Blog 4: Let’s take a look at healthy practices, including the importance of association
My kids have been amused but not too critical, and most supportive of my mild obsession with health practices, possibly triggered by a heart attack and double bypass at age sixty. Superb attention to the problem by all concerned shamed me into acting on professional advice …. dealing with some genetic problems like high cholesterol and elevated blood pressure, improving my diet. Okay, yes I did respond with the occasional FAD diet, and cooking my granddaughters bran muffins, regular exercise (thank heavens for almost too much sport in my youth and middle age) controlling my weight, giving my liver a break by avoiding regular excessive alcohol (a big challenge in the land of Oz!) and working with my health team, GP, cardiologist, dentist, etc.
Much of this was neglected during my beautiful wife’s illness, even the regular free checkup visits to the dentist. My wake-up call was a very painful abscess, months of expensive implants, bridges, other repairs and very stern advice about ongoing management! My foggy vision was corrected with wonderful cataract surgery and my poor hearing was improved with hearing aids, though not cured… ask my family.
We have a world-class medical system here in Australia, both mental and physical, so use it, act on professional advice, and be proactive. Your GP is the gatekeeper!
Now, a lighter but important story about “association”. Today I celebrated the ninetieth birthday of a long term friend and travel buddy of both my late wife Merle and myself. She lost her partner about fifteen years ago. Her main source of “association” with the world is her local bridge club. She continued to enjoy her winning ways and until recently, travelled and displayed her amazing skill. She is still an active member and was also a skilful regular member of our art group for many years. She loves to call our group of close friends “The Chums”. Merle had been close friends with them all in their early married lives but lost contact for thirty years or more. During a chat with a new neighbour about twenty years ago, he mentioned the name of his art group leader. Merle was flabbergasted… One of “The Chums!” They came together once more for other twenty-odd years and I became a warmly accepted member. I am also so pleased to belong to a local Seniors Art Group (as much a monthly fun time of two blokes and eight women, with a fabulous art therapy convener and leader.) Drawing and painting can start at any age. Believe me! I started in my sixties. We are enjoying online Zoom sessions during Covid-19. Check out your local council. We are not the only ones.
I continue to gain insight from wherever I can, so once more, some wisdom from Daniel Levin for parents to ponder: “There has been an increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders over the past twenty years, and there are probably cultural factors at work. Consider the difference between a typical Mexican childhood and an American one. Mexican culture encourages social interaction, family time and group activities. American children are often allowed to play with tablets, phones and other electronic devices on their own. Rates of autism among children raised in Mexico, as well as Hispanic and Latino children raised in the United States, are significantly lower than they are for white children.”
Blog 3: Grief and loneliness
While I was fortunate to be supported, it – loneliness – still happened.
After all, I had not been without a partner for some 50 years. Some people actually enjoy being alone without feeling lonely, but not the majority, including yours truly. Also, increasingly we all feel that we are on our own, probably more so as we age. We are a social species. We enjoy being with others. I enjoy being with others.
My friend’s first guidance was to give me two short but rather “spiritual” books to read. He wasn’t sure if or how they helped him, nor was I, except to pause and follow its calming theme of patience. Also, according to that book, “The Changing Mind“, people with some form of spirituality, religious or otherwise, tend to live longer.
My mate’s other advice was to, “Get among people!..in a shopping mall, in the local park, at the beach…wherever.” A stroll around my neighbourhood, with its small parks, heritage cottages, apartment blocks and of course, the wonders of Newtown’s main street.
My favourite is an almost daily exercise walk or stroll through Sydney Park…joggers, families, dogs, fresh air, natural bushland, kids’ playground, cafe, community veggie garden, photo opportunities leading to my hobby: drawing and painting (see evidence in the photo below), and connecting with family and friends in a mild way through Facebook and texts, with or without photos or drawings.
Both of those walks – Newtown’s main street and Sydney Park – had been favourites with my lovely wife also, hence some mixed feelings at first!
After some weeks I returned to my weekly drawing group, members of which include some long term friends, “Great to see you back..Good on you!”. Then I returned to my monthly brunch at Sydney Fish Markets with long term mates, before gradually reconnecting with friends and family and neighbours… not immediately, but gradually over some time, about two years. More of what happened “next” in future posts.
