EASTER TIME IN THE MIDST OF A PANDEMIC

SCREEN SHOT OF OUR ZOOM FAMILY GATHERING ON EASTER

Easter has always been a special time in our family – a time of renewal, personal growth and perhaps relief that the personal sacrifices of Lent are finally over. When my brothers and I were small it was a big deal what you gave up for Lent. I remember one year giving up candy. And then a friend of my parents came for a visit. She brought three big Hershey bars for my brothers and me. We put them in the freezer section of our refrigerator to preserve them till Lent was over. In the 1940’s the freezer section was very small – in our case we had two shelves that held ice cube trays. We squeezed the Hershey bars in on top of the trays. I remember so clearly running to the frig at noon on Easter Saturday when the fast was officially over. The freezer wasn’t working properly and water had condensed on the chocolate. They were ruined – they tasted terrible. With the passage of time I finally understood that Lent was more meaningful if the focus was on positivity – doing spiritual reading, attending holy week services, being present in a meaningful way to those in need with some self denial thrown in to make the Lenten experience complete.

The church Jerry and I attend, St John Neumann, has been amazing in its efforts to serve the spiritual needs of its parishioners. When my mother reached the age where physically going to church was difficult, and my priestly brother was not available to say a home mass she got spiritual solace from televised masses. I just couldn’t relate but I was happy for her. Now I understand. Easter morning Jerry and I watched the streamed mass from our church. It could not have been more powerful – more meaningful.

Covid 19 is an interruption of family traditions. In our almost 60 years of marriage Jerry and I have always celebrated this holy time with family. And thanks to the marvels of Zoom and under the guidance of tech wizard granddaughter Annie, we were still all able to be together. Joined on the screen were family members from California to Quebec, to New Jersey, to Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, and Virginia. There was time for sharing , albeit briefly so that all who wanted to would have time to talk, and that was followed by a family sing-a-long. Granted being together is the absolute best but this was a darn good substitute.

Covid 19 offers many opportunities for positivity. The pandemic is here. We can’t ignore it so we might as well make the best of it. To quote singer/ songwriter Townes Van Zandt ” To live is to fly both low and high, so shake the dust off of your wings and the tears out of your eyes”. As Jerry and I take walks through our community – maintaining our social distancing – I continue to be touched by the hellos and waves from fellow walkers – many of whom we don’t know. There just seems to be an air of “we are all in this together”. We are the oldest residents by far on our twelve home cul- de- sac – this was not the case when we moved in thirty years ago. We have been touched by the thoughtfulness of our neighbors’ offers of grocery shopping help. Our niece Mary and her family live just a few miles from us in a neighboring community. Holy Saturday she arrived at our front door with a loaf of freshly baked bread, a beautiful Easter lily and some family pictures. We stood outside – at a safe distance – and caught up on family news – it was lovely!

Jerry and I would never choose to be quarantined but it is OK. We have a loose schedule to our days and I think some form of schedule is important. Exercise is a must, Not only the daily floor exercises that are essential to keeping our various body parts functioning, but also some form of walking either on the golf course or exploring new areas in our community. Online bridge has been challenging and fun. We belong to the Lake Ann bridge group and this morning we participated in their kick off electronic gathering. We have played online bridge with friends in Florida and with my brother at his home in the Shenandoah.

Electronic devices are so helpful both in helping us to stay in touch and in providing meaningful activities. We love the online weekly Scrabble games with son Jerry and grandson Jeremy and his friend Amy. I read somewhere that we should approach electronic gatherings – either with one person or with many as though we are actually getting together in person and dress and prepare accordingly. I try to follow that idea. And perhaps it was a stretch but before our Easter gathering I even sprayed on some of my favorite perfume that I know the older granddaughters like. I was already so excited about our impending electronic gathering – this cranked up the excitement even more.

In this pandemic time Jerry and I sometimes reflect on our own parents in the 1918 pandemic. My parents were older teenagers. Jerry’s parents were in their early twenties. How were their daily lives impacted? We wish we could talk with them about that time in their lives. Was it a lonely time for them? A scary time? What kind of restrictions were they under? Jerry and I know that we are truly blessed in the love and caring of our Family!!!

SELF ISOLATION AND OTHER ASPECTS OF LIFE IN THE TIME OF COVID 19

MARCH 22 – We have now been back from Florida for five days. We have been practicing self isolation after our trip on what was a crowded and perhaps very germ-filled auto train. A precious daughter-in-law asked if we were feeling lonely in our isolation. And so far the answer is not really. Today our grandson Graham texted and set up a FaceTime call to check in on us. It was so much fun. We are blessed with 19 wonderful grandchildren and most times our interactions are with more than one grandchild at a time – which we love – but there is a special charm to just one on one time!

March 23 – FaceTime with granddaughter Lilly. She is an editorial producer with a New York based magazine. And is now working remotely from her parents home. Am awed when she tells me that ten thousand people have signed up for the webinar she is facilitating on Tuesday.

March 24 – FaceTime with Granddaughter Annie, December 2019 graduate of the University of Virginia. Starting in June Annie is supposed to begin a two year stint with Teach for America. I was not surprised when she was accepted into this wonderful volunteer program. Annie is a gifted , caring woman.

MARCH 26 – last night our son Jerry set up a Zoom conference call where for about an hour husband Jerry and I played on-line Scrabble with son Jerry and the team of grandson Jeremy and his friend Amy ( they won). We each were on our own computer screens. There were some technical glitches but we played through them and the glitches just resolved. We will play again next Wednesday.

For the first time ever in our almost 60 years of married life we were forced by our self isolation to order groceries on line. I put a lot of time into making the list and was taken aback when I tried yesterday to place my order at about 2 in the afternoon and was told told ” no more orders for today.” This morning I placed the order at 8 AM and it went through. With 27 items on my list I wondered how many I would actually get. When the shopper could not get a list item she texted me for approval of her replacements. Though I happen to actually like grocery shopping I was impressed by how smoothly the shopping on line went.

