Letter to My Elderly Father

Dear Dad,

Remember when I crashed the car and you didn’t get angry?  After you made sure that I wasn’t hurt, you laughed because the car was bent into a funny shape.  “Cars are replaceable. People aren’t,” you told me, and I instantly learned a lesson about values.

That single incident shaped me more than you know.  It shaped your grandchildren too because I adopted your parenting mantra:  ‘Don’t cry over spilled milk.’

We quote you a lot, you know.  Just the other day, when I was filling your medicine dispenser with the visiting nurse, I shared the sage advice that punctuated every task of my life, “Measure twice, cut once.”  You had an expectation of perfection and attention to detail that served you well.

Your standards perpetuate through those who have had the benefit of learning from you.  I don’t have the skills you had for building and fixing absolutely everything, but I try because you raised me to be capable and I still want to make you proud.

I suppose you were preparing me for the time when your own body declined to the point that you could no longer help me.   You wanted to make sure that I could care for myself. Now I’m caring for you. I don’t blame you for resisting my help. To do otherwise would be an admission of defeat or loss, and that isn’t your style.

It hurts you, I know, to sit out of life and let others do the work you used to do.  You want to feel useful and be productive. You want to contribute in the ways you did best.  But the body has its own plan and yours is begging for mercy.

Somewhere deep down you know that you’re losing your battle with age and illness, but you’ll fight until the curtain closes and never concede to the wishes of those who love and serve you.  I admire that tenacity (aka stubbornness) and recognize a bit of it in all your kin. It’s a signature of your culture and, perhaps, a result of your personal history.

Soon enough we’ll have to say goodbye.  No matter how much I prepare for it, it will destroy me, at least for a while.  How can it not? You were this girl’s hero.

I’ll try to be brave, Dad, like you taught me. “Show ’em what you’ve got,” you’d say, which always made me straighten up a little taller and believe in myself, because you believed in me.

I would claim to loathe the practice of sugar-coating life – of pretending, once someone is gone, that it was all sunshine and butterflies.  But now that we’re nearing the end of our time together, I’m hard-pressed to care about the ugly parts. Somehow, the struggles seem to enhance the story, and I wouldn’t want to cut out one bit.

It’s okay to be afraid, Dad.  I want to give you comfort and reassurance that all will be well.  To let you know the ways in which you are unforgettable; how much your life has meant and will continue to mean.

Every time I see a fish tank, I recall a sweet memory of you pacing back and forth in front of it to calm sleepless babies.  When I hear someone whistling, l remember how you always whistled while you worked and it makes me smile because no one whistles when they’re angry.  And when I see someone in need, I ask myself how I can help, because that’s what you would do.

As a parent, I question if I’ve done enough for my kids.  In case you wonder that too, Dad, put your mind at ease. You gave me everything you had to give, and it was more than enough.

Your life was modest but your legacy is immeasurable.  The inheritance you left us consists of intangible wealth – a toolbox of resources to build a solid house atop the foundation you set.

Thank you, Dad, for being part of my life.   I love you, and I always will.


I Want A Refund

Dear Warranty Department of the Universe,

I am contacting you to resolve the matter of a broken body.  My parents purchased this body for me as a gift many years ago.  I understand that there is a lifetime warranty against defects in workmanship.  Well, this body doesn’t work right.  It has reactive airways and skin, a broken heating element, and faulty pain control.  When I use my body, it hurts.  These problems appear to be escalating.

I’ve invested a lot of time and money on upkeep and repairs for what I thought was supposed to be a quality product. I use premium fuel and I regularly bring it in for maintenance.  But it still doesn’t work as it should.  Had I known the troubles this body would generate, I would have contacted you sooner about your return policy.

I’m hoping that as a reputable manufacturer you will stand by your product and offer to fix this body once and for all as I have not gotten the use out of it that I thought I would.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

Sincerely yours,

An unsatisfied human



Dear unsatisfied human,

I am sorry to hear that you are unhappy with your body.  I can assure you that we, the Universe, do stand by our products.  We take pride in our wide variety of designs and exceptional quality of workmanship.

While you are correct that we offer a lifetime warranty, this applies only to defects in design. I see that the model that was purchased for you was our Basic Female version in white.  This model did not include the pain-free, blemish-free, odor-free, illness-free package.  That package was,unfortunately, a limited edition, cost-prohibitive extra, and has since been discontinued as it repeatedly failed to meet approval of our Quality Control Department.

I wish that I could offer you an exchange for a similar product, but it is our policy and practice to never duplicate a sale.  Our fine print states that The Universe, LLC cannot assume obligation or liability for consequential damages sustained in connection with either proper or improper use of our products.

Perhaps you’d be interested in our extended warranty program. It covers hair color, chin waxing, corrective lenses, protective undergarments and walking aids.  And we are currently running a promotion:  Buy a subscription for massages, chiropractic care, supplements, and doctor’s appointments for the remainder of the lifetime of your body and you will receive at least one day of pain relief.

Rest assured, Ms. Unsatisfied Human, that we, the Universe do value you as a customer and hope that you enjoy your body.  We appreciate your feedback and look forward to working with you in the coming years.


The Universe

Halfway – Reflections From a Birthday Girl

twin peaks with flagI’ve reached an imagined halfway point – halfway between birth and death.  Research tells me that barring fatal accident or illness I could live to 90 years old, which sounds like a long time but it’s tricky to resist the ‘getting old’ mentality when wrinkles and joint aches pile up.

I’ve flirted with the idea of death and decline before, as have an increasing number of my middle-aged friends thanks to the ‘Big C’ and other cradle-robbing diagnoses.  What I’ve discovered is that if you marinate in fear of aging you’ll turn sour and ruin any chance of enjoying a delicious life.