Let’s pause for a bit and let me leave you for now with some wisdom from “The Changing Mind“.
“The five lifestyle choices that have the biggest impact on the rest of our lives are: Curiosity, Openness, Association, Conscientiousness, and Health Practices.”
More comments about these later.
“Loneliness is associated with early mortality. It can double the likeliness of Alzheimer’s Disease. It is worse for your health than smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.”
“Life’s most fundamental domains are: Belonging, Love, and Attachment.”
More on that next time,
Blog 2: The weeks towards becoming a widower
After five years in remission, in her mid seventies, my wife’s breast cancer returned.
She could not tolerate chemotherapy. Radiation helped somewhat, but after weeks of unsuccessful treatment her palliative care began. Even this was delayed when she fell, hit her head and suffered a subdural haematoma, requiring surgery!
For almost a year, with support from family and friends when they were willing and able, her son and I shared the daily routine of hospital visits, consultations, and brief periods at home, which became too difficult as her condition deteriorated. We were finally given the choice, “quality or quantity.” We chose quality, implying less time for her but better pain relief!
I am forever grateful to her medical team, from our marvelous local GP and staff, the oncology staff at R.P.A.,”The Lifehouse“, palliative care specialists and nursing staff there and St. Vincents and Wolper Private Hospitals, district nurses and ambulance staff.
At one stage a doctor asked if she would like to go home. She said yes but I probably should have said no. I’m not good at saying no. She was too weak and my strength was sorely tested when helping her. My daughter stayed at weekends to help me. On my 81st birthday some of the children and a close friend stayed with her while I “enjoyed” a birthday lunch. They expressed some concern that she was quite pale and very drowsy. Around midnight, after they had left, I could not wake her, so I called 000, an ambulance arrived and I was told she was in a coma, and I should inform the family. Midnight texts and high tension ensued.
She was treated for high levels of calcium in her bloodstream and was revived. She was finally admitted to Wolper, a private hospital with a palliative care facility. She came home again for a short period on the advice of the doctor; a wrong move again on reflection. This time we set up the lounge room as a hospital room, visited by district nurses and our G.P.
My GP used his day off to check her, saw evidence of raised calcium levels and she was returned to Wolper via St Vincents Hospital under the care of an eminent palliative care specialist. For the final weeks, she had the absolute best if care. For me, it was long daily trips and all-day visits to the hospital. It is worth mentioning here that my Teachers Health fund covered all hospital accommodation and almost all treatment and medication. They were extraordinary.
I am forever grateful that I was holding her hand when she passed in April, 2016. I wept privately and uncontrollably for the first time, and almost crashed the car driving home that night.
Then back to autopilot, because that’s what happens. Funeral arrangements: exceptional help, preparation and participation by everyone in our “blended family.”
Following a brief week or two of confusion, and a visit to my G.P. I was given a referral to see a psychologist. This was an excellent move! More on that soon.
Blog 1: Why am I writing a blog?
I am an eighty five year old widower who lost my beloved wife to breast cancer five years ago. Shortly after she died, a good friend who had become a widower in his seventies asked how I was coping. My reply, “Not so well!” to which he replied, “From my experience, it took about two years to return to some form of ‘normality’.”
He was right! With support from my family, friends like him, some counselling through my G.P. and return to contact with my weekly drawing friends, it took about two years. But more about that later!
Also, I recently began reading a book, “The Changing Mind“, written by Daniel Levitin, a best selling neuroscientist. Now, while life doesn’t follow rules, much of his work resonated with me. He described his parents in their eighties as “engaged in life as they have ever been, immersed in social interaction, spiritual pursuits, hiking and nature. They look old, but feel like the same people they were fifty years ago. They live very full lives.”
I’m an “old” widower and I like to think I am well “engaged”.
What about “wisdom”? Again to quote Daniel Levitin. “We gain more wisdom as we age, which enables us to deal with some problems more quickly and effectively than the raw power of youth.”
All of this does not make me some kind of”guru”. Far from it. However, I have a feeling that this could be a powerful way to walk with each other, young, middle aged and older, sharing experiences and helping each other.