And then at 3:30 we had a FaceTime with granddaughter Claire and with her boyfriend Greg. Both of them have good jobs which allow for working remotely. They cared for my two favorite houseplants while we were in Florida. Both these plants are more than 30 years old so they are treasures and putting them in the hands of Claire and Greg they got the best of care. Face timing gave us the opportunity to meet Claire’s pussycats, Angie and Gloria who were rather shy with the computer camera but I can relate – sometimes I find being photographed a bit difficult.

MARCH 27 – today Jerry and I golfed. Our club has put together meaningful protocols to keep members from being infected with the Coronavirus. And it was a beautiful day so we were grateful to be walking the course.

Before we headed out to golf our daughter Meg and her son Liam FaceTimed us. Liam proudly showed us some homework he had worked on. The school district he and his sibs are part of has a very robust program of home schooling in this scary virus time. Liam is very comfortable with FaceTime whereas I am continuing to learn its capabilities. I just love the way it makes you feel physically close to those you are talking with.

MARCH 28 – Had a Zoom video hour set up by Annie with our family who live locally. Was so good to see everyone. There were 16 of us on the screen. It was very reassuring to see everyone and to hear about their virus coping activities – virtual birthday parties, virtual happy hours, etc. Jerry and I asked for movie recommendations that we will check out. I shared my anger at the Washington Post comic strip WUMO – that showed a doctor speaking to family members about their father who had just died. This was supposed to be funny when the Doctor said ,” Technically your Dad died of natural causes.What’s more natural than senior citizens unable to handle technology?” This is not funny – it is insulting. I have written a letter of protest to the Post!

MARCH 29 – No church in this time of pandemic but grateful to be part of a parish skilled in use of social media for spiritual purposes. Some of their messages are long, some are short – all are very meaningful. Midday we had a very fun Face Time session with son Joe and his wife Lane as they headed to an afternoon gathering of some of their family. It was great to see them looking so well. Joe is a doctor – an internist in private practice. Lane is his office manager. They, like our our daughter, Maura, who is a nurse practitioner, are on the front lines in this time of health crisis. We need the reassurance that comes from checking in with these three.

In the afternoon we had a Zoom call with granddaughter Emily and her fiancee David. They are recently engaged and we couldn’t be happier – for them and for us to be acquiring such an amazing and thoughtful Grandson -in-law. He and Emily are well matched both in their kindness and their desire to help others.

March 31 – Have been trying for the last two days to place a grocery order with either Whole Foods or Wegmann’ s. This morning I got up at 6 to place the order. By 6:10 I was too late for Whole Foods – no spots available. Wegmann’s had time available on April 5 between 5 and 7 PM. I grabbed it and placed my order. Only problem was we were out of some of our daily food staples. That was solved when Lilly, taking a break from work , offered to do our shopping , and her brother Gus offered to bring it out to us.

April 1 – This is the day Jerry and I should have just been getting home from Florida. We appreciate the loving concern of our all our children who because of Covid 19 persisted in urging us to return early. It was our son Jim who realized that in Florida we were not getting a realistic picture of the pandemic disaster that was descending on our country. And he was right, we weren’t. It is a role reversal when parents have to acknowledge that their children know what is best. We thank them for their persistence.

OUR FLORIDA WINTER COMES TO A CLOSE – THE FINAL TWO DAYS

One final round at The Saints Golf Course

This morning (March 17) we have been busy packing – we were scheduled to return from our Florida winter on the March 31 auto train but with the urging of our five very caring children and concerns about the coronavirus, we have moved up our departure. Fortunately we were able to get space on the March 18 auto train. Now we are keeping our fingers crossed that the train does not get cancelled. Two years ago , just as we were closing up our condo and heading to the train station in Sanford – two plus hours away – we got a robo call from Am track that the train was cancelled. There was no explanation. We decided to drive. When we were close to entering into Georgia we got another Am track call, this time from a human being, offering us tickets on the train two weeks later. We said no thank you and continued on our way. We survived the trip just fine but we do not wish to repeat the drive and have got our fingers crossed that the March 18 train, with the appropriate sanitary precautions in this time of coronavirus, will be carrying us home.

We realize that the train station, where if the train is full, could have as many as seven hundred of our contemporaries, many probably with comprised immune systems. It has the potential to be a hotbed of germs. You have to arrive two hours early at a minimum. We plan to be there early to check in and then to do the rest of our waiting outside in the fresh air. Maybe everybody else has that same plan. We will find out.

Packing done we decided to head to the golf course. Originally we had a bridge and dinner date today scheduled with old friends. They understood when we called it off. Last Saturday night we did join some friends for dinner – but that was last Saturday. Each day the virus updates get more fearful, golfing in the fresh air on a very beautiful day was a nice option. And both Jerry and I played “well” so that made it even more fun.

We headed back to the condo for a dinner of scrambled eggs and bacon with toast and apple slices and carrot sticks and toast – this was a meal to clean out the frig and it was actually quite yummy. We took ourselves to bed early because there would be no time in the morning for a leisurely wakeup. We had to be on the road by 11 to make it to the auto train on time and we had to allow time to swing by the rental office to drop off keys.

The car trip went by smoothly and we got to Sanford in the two hours and twenty minutes that GPS had forecast. It is a bit of a stress when driving to the auto train. If you are late they will not take your car- an understandable but harsh rule. It could be weeks before there is space available on another train. Last year there was an accident on 95 and that section of the road was closed down. With blind faith in GPS we got off 95 and headed into unknown territory. It was scary but we just made it to Sanford before the deadline.

