along with the game, giggling and promising not to tell our parents (who of course knew what he was doing).  I especially remember the year when one of us got up the nerve to ask Uncle Jim what happened to his right hand. We were fascinated by the fact that he was missing a couple of his fingers (from birth, we found out later). In a low conspiratorial voice, he told us that he stuck it in a toaster when he was a little boy.  We were horrified!  I don’t know about my cousins, but I never looked at a toaster in the same way from that day on.

Here’s my Uncle Jim playing a game with me and my sister

Here’s my Uncle Jim playing a game with me and my sister

Story #3:   Christine rushed to the ER.  My sister Christine, one year older than me, was mentally retarded (or mentally challenged, as it’s called these days). At seven years old, she always seemed to get herself into trouble. That year, with Mom, Grandma and the other women preparing food in the kitchen, Chris took a glass of juice outside on the concrete porch.  Somehow the glass broke and cut her hand. Blood was everywhere. She was screaming.   The cousins were screaming.  Grandma and Mom rushed out with kitchen towels to wrap up her hand as Dad scooped her up and drove her to the emergency room (911 wasn’t around in those days). He brought her home a couple of hours later with stitches in her hand and thumb and her arm in a sling. The glass had cut a tendon and muscle at the base of her lower thumb – a thumb she still can’t use to this day. Although we had Thanksgiving dinner, it was later than usual and a whole lot quieter.

Story #4:  The Sacred Heart of Jesus and my Great Grandmother Brinegar.  Grandma Coyle was a devout Catholic.  Hanging above the TV in her living room was a large framed picture of Jesus with long flowing hair, penetrating eyes and a glowing heart wrapped in thorns.  It is an iconic picture in the Catholic religion.

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As kids, it was hard to even think about being bad with that picture staring down at us. To make things worse, Grandma’s mother — Great Grandma Brinegar —  sometimes joined the family at Thanksgiving when she wasn’t at one of her other five children’s homes. She didn’t like little kids and would sit on the opposite side of the room dressed in a long skirt and old sweater, her braided hair hanging down her back and her hand gripping a walking cane. She would stare at us as if to say “Just try doing something wrong”.  Jesus on one side of the room and Great Grandma Brinegar on the other made the living room an uncomfortable place to play. The kitchen and dining room were off limits, we weren’t allowed upstairs and the basement was too scary. We would often head to the small backyard even in the coldest late November weather.
Story #5:    Grandpa the Gangster.   I grew up knowing what my dad and my uncles did for a living. But I never knew what my Grandpa Coyle did, even though I always suspected that it was something unusual. He was an introverted man, he seemed pre-occupied much of the time and he died young of emphysema after years of cigarette smoking. One Thanksgiving, when I was old enough to begin to understand, I overheard the men talking about Grandpa doing the books.  Unfortunately, that didn’t mean he was an accountant. He was, it turned out, a bookie.  I later learned that he would gather his “boys” around that same Thanksgiving table to figure the payout to winners and to dole out everyone’s cut of the action. My mom would rarely talk about it, but she once told my brother that a car’s tires squealed around the corner one day when she was a little girl and Grandpa “threw” her back into the house “just in case”.

Looks like I was already suspicious of my Grandpa Coyle!

Looks like I was already suspicious of my Grandpa Coyle!

All in all, my memories of Thanksgiving in the 50’s are great ones. I loved my Grandma Coyle and she seemed to “fancy” me (as she would have put it).  I loved the smells and the tastes of Thanksgiving food.   I loved leftovers. I loved watching my dad watch football on TV and joke around with my uncles. I loved seeing my mom and grandma working together in the kitchen.  I loved my Uncle Jim and the sneaky 7 and 7 drinks he gave me with that little splash of whiskey.
But mostly, I just loved the feeling of belonging to the family.  Even with my Gangsta Grandpa!

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Happy Thanksgiving!
Cathy Green

Being a Grandmother Without Being a Mother!

My dear niece Kelly was the daughter I didn’t have. Kelly was alone in that role till my step-daughter Courtney arrived in my life when I married her dad in 1998. Two daughters—but really two women I was/am Aunt to and now are my dearest and closest friends. I am thrilled to have them both and love to spend time with each of them. But, I wasn’t and am not their mother.
 