I’m not the first philosopher to uncover the revelation that what matters is not how long one lives but rather how.  How have I lived? In themed decades, it seems.

In my teens I worried a lot. (About being popular and pretty and smart.)

In my twenties I dreamed a lot. (About success and family)

In my thirties I did a lot. (Bore children, cared for a house and a career.)

And in my forties, so far, I’ve learned a lot. About life.

Mainly I’ve learned that the older I get the less I know. In young adulthood I was so sure of everything.  The sky was blue, personal safety was my birthright and friends would be friends forever.  But maturity has a way of blending black and white certainty into a canvas of gray.  Losses and disappointments pile up alongside victories – twin peaks of the same mountain – and blur what once seemed so clear.  One day, maybe on a birthday, you stand atop the mountain and gaze across the horizon wondering, ‘what’s it all about and what happens now?’

In many ways I am at my peak.  I suspect I’ll spend some time here enjoying the view from the top. But I already feel the pull to begin my descent.  Life calls me to finish my journey in forward motion and not squander it with wishful thinking, refusing to budge from this sweet, sweet spot.

I know I won’t travel the same path down the mountain that I chose on the way up. I’ll bypass the gullies of naïveté and ambition and stop more frequently to cherish a loving gesture. I’ll be in less of a hurry to reach my destination and more willing to put aside my agenda in favor of lending a hand.  And I will love every step and misstep because it will remind me that I am still living.  Not just alive, but living.

In a sense I’ll be un-learning all the things that sustained me on the first half of my journey; gracefully (I hope) unraveling the knots of the rope that I climbed on the way up.  When all is said and done and I return to my starting point, I hope to look back with satisfaction knowing that no matter how many travel this way again, the mountain will never be climbed exactly as I climbed it.  No one can do or see or be exactly like me.  Each of us is unrepeatable.


“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” – Abraham Lincoln

The Old Shoe


I am an old shoe, shoved to the back of the closet, worn thin and out of style.  But in my hay-day I was really something.  Your consideration of my needs will polish me and help me to shine again.


I am slowing, not fading.  Please give me time to catch up.

I am needy, but not helpless.  Allow me to do what I can, and trust me when I say ‘I can’t.’

I am dull in senses but not without feeling.  Be gentle with me.

I am less clear mentally, but not stupid.  Treat me with respect.

I am fearful, but still hopeful.  Protect me and my remaining dreams.

I have less bodily control, but no less dignity.  Shield me from embarrassment and teach me things in a way that doesn’t diminish me.

I value the old ways that defined my youth.  Please don’t invalidate my long-held  beliefs.

You cannot expect me to be who I was. I am changed.  But I have not lost ‘it’ and you have not lost me.  I am still the mother who carried babies, the man who supported a family, the person who achieved and gave generously of resources.  I’m a little more crusty and vague, I admit.  But I am still valuable.   I hope you see that too.


This post is dedicated to the clients whom I am privileged to work with every day.  And to aging people everywhere.

Aging Gracefully

As a Physical Therapist, I work with debilitated elderly.  Therefore, I have few examples of aging well.  The active 85 year old with the trifecta of an intact intellect, healthy physique, and winning personality does not often cross my path.  Which is why I was smitten with an adorable woman I saw on a talk show whose video review of the Olive Garden Restaurant went viral.  An active woman, Marilyn Hagerty seemed a model for geriatrics – poised, authentic, fun, optimistic.

In contrast, my forlorn elderly patients frequently impart this impractical advice: “Don’t get old.”  Really?  What’s the alternative – die young?  The more I hear this bit against aging, the harder it is to hold back my snarky comebacks.  I’d like to ask these Negative Nellies, ‘when should I kill myself then? 50? 60?’

The compassionate side of me knows that aging is not for sissies.  Often, the losses seem greater than the gains.  An elderly post-surgical patient said, “They (the surgeons) keep taking things out but they never put anything in.”  It’s a dilemma really.  The will to live a long life is strong.  The temptation to complain about the process is stronger.

We get all wrapped up in youth, digging our heels in while age drags us kicking and screaming from year to year.  Some fight bitterly.  Some scoff at age with reckless behaviors and silly decisions – aka mid-life crises.  Few age gracefully.  Carolyn Myss says, “You can’t avoid turning 50 if you were meant to turn 51.”  Logic wins. 

I distinctly recall the feeling I had about ‘aging’ in my twenties.  Every year got better – more freedom, more money, more respect, more stuff, more experiences, more wisdom, MORE.  After childbearing, the ‘more’ became more bills, more work, more worry.  Yes, there was also more joy, but it’s hard to see that when you’re submerged in the thick of it.  I imagine the elderly might observe that the senior years involve more sickness and more loss. 

So how to stay positive amidst the inevitable changes? If we take our clues from Marilyn, we’ll position ourselves to stay in the game – literally.  When Ms. Hagerty’s video review went viral, this was her reaction, “I didn’t care.  I had to get to Bridge Club.” 

Therein lies a benefit of aging.  The freedom from caring what people think and say and expect of you.  The freedom to cast off the word ‘should’ and replace it with ‘I want’ and ‘I will.’  When I tried to encourage a 90 year old patient to stay out of bed during the day so her systems would function better, she looked me square in the eye and said, “No one’s gonna tell me I can’t sleep when I want!”  Amen, sister!  Can I get you a blanket?

The elderly can lay claim to freedoms reserved just for them.  I look forward to that part of aging. For now, when my 42 year old self feels like mourning its losses, I’ll picture my 80 year old self –full of pep like Marilyn Hagerty – admonishing it.  ‘Shame on you,’ she’ll chide.  ‘I wish I was 43 again!’

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