Now Jerry and I are sitting in our roomette. The sleeper section of the train is full. We understand there are plenty of seats in coach. We ate dinner in the roomette as did most folks. Checking in and boarding the train was an interesting experience. There was not the usual buzz and hum of excitement. Some people were very conscientious about maintaining social distancing, others not so much. Some looked worried and some very solemn. Some wore masks.

Our children and grandchildren have been checking in as we head home. Lilly, whose job allows for her to work remotely was taking a break and texted that she was about to make some date banana bread. Just the thought of it made my mouth water – I texted her asking for a picture of the finished product. Actually getting a piece to eat would be best but I will enjoy the picture.

These are scary times. So much is unknown. Jerry and I and our contemporary friends are in the most at risk age group. When will the virus slow down? Are we taking the necessary precautions? It is important to focus on the precautions but equally as important to go on living, to be evermore aware of the caring and thoughtfulness of others.

A TIME TO SAY GOODBYE

MOM AND DAD, FALL 1970

When my Father died 1n 1971 I don’t think anyone of us were prepared. Is anyone ever really prepared for the death of a beloved parent. Our five children were ages 9 to 3.5. They had been blest to have both sets of grandparents who loved them dearly. Now one grandparent was gone. I was so caught up in family needs and in wanting to be present to my Mother I’m not sure I ever adequately mourned Pop’s passing.

I loved my Father very much. He was a strong personality full of love and Irish humor. He and Mom were law school classmates – along with Mom’s twin, Aunt Marg and her husband Uncle Jim. Pop was the oldest of three brothers born to Irish immigrant parents. My Mother’s family was also Irish – but they had been in this country a long time. Her parents were both graduates of Cornell University and her father went on to practice law. As did my parents. When they graduated from law school my Mother was awarded the prize for being number one academically in the class. But my Father always said that he actually got the prize because he won her.

They married in 1930 in a double wedding with Aunt Marg and Uncle Jim. The twins were so identical in looks that as a child when I would look at their wedding picture hanging on the wall in our home I couldn’t tell which of the brides was my mother and I thought it would be dumb to ask. I was about six when I finally figured out that of course my mother would be standing next to my Father. The couples decided to honeymoon one week at the Jersey Shore and one week at Niagara Falls. Mom and Pop went first to the shore and then to Niagara Falls. They were royally treated at their Atlantic City hotel. The waitress assigned to them for their weeks stay made them feel their specialness as newlyweds. When they switched places with Aunt Marg and Uncle Jim, Mom painted a glowing picture of their hotel beach stay. But from the moment of their arrival at the hotel Aunt Marg and Uncle Jim had the opposite experience. Unfortunately the waitress who had been assigned to Mom and Pop was also assigned to Aunt Marg and Uncle Jim . She was particularly not nice to Aunt Marg. This went on for several meals. Finally Aunt Marg confronted the waitress who told her that it was wrong that the previous week she had been honeymooning with one man and now just a week later she was with a different man. Needless to say Aunt Marg and Uncle Jim were shocked and amused and quick to set the waitress straight, The rest of their time in Atlantic City was just as lovely as Mom and Pop’s.

The two couples started their married life sharing a house together in New Jersey. My brothers and I were both born during those years. It was very much the Depression time. Pop had taken a job teaching in New York City to provide them with a stable basic income – and since these jobs were good paying – for that financially troubled time – and with good benefits – there were many applicants for these teaching jobs. When New York City passed legislation requiring its employees to live in New York City it was time for both couples to move on. My parents bought a home in the Long Island part of New York City. And though the twins were separated it in no way impacted their closeness. Plus the fact that their husbands were good friends.

For about the next thirty years my parents lived in the house they bought at this time. Pop kept his teaching job and together practicing from home, they gradually built up a law practice in real estate and estate law. At a pretty young age my brothers and I learned to answer the phone ” McCloskey and McCloskey Attorneys and Counselors of Law”. We felt very important , very proud to be such phone answerers. By the time Bud had been in the seminary for several years, and Pete was finishing his college years and I was starting mine, my father was talking about retiring from teaching. He was a gifted teacher but it was a pretty heavy load to combine their now stable law practice with his full time teaching.

When my brother and I married and started our own families our parents could not have been more excited. They loved being grandparents and when they eventually made the decision to relocate to the Washington area it was a pretty easy decision for them because all their precious grandchildren would be close by.

We had a blessed year and a half before Pop’s heart attack. My mother was truly inspirational as she tried to carve out her new life without Pop. When she moved to Virginia she had the loving support of my brother and his wife as she strove to develop a new life. She loved her time with Pete and Louise but she did not want to be dependent solely on them. Her skills in the game of bridge and her love of the Bible provided her with a Bible study group and a bridge group which gave her much pleasure. When Mom’s twin and her husband retired to Northern Virginia and Mom moved into the condo next door to them, they developed a rhythm to their lives which they found very satisfying.

When Aunt Marg died in 1983 her passing was hard on Uncle Jim and in a different way perhaps just as hard on Mom to lose her identical twin. Mom was sustained by her deep faith and her motivation to live her life to the fullest – within her health capabilities. She continued to be focused on her children and her grandchildren. She maintained her interest in world affairs and she continued with her Bible studies and her bridge playing.

When Mom came for the visit that turned into her living with us for the final ten months of her life she appeared to be in such good health. That soon changed. Good health is a gift not to be taken for granted. She was unable to return to her condo. Those ten months were a very special time.

Initially Mom was able to climb the stairs in our home – with support – and occupy the bedroom that had been our oldest son’s. He was now graduated from college and working in New York City. I took Mom back to Northern Virginia for doctor appointments. When she no longer had the strength to climb stairs we rented a hospital bed and turned our dining room which had a door for privacy into a downstairs bedroom for her. At this time we hired a caring helper who came in at 7 at night and stayed till 7 the next day. With the help of a sliding screen we were able to turn the living room into the helper’s bedroom. I was in phone contact with Mom’s amazing Virginia doctor and one time he even came to our home to see her. This was an amazing supportive gift on his part. I needed reassurance that our care protocols were appropriate.