But to Reagan and Morgan I always was and always will be “grandma Patty”. I am not a step grandmother—thank God. Being a step anything stinks. You always feel second-class—with a sign that says ‘this person is NOT a real whatever—but rather she is a STEP whatever’—definitely the B team. We get to lose that dreary role when we start out with grandchildren who never knew you as anyone BUT their grandmother. Here’s why:

  • No time is wasted wondering how much they look, sound or act like me.
  • It is a new and fresh role for me—never did anything quite like it.
  • The focus is always on who they are as individuals—unique, always surprising. I did not raise their mom or dad and can’t compare them with anyone else.
  • I am not doing a “do over” from a great or bad job at parenting—this is a totally new job so I approach it with proper respect and sincere humility.

Some otherwise fabulous women feel uncomfortable being called grandma. It is as if a title like grandmother means you are an unsexed stay at home knitting creature who lives for babysitting and serving cookies. This thinking feels old-fashioned but also narcissistic—the most prevalent and sad affliction of our culture. My dad’s mother didn’t like being called mother or grandma—and had my mom call her Marie as if she were my dad’s sister. She wasn’t much in the grandmother role either – neither serving cookies nor enjoying babysitting for Wendy and me. I dreaded her yearly visits.
 
My dear Italian grandmother was a model of sorts—I did love her and enjoy our “tea dates”—but she was a classic stereotypical old style grandmother who did not speak English terrifically well and who never left the kitchen or her garden. Two places I can handle but do not consider my areas of expertise. I cannot fathom my grandmother in a sexy dress, suit or jeans—my frequent choices. She and I had genes and not much else in common.

grandma

So I have approached “grandmothering” like any new job–with an open mind, heart, ears and notepad/book/computer in hand. Listening tops my list of ideas being great at grandmothering — letting your grandchildren talk (or babble) for long periods of time trying to share with you. Do it with attention, at their level. Listening still is the best strategy for bonding and job success. For me, a woman who never heard mommy 100,000 times, hearing Morgan or Reagan say “I love you grandma”—does have a unique sweetness that feels new and fresh. Yes, I earned it like all good work I have done, but it sure beats “Pat—call me tomorrow so we can review how the call went and what’s next”.

What Makes an “Original Family” Sibling So Special?

Sisters and brothers are not chosen. They are there at either the scene of the crime of your childhood, or the happy, well adjusted, sharing family that you were raised in. After just spending an incredibly intense, joyful, private trip with my sister I thought to share some observations.

  • There are 10,000,000 pieces of clothing in a typical Chico’s store. We wandered into one (are there any ‘Fabulous Over 60’ women who don’t EVER look at Chico’s hoping it will have better merchandise than just basics?) and briefly separately browsed. My sister chose the same pair of pants for me that caught my eye. Yikes—they were less ugly than other items but the fact we both picked them in a sea of clothes was slightly creepy.
  • Wendy planned a first night dinner at a place that serves a browsing sort of menu. We both somehow love those “pick at several things” type menus. Watching my sister pick through and eat like I do was also slightly weird.
  • I told my sister an intense story from our childhood that shaped much of my life, causing me immense psychic pain and some really stupid behavior—it was frightening to see her give me a blank stare. She had NO recollection of it—maybe due to trauma—or perhaps we just have totally different takes on “events” of our childhood.
  • We both love Ferragamo shoes, working like crazy on our work passions, being somewhat “out there” personally (note to Mom in heaven: yes we have become you) and being uniquely our own person. We watch the news on TV (ok so there is it—we are officially old—young people do not even have TVs), sharing “love” or “hate” for the same politics, news broadcasters and stories about cultural issues.
  • But despite being dressed in identical plaid outfits as toddlers, we are very different human beings. These days of feeling we were with our “twin” who really “got us” felt good, but we both are sophisticated enough to know that our lives are not the same and our choices completely differ on many things both small and large.

So what makes a sibling so special? Is it the amazing familiarity of the quirks, attitudes and opinions that fill up much of life and make us feel “at home”? Or, does the real specialness happen when you recognize you shared a bunker early on and that now those old scenes, experiences and dramas just do not matter anymore. When a sister or a brother becomes “just another very special friend” sharing life in the present tense, it is the sweetest friendship of all.

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