As I look back now on that time with Mom I am surprised that I never doubted that we would be able to care for her. Jerry was very supportive and the kids were now in their late teens and early twenties and when they were home they were awesome. So many good and touching and occasionally difficult memories.

One day I had given Mom a bed bath and was changing the sheets of her hospital bed. She was sitting supported on one side of the bed as I was fixing the other side. Suddenly I realized she was slipping but was too late to get to her as she gracefully slipped to the floor. She assured me she was fine but she couldn’t get back up and try as I might, I just could not lift her. I was able to get her to the sitting position and supported her with pillows. Then I sat down on the floor next to her and we plotted what to do next. And we both laughed at the quandary we were in. Jerry was at work, the children were either away or at school. I knew the neighbors would be at work. What to do? I did not want to call 911 and have a siren blaring ambulance come to our rescue. Mom really seemed to be fine and was vehement that in just sliding down she had not been injured. Finally I thought of our local volunteer fire department. I called them and explained the situation. They could not have been more understanding. One fire truck came immediately – without sirens – but with two compassionate volunteers who lifted Mom back into bed and then stayed a little bit reassuring the two of us that they were glad to help out.

For the first couple of months Mom – an avid reader – was eager for a good book but reading was getting more difficult as her macular degeneration progressed. We were able to order large print books and that worked well for a while. What was for me perhaps the most meaningful was her desire to organize her many photographs. We worked on that together and we today have an album where the first picture is from the 1860’s. Also Mom had memory boxes of papers and souvenirs. It was a treasure to slowly sort through them with her and to listen as she relived the memories they invoked. A particular treasure were letters from my father to my mother when she was on a trip abroad. He wrote her one for every day she was to be gone and gave them to her when she left. He made her promise to only open one a day. She kept her promise – staying up to after midnight to read the next day’s letter. She picked out one of those letters and said I could put it in the album we were working on – the rest with a precious smile she asked me to destroy.

These ten months of saying goodbye were not always easy but they were so worth it.

MY MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO GROW OLD

Talking recently with my friend, Karen, about aging I was surprised when she said ” my mother never told me what it was like to grow old.” Then she laughed and I laughed. I knew Karen was very close to her mother and she wasn’t comfortable saying anything that might be construed as negative about her mother. But it got me thinking about the whole aging thing and how do we prepare for it.

I grew up in a family rich with Aunts and Uncles, a fair number of great Aunts, and one great Uncle. My father’s father died before my parents were married. His mother died when I was very young. I am not sure if I really remember her or if it is the stories about her that make her seem real to me. She and my grandfather immigrated from Ireland and lived in Illinois , in the Hells Kitchen section of New York City and in metropolitan New Jersey. My Mother’s mother died of cancer when Mom and her twin sister were just toddlers. Mom’s step mother whom we called Nana lived into her 8o’s and Mom’s father died in his 70’s. He combined dignity and kindness and caring. Nana was a tad intimidating. The Aunts and Uncles and the Greats were all strong characters.

One way we learn about anything is through example. Perhaps because we had such a vibrant assortment of older family members that we saw with some regularity – even though we didn’t live that close – I did not think of my own parents as being that old. After all, there was another generation of family members that were even older than they. And if I thought about it, it seemed to me they lived pretty full lives.

I was particularly blessed that my great Aunt Rose took me under her wing – she felt I was a bit too timid. Aunt Rose liked to take me to her favorite New York City restaurant, Schraffts. In the 1940’s Schraffts was considered a very appropriate restaurant for an unescorted woman. One time we went there after a morning spent in Central Park where she treated me to a helium filled balloon. I was very appreciative – I can still remember how much I wanted that balloon. Balloons were a staple at birthday parties but one filled with helium that would fly away if you didn’t hold on to the cord was a real treat. After we left the park and as we marched down Madison Avenue to Schraffts I was concerned about how I would hold on to my treasure – I didn’t want to lose it. Aunt Rose was firm, “Peggy Ann stop worrying”. When we entered Schraffts the hostess looked askance at the balloon. Aunt Rose in her very self possessed way said ” We would like to park this on the ceiling while we eat.” I don’t think the hostess had ever had a request like that before but she agreed as long as we parked it near the cloak section. I was relieved when we were seated at a table which made it possible for me to keep an eye on my treasure.

Aunt Rose brought a Chinese checker game to all family gatherings. My brothers and cousins and I would line up to play her. She took no pity on anyone. And when you finally won a game you knew you deserved to win and were very proud. Aunt Rose had red curly hair. She told me that it was God’s reward for her being a good person. It was years later that I learned that she dyed her hair and that her curls came from permanent waves. Aunt Rose died when I was about 12 years old. When we went to the wake my brothers were able to go into the viewing room with our parents but I could not bring myself to – I was too upset. Aunt Rose had been such a part of my life. I sat in one of the family gathering rooms and waited. When my brothers returned I asked them how it was. They said everything was OK till Aunt Rose sat up in her casket and asked ” Where is Peggy Ann?” I was able to giggle nervously but I still could not go in.

When all of the generation beyond my parents were gone I finally realized that my beloved parents were aging. In 1970 they decided to sell their home on Long Island where they had lived since I was a year and a half and move to the Washington area to be closer to their children. They planned to buy a home in the newly-built suburban Maryland community where Jerry and I lived with our family. I was so excited about their coming. But the more I thought about it, I realized that most in our community were families with young children. My parents loved their children and grandchildren dearly but they were also used to having a social life with contemporaries.

I decided to see if I could get a social club for Seniors off the ground. With guidance from the county, help from a local church and assistance from two good friends, and the support of my husband SLOGGS (Slightly Older Guys and Gals) was launched. We opened membership to not only our own community but the surrounding areas. And there must have been a need because it was a success from the very beginning. I still treasure the Christmas gift of one couple, a blue stone they had found years before while hiking in Oregon that they had made into a pendant for me. Like my parents they moved locally to be closer to family and were grateful for the new friends they made through SLOGGS.

As it turned out, I need not have worried about my parents social life. They were delighted to be close to family, to their children and their nine young grandchildren. They bought a home about a mile from our house and their new neighbors welcomed them warmly. It was idyllic and then the demons of ill health set in. In the period of about a year and a half, my priestly brother was hospitalized with a bad leg infection, I was hospitalized with an orthopedic issue, several of the children were also hospitalized for a myriad of causes from pneumonia to eye surgery. And then my father had a heart attack. He died in 1971 when he was just 69 years old. My mother was 67. I was 34. The first time my mother ever talked to me about aging was a few days after Pop died. My mother saw a couple – her contemporaries – walking down the street together – she turned to me tearing and said ” your father and I were planning on aging together.”

In the weeks and months following my father’s death Mom was courageous,, heartbroken, loving, sad and determined to deal with her sadness. My brother Pete and his wife Louise invited her to sell her house and to come and live with them and their children in Virginia. They had a large home with a lower level suite of rooms that would make a comfortable apartment for her. It was a wonderful arrangement and Mom lived with them for several years till her twin sister and her husband decided to retire in the Virginia area. They bought a condo in McLean, not far from my brother, and my mother bought the adjoining condo and moved there. They were a very active threesome in family life, in a club for newcomers, in bible study, in bridge, and in trips to the beach. The message they lived was getting older means pursuing activities that match with your interests and your health capabilities.

In the Spring of 1984 my mother, now 81 years old, drove from Northern Virginia to visit us in Upper Marlboro. This was one of her first solo driving trips on the Washington beltway. She had never driven this distance on her own and was very proud of her accomplishment. Mom had a drivers license for many years because it was the easiest and best source of identification but she never drove. Pop did all the driving. We had a wonderful visit and then my mother got sick. She never went back to Northern Virginia. She stayed with us till she died in February of 1985. ( Those ten months will be the subject of a future blog.)

We can read about aging, we can study aging but I believe the best teacher is the example of those whom we love and admire. Abraham Lincoln left us so many wonderful quotes about aging. One of my favorites is ,” Every man’s happiness is his own responsibility.”

ON BEING HACKED – AGAIN!!!

Last Tuesday I stopped being able to receive or send e-mail on what I call my “business” account. I have a gmail account that I use for family and friends – all other e-mail is on my Cox account. Before my Cox account closed down I got an e-mail from Instagram that my account had been hacked. I already knew something was up because even though the picture I had posted when setting up the Instagram account was still there, the name with the account had changed to a jumble of letters that I in no way recognized. And then there was one final Instagram e-mail before my Cox access ceased. This e-mail stated that the hacking was from Russia. I felt slightly overwhelmed. My Facebook account has been hacked three times to the point that I was thinking of giving it up and just using Instagram. Unlike the Cox account which had been completely closed down, Instagram allowed me to receive and to post as long as I used the jumbled-letter “handle” from the hacker.

I tried unsuccessfully to contact Instagram. We had some some fun plans for the next two days and I just let my tech problems ride. But as I continued to get Instagram messages addressed to the bogus name I got more and more annoyed and it felt creepy to me. I assumed the hacker was also seeing my messages. On Thursday I decided to start tackling my technical issues. For the next four days I spoke with different Cox representatives who tried to solve the issue. They were able to determine that someone had accessed my Cox account and as one of the reps said ” they messed with my settings”. Again I felt creepy – and a little bit of “why me”.

My work with the Naomi Project forced me to become comfortable with computer use, with texting, with websites and e-mailing. But this hacking issue became a major source of frustration. Solving it was way beyond my skill level. And after about fifteen hours of dealing with various Cox technicians from their customer service department I found it also appeared to be beyond their skill level. Even after removing the filters that had been placed on my account by the hacker none of the regular technicians could provide a permanent fix for the issue. Their fixes lasted while we were on the phone together and in some cases for up to a half an hour after getting off the phone. I was so frustrated.

And I am not proud of how I handled the frustration – I really got worked up at something that was not a life and death matter – that didn’t deserve the energy and angst that I was according it. In retrospect the whole experience was a good learning for me. On Sunday we went to the 12 o’clock service at Holy Family. This is the church that has become our spiritual home while we are in Florida. This is the Mass where they have a spectacular children’s choir, where there is interactive singing between the choir and the congregation, where the staff and congregation are diverse and very welcoming. In this calming and very spiritual setting I reflected on how worked up I had allowed myself to become over a technical problem – it was not a health issue but I could turn it into one if I continued to allow myself to get so upset. I had not even responded to the pounding music of the waves which was normally such a tonic for me. Previously I thought I had my priorities in order. This episode reminded me that it is very easy to “go off track”.

Monday morning I again called Cox – but this time I asked to be connected to their for a fee technical support. Before I had not wanted to put out the money for specialized assistance feeling that I had not caused the problem so why should I have to pay for its correction. By Wednesday all my technical issues were solved. The whole episode took about fifteen hours of phone time . The paid service took about two of those hours.

Hopefully I will retain my learnings from this hacking experience. It is just stupid to get upset, as I did, over a technical issue. As the country singer Jimmy Dean said, ” I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”

A POTPOURRI OF THOUGHTS AS 2020 BEGINS

Jerry and I are once again “snowbirds ” in Jensen Beach, Florida. We arrived several days ago to the same condo building as last year, but thankfully not the same unit. This one has updated and simple decor that will be quite comfortable for the next almost three months. The picture above is from our balcony. I love the beauty and the peace and the consistency that the ocean generates. It is the perfect setting to reflect on the past and to plan for the future.

In the immediate past was our trip to Florida on the auto train. Jerry and I have used the auto train for several years now and we have gotten very comfortable with the routine for checking in and for boarding the train. The station was very crowded and as we waited for the boarding announcement, I looked around at our fellow passengers and was struck by the realization that in no other setting would we be surrounded by so many contemporaries in various stages of health and mobility. If there were 700 people waiting for the boarding call, I would estimate that at least 500 of them were not independently mobile. It was for me a jarring realization.

We had brought along plenty to read and I had my lap top computer. In the busy days leading up to our departure I had not been able to stay abreast of e-mails. Now there was plenty of time to catch up. An e-mail, in particular, I was looking for related to the Naomi Project – an all volunteer mentoring program for high risk pregnant and newly parenting women in the Northern Virginia area that I founded in 1995 and stepped down from in 2014.

With my background in public health nursing and hospital chaplaincy and because I served on the state and local infant mortality councils, it was challenging but not very difficult for me to get the Naomi Project off the ground. From its origins the Naomi Project was under the sponsorship of the Virginia Council of Churches. When I approached VCC about taking on the Naomi Project they immediately saw the need for such a program but made it clear that they were not in a position to provide financial support but would provide insurance for all involved. Since the program was all volunteer there were no salaries. VCC providing insurance was a big help. They also provided a General Minister whose caring and knowledgable support was vital to the success of the Naomi Project.

Our mission was to serve needy pregnant and newly parenting women in the Northern Virginia area. One trained volunteer was matched with one client for a period of up to three years. With the passage of time referrals came from Fairfax Hospital, from public schools, Healthy Families and from individual medical personnel.

A local church offered a place to hold volunteer trainings and provided us with the address to use for the program. Planning meetings were held in the homes of various staff members. The program needed about $5000 a year to stay afloat and that was easily provided by grants we received from various foundations and from private donors who, when they learned of our mission, wanted to provide their support. Amazing women came forward and volunteered in the program and shared in the leadership of the program. And some men connected to our women volunteers offered their special skills when needed. Jerry set us up with a much needed website. I am grateful for the lifelong friends I made through this program. I was continually awed by the clients who trusted us and welcomed us into their homes. And since it is always nice to have your work acknowledged, I was appreciative of the various awards we received.

By late 2013 with the urging of the VCC General Minister, I started to think seriously of stepping down from the position of Co- Director of the Naomi Project. I was now 76 years old. Some pretty awesome women had joined me in leadership roles and they said they would stay on to run the program. An aspect of my stepping down was the need to find another organization who would become the sponsoring organization. The Virginia Council of Churches was located in Richmond and they were undergoing a reorganization of their own. Several of us examined our local options and finally were referred to a very successful non profit, which was serving different needs of some of the same population as the Naomi Project. This organization had been thinking of branching out into a mentoring program for pregnant and newly parenting women. It seemed like a perfect match and in late Fall 2014 I had my last days as a Naomi Project Co -Director.

It was hard for me to step down from this program I loved. But I recognized that it was the right thing to do – if I wanted the Naomi Project to continue I had to let others completely take over the leadership! I had to accept the fact that Jerry and I were getting older. Through the newsletter of the new organization, and e-mails and text messages and occasional meetings for coffee, I kept abreast of Naomi Project doings and felt very proud of their work.

In late 2018 I was informed that the need for a volunteer program like the Naomi Project was decreasing as various public programs with state and local funding and paid professional staff were expanding their services to the population served by the Naomi Project. The e-mail I read while on the auto train was officially informing me that the end of 2019 also was the official ending of the Naomi Project.

It is very hard for me to accept the passing of the Naomi Project. It helps for me to remember the more than 300 volunteers who came through the program when I was active and on the more than 500 pregnant and newly parenting women who allowed us into their lives. The sound of the waves is very soothing and very consistent and very peaceful. It reminds me that there are some things over which we have no control, the best we can do is to just move on..

Tonight Jerry and I will go to dinner and dancing with a couple we have met through Florida bridge. It is so easy to just stick with the friends you know, but then we would have missed out on a new friendship that has provided so much pleasure. As we head into 2020 I pray that we are open to all the possibilities of this new year.

CHRISTMAS REFLECTIONS

This creche was a gift from Grandma Mc Closkey in the 1980’s


WE ARE STARTING NOW TO TAKE DOWN OUR CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS. IN TWO DAYS WE WILL BE ON THE AUTO TRAIN HEADING SOUTH. AS WE PUT AWAY THE DECORATIONS – MADE BY OR GIFTS FROM OUR CHILDREN, GRANDCHILDREN OR FRIENDS, IT IS A NATURAL TIME FOR REFLECTING ON OLD MEMORIES AND THE NEW MEMORIES FROM THESE PAST DAYS OF CELEBRATION.

SO MANY HAPPY TIMES TO PONDER. WORKING BACKWARDS – THIS PAST FRIDAY WE WERE HONORED TO HOST AN ENGAGEMENT PARTY FOR OUR OLDEST GRANDDAUGHTER AND HER FIANCEE. IT SEEMS FITTING THAT OUR OLDEST GRANDCHILD SHOULD LEAD US INTO THIS NEW PHASE OF GRANDPARENTING. AND SINCE WE SO LOVE HER AND ALREADY FEEL LIKE HER FIANCEE IS A BELOVED PART OF THE FAMILY, IT WAS A TRULY HAPPY OCCASION. THE FATHER OF THE BRIDE TO BE ( OUR OLDEST SON) GAVE SUCH A MOVING TOAST TO EMILY AND DAVID THAT I WAS COUGHT UP IN THE EMOTION OF THE MOMENT AND COULD NOT BRING MYSELF TO WHIP OUT MY CAMERA. IT JUST SEEMED THAT WOULD DETRACT FROM THE MOMENT. INDELIBLY IMPRESSED IN MY MIND IS THE RAPT ATTENTION OF FAMILY AND FRIENDS AS THEY FOCUSED ON OUR SON AND HIS LOVING WORDS TO THE FUTURE BRIDE AND GROOM.

CHRISTMAS EVE WAS VERY SPECIAL – WE HAD AN ADVENT CANDLE CEREMONY WITH MEG AND BRENDAN AND THEIR THREE CHILDREN WHERE EACH OF THE CHILDREN READ A BIBLICAL PASSAGE FOCUSING ON THE BIRTH OF CHRIST. IT IS SO EASY TO LET PRESENT GETTING BECOME THE MAIN FOCUS AT THIS HOLY TIME. OUR LITTLE LITURGY DIDN’T LAST THAT LONG BUT WITH BRENDAN’S PIANO PLAYING, AND THE REST OF US FOLLOWING ALONG WITH THE APPROPRIATE HYMN AND THE VARIOUS READINGS, IT WAS FOR ME VERY POWERFUL. WE WERE CERTAINLY LITURGICALLY SPOILED BY THE HOME MASSES OF OUR BELOVED UNCLE BUD. IT HAS NOW BEEN SEVERAL YEARS SINCE HE DIED. WE MISS HIM!!!

CHRISTMAS DAY WAS PRETTY EASY FOOD WISE IN SPITE OF THE VARIETY OF FOOD PREFERENCES WHICH ABOUND IN OUR NUCLEAR FAMILY OF THIRTY ONE. WE HAVE FOUR ROCK SOLID VEGETARIANS ; WE HAVE THE GLUTEN FREE; THE LACTOSE INTOLERANT; AND THE ONION ALLERGY. BUT WITH ALL THE SUPPORTIVE COOKS IT TURNS OUT TO BE A PRETTY YUMMY FEAST.

THE MAIN ISSUE WE DEAL WITH IS SETTING UP THE TABLES. UP UNTIL LAST YEAR WE HAD THREE TABLES. THE “OLDER ADULTS” IN THE DINING ROOM; THE YOUNG ADULTS ( COLLEGE STUDENTS OR RECENT GRADUATES) IN THE LIVING ROOM; AND AT THE ROUND TABLE IN THE DINETTE, THE MIDDLE SCHOOL AND HIGH SCHOOLERS. THIS YEAR SOME OF THIS LATTER GROUP ASKED TO BE COMBINED WITH THEIR OLDER SIBLINGS AND COUSINS. AND SO WE PUSHED THEIR TABLES TOGETHER. IT MADE FOR A PRETTY LONG TABLE. WE WILL HAVE TO SEE WHAT CREATIVE INSPIRATION COMES TO US FOR THE NEXT FAMILY GATHERING. A LARGE FAMILY IS TRULY A BLESSING BUT IT DOES BRING WITH IT SOME QUIRKY ISSUES TO BE RESOLVED.

HARD TO SAY WHAT WAS THE BEST PART OF OUR FAMILY CHRISTMAS. THE MEAL AND THE SHARING AT MEAL TIME IS OF COURSE VERY SPECIAL. BUT SO IS THE GIFT EXCHANGE. AT THANKSGIVING TIME, ORGANIZED BY LISA, IS THE PICKING OF NAMES BY ALL THE GRANDCHILDREN – FROM YOUNGEST TO OLDEST ONE A NAME IS PICKED AND SECRETLY SHOWN TO LISA. AND THEN AT CHRISTMAS TIME AGAIN FROM YOUNGEST TO OLDEST THE GIFTS ARE OPENED. IT IS ALWAYS SUCH A FUN TIME.

BUT MAYBE SOME WOULD SAY THE SINGING IS THE BEST PART. USING SONG SHEETS THAT JERRY’S SECRETARY PUT TOGETHER IN THE 70’S WITH HIS GUIDANCE, THERE IS A CONTINUOUS JOYFUL FLOW BETWEEN RELIGIOUS AND SECULAR SONGS.

EXCEPT FOR GRAHAM WHO IS WITH US TILL TOMORROW, THE CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN ARE NOW BACK OR HEADING BACK TO TO THEIR VARIOUS HOMES AND SCHOOLS. ASIDE FROM THOROUGHLY ENJOYING GRAHAM’S COMPANY IT WAS SO HELPFUL TO HAVE HIM WITH US AS WE TOOK DOWN THE TREE. MAYBE AT SOME POINT WE WILL HAVE TO GIVE UP ON HAVING A BIG LIVE CHRISTMAS TREE – BUT WE ARE NOT YET READY TO BOW TO THE COMMON SENSE OF HAVING A SMALLER TREE. IN 1976 WE PUT TOGETHER A FIVE POINTED STAR AND THEN HAD EACH OF OUR CHILDREN DECORATE ONE OF THE POINTS OF THE STAR. SINCE THEN THIS STAR HAS OCCUPIED THE PLACE OF HONOR AT THE TOP OF OUR CHRISTMAS TREE.

I LOVE THE MANY FACES OF CHRISTMAS!!!

THE APPROACH OF CHRISTMAS

Try as hard as they can, I don’t believe stores and malls and advertising can ever ruin Christmas for me. I grew up in an Irish Catholic home where Christmas was a cherished celebration. It meant attendance at Christmas mass where I loved the parish nativity scene and all the various liturgical Christmas celebrations and the Christmas songs. We spent part of the holiday with my father’s family and part with my mother’s family, sometimes combining both.

Though the musical genes had missed my immediate family they were prevalent in my mother’s twin sister’s family. Uncle Jim and my cousins Franny and Jimmy were musical . They lived in an apartment in New York City, across from Barnard College where my mother and Aunt Marg had attended college. One Christmas Eve that I will never forget we heard music coming from outside. We went out on their balcony and could see and hear carolers walking on Claremont Avenue below us. I can’t remember what floor their apartment was on but it could not have been too high up because when we joined the carolers in singing they welcomed us . Initially the carolers led the singing but when there was a pause they suggested we start the next song which Uncle Jim and Jimmy did. I don’t know how old I was at the time – maybe nine or ten – but I was in seventh heaven. I felt like we were all characters in a special Christmas show. And I don’t know if it was real or if my imagination just added it, but I remember a soft snowfall in the background.

As a young married couple in the post depression 1930’s and 1940’s my parents worked hard to make a go of it financially. Upon graduation from law school, my father took a job with the New York City school system so that we would have a steady family income and good health insurance. They gradually grew a successful law practice but it took a number of years.

I think as children we had an understanding that money was tight, but maybe not really. I remember repeatedly asking for a pair of pretty white boots which might have seemed to be frivolous on my part since, after all I did have my brothers’ hand-me-down ugly galoshes. One Christmas I asked only for the coveted white boots. As it got closer to Christmas I was aware of my mother putting packages in her bedroom closet. One day when my parents were downstairs and my brothers outside I snuck into the closet. I couldn’t believe it but the boots were actually there. As I quickly left the closet – I didn’t want to get caught – I was overcome with a mixture of emotions.

First, I couldn’t share with my brothers what I had done even though we were still at the age where we were pretty good sharers, and I couldn’t tell my parents. So come Christmas morning I had to pretend surprise at my pretty boots. I never checked the gift closet again and the boots, which were exactly what I wanted, had lost some of their magic.

At a pretty young age come the first Sunday of Advent, I started saying the Christmas novena – not sure if this came from my mother (a strong believer in novenas) or from the Catholic grade school my brothers and I attended.

Hail and blessed be the hour and the moment when the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary at midnight in Bethlehem in the piercing cold. At that hour and moment vouchsafe oh my God to hear my prayers and to grant my desires through the merits of our Savior Jesus Christ and His blessed mother, Amen.

This is a simple prayer – the only catch is that it should be said 15 times each day between the first Sunday of Advent and Christmas day. I don’t think I was ever told but I believed that each petition required a separate novena . When I was young I often said my novena prayers at breakneck speed because I had a number of petitions I was working on. Good thing God is very understanding – many times my petitions were actually answered.

Of recent years I have taken a more appropriate approach to the Christmas novena. It has become a very soothing mantra for me to repeat during Advent. It is so easy to get caught up in the sales pitches and fluff of Christmas. The words of the Christmas novena help center me.

In addition to the Christmas tree, when our children were small we always had a creche and an Advent wreath. At the start of Advent we put out the creche and gradually added the figures. At least once a week we would light the wreath candles and with the guidance of a prayer book we would celebrate our own family Advent liturgy. Once the children were grown and on their own, our Advent ceremony kind of fell by the wayside. But this year we have reinstated it – in modified form. It is nice.

In just a few days it will be Christmas. So much to look forward to, so much to be thankful for.

THANKSGIVING MEMORIES

It is Sunday afternoon now and the house is very quiet – something it has not been since Tuesday evening when the first of our family arrived for the Thanksgiving weekend. Jerry and I have just returned from church and then dropping our oldest son at Union Station for his train back to New York. His wife left yesterday to be with her mother who is recovering from surgery and lives south of us in Virginia. It is a rainy, cloudy day which is very conducive to reflection and an attack of the lazies. Jerry has suggested we take a walk in about an hour. We strive to be faithful to getting our “steps” in on a daily basis – very important for seniors – but after five days of trying facilitate a smooth family gathering of making sure the fridge is well stocked and that all coming in from out of town have a place to sleep, I definitely am feeling not so into our normal exercise schedule.

We are very blessed in family and we do not that for granted. Both Jerry and I come from loving homes. There may have been a time when I was not as conscious of those who were not so family blessed, but that ended abruptly about 45 years ago. I was doing the post Thanksgiving replenishing of groceries and starting to stock up for all the company we would be having in December. Our five children were home with their Dad. l was enjoying the Christmas music the grocery store was blaring out. Frequently I had the children with me on grocery outings so this was this was quite fun for me to be able to take my time and to check out some of the new items the store was promoting. And then I rounded the corner into the canned food aisle where there was a woman staring at the stocked shelves and crying. She was probably the age I am now but at the time I thought she as very old. I immediately swung into my nurse mode and stood next to her and asked ” Are you OK – is there anything I can do”? She looked at me through her tears and said, ” I hate that music – it reminds me of what I don’t have any more”. I squeezed her hand and I moved on – I didn’t know what to say. At times of great blessings I bring up that memory. I never want to take what we have for granted!!!

These past five days have been so much fun. Wednesday night we had twenty for dinner and Thanksgiving day we were twenty nine in number. Friday night we dined at the home of our oldest daughter and her husband and our numbers increased to 31. Saturday we were back here and the number was twenty five. I only mention the numbers because I think it is so impressive that the food was down right yummy. And that is quite an accomplishment with such numbers! Cooking for these occasions is a team effort and the team members are very gifted and artistic as they cater to various food likes and dislikes. And a new feature this year was a very thorough clean up crew. Jerry and I were very appreciative.

There is so much that could be said about this Thanksgiving but what I like to focus on is the sharing by each person of what they are most thankful for. I was very touched by the words of those at what we call the adult table and was hoping that this scene would be duplicated at the grandchildren table of middle school/ high school/ college/ grad school / working folks. When dinner was over and we gathered for dessert I asked how the conversation had gone at the grandchildren table – the first time we had put together these various group. I was so touched to learn that they also had a sharing of their special blessings for the past year and the comments were that it had gone very well. When I thanked the granddaughter who had promoted this sharing she said ” but of course grandma – I knew that is what you would want us to do” . I was humbly grateful!!!