The Clock is Ticking for All of Us

Monday, November 10, 2036.

That’s the day I’m expected to die according to DeathClock, billed as “the Internet’s friendly reminder that life is slipping away.”

While I don’t believe my death will occur on that particular day and do hope I’ll live quite a bit longer than age 79, I find myself thinking both about the quantity and quality of the years I have left, no doubt prompted by the fact that I will turn 65 in a month.  

On the short end of my projected lifeline, I think of my parents, both of whom died at age 70, my dad after a year-long battle with lung cancer (no surprise as he smoked for 50+ years) and my mom in an instant from a heart attack linked to Vioxx, the drug she was taking to help manage her arthritis (a drug reported to triple the risk of heart attack). If I die at their age, I have five years left.

On the other hand, if I live as long as my maternal grandmother and my paternal grandfather, I have 25 years left.

Either way, I hope to stay mentally, physically and emotionally healthy so that I can spend my time doing things I enjoy and making a difference in the lives of others.

The desire to do so has got me thinking back to one of the best books I read in 2020: Die with Zero: Getting All You Can From Your Money and Your Life by Bill Perkins. Thanks in large part to it and to a financial coach I recently hired to help me shift from saving for the future to enjoying my money—and my life!—now, I am finally beginning to do so.

So whether my death comes next year, in 2036 as predicted by DeathClock or, as I hope, years after becoming a healthy centenarian, I am determined to hear the ticking clock as a call to action rather than a countdown to my final days. I hope you are as well as I’d love to have you and all Word Sisters along for the journey.  

Connections

Tomorrow I’ll join my extended family for a weekend gathering we jokingly call ShrinerFest. Because of COVID it’s been three years since my three siblings, their children, grandchildren, my sons, and all of our spouses have gathered, although I did see my siblings in person last year. In the intervening time, many important events have taken place off-stage, away from the full circle of family.

One niece announced her engagement. A nephew got engaged to a woman some of us haven’t had the opportunity to meet. Our two sons married in small COVID-style weddings. A niece and her husband welcomed their first child earlier this year. My second oldest brother and his wife had a rough year. She and their son-in-law experienced bad fractures requiring surgery and rehab. My sister-in-law also had a close family member die of cancer.

Despite the distance (we are spread across five states) we’ve all done our best to stay connected via text and calls. We’ve congratulated each other about joyful events and commiserated about the hard times. We would have preferred to visit in person, but we did what we could manage, and our connections stayed strong. 

I expect our weekend together will encompass lots of storytelling, silliness, and good food. Cousins who are scattered across the Midwest and are still getting to know each other will likely bond over fantasy football or the best way to cook a Beyond burger. No doubt we’ll talk about wedding plans and new houses. 

My two older brothers, younger sister and I will fall into familiar patterns. Although our interests, politics, and religious views aren’t always aligned, we’ll focus on what we have in common and try to avoid topics that jangle nerves! 

As always in this group of 25, there will be emotional cross-currents. Sometimes grievances might get aired quietly off to the side (Why’d she say___? I can’t believe he did that!) After all, we are still family and although there is a lot of love, there are also strong personalities. 

As we drive away I expect to be tired, but I’ll let the good moments sink in. We’ll talk over whatever changes—for better or worse—we see in the extended family. I might be shaking my head over some new development. But no matter what, I’ll be grateful we were able to be together again, fostering connections and cementing our ties.

My Personal Abortion Story

It’s personal. How could it not be? It’s my body. I was 14 years old. In 1973, abortion had recently become legal in Minnesota. I didn’t know that. What I knew is that the doctor had just told me that I was pregnant and asked if it was one of my brothers.

I didn’t question why he asked me if it was one of my brothers. That would come years later when I made an appointment to request a copy of my doctor visits and health history. Then, I was on a search to claim myself. Bear witness to that teen girl who had raised herself up on the exam table and screamed, “No!” My abrupt movement viciously scrunched the white parchment paper underneath me. I was overcome with fear. What must have I looked like to him?

I saw a similar expression on his face when I asked for my medical records. Fear. I wasn’t there to hurt him. What I really wanted to know is why he asked me if the pregnancy was one of my brothers.

“I ask everyone that,” he said. I knew that not to be true. By then I was able to trust my senses.

The truth of my pregnancy is that it likely was one of my brothers, but it could have been someone else. I didn’t know.

That mid-summer morning when I was 14, the doctor quickly left the room and called my mother who was at home. She had dropped me off for the doctor visit, saying, “Call me when you’re done.” I was complaining of stomach pain.

Waiting for her to arrive at the doctor’s, I leaned against the sunny part of the brick building. My stomach didn’t hurt anymore. I couldn’t feel anything. I was in freeze mode. I thought about my options. How I could run away, leave town, walk the opposite way from home. Take the side roads and make my way out. I’d still be pregnant. I nodded at my mother when she pulled up.

“I wish it was an appendicitis,” she said on our way home. She never asked me about the pregnancy.

My father was summoned to their bedroom. Phone calls were made. Then I was beckoned. “You’re going to have an abortion,” my mother said. All I felt was relief. She was going to take care of this problem.

Before my mother died, she told me that she wished she wouldn’t have had that abortion. I didn’t correct her by saying that I had the abortion, not her. She was dying. I’m guessing the Catholic priest didn’t give her absolution, which caused her regret. She said the abortion took her a year to get over.

I have no regrets. Not an iota of sense that I murdered someone. That I am a killer. That I’m going to hell. If any of that was true, I would know it. I spent 30 years in therapy getting to know myself. I’d know.

When I feel sadness, it’s not because I had an abortion. It’s sadness for the child, teen and adult who was left to navigate her past, present and future.

Simple Peace

Sixty-six degrees at eight in the morning on July 4 in Door County. My hands smell of lavender from making bouquets and the harvest piles up in an old, rusty green Suburban Garden wagon. The cold spring delayed sprigs maturing, but the first varieties are now ready. These mornings of working at a table with a sweeping view of blooming lavender rows, friends bent over the bushy plants, and collies running offer a respite from news and worries.

Yes, the world is dipping and swaying for huge reasons, and it is hard to be proud of the state of our nation. I couldn’t get into the goofy happiness of a small town 4th of July parade and snapping pictures of kids on decorated tractor wagons and the grocery store staff pushing decorated shopping carts. I haven’t absorbed the sickening news of another mass shooter at a different parade. National discord and gun violence keep Americans in an uncomfortable state of anxiety so I’m looking for moments of simple pleasure to build personal peace of mind. I’m talking really simple pleasures:

Fresh peas, shelled by someone else.

Sunshine and cool air this morning.

Birdsong.

Two fawns playing in a neighbors’ yard.

Straight from the field strawberries.

Farmers market greens and cherry tomatoes.

Giggles of a happy infant granddaughter.

Our eight-year-old granddaughter singing.

Music while working.

A short pile of books.

Family and good friends a call or text away.

Some days you must restore your own core to keep pushing through your role in the bigger world. Here’s hoping you can create a list of simple pleasures to support minutes of personal peace.

The WordSisters Celebrate 10 Years of Inviting You into Our Lives

In 2012, when Elizabeth and I launched WordSisters, we weren’t sure where this adventure would take us or if we could keep up the discipline of posting once a week. Our original motivation was attracting agents and publishers, but soon we were blogging for the pleasure of writing. We had things to say and stories to share. 10 years later we’re still writing!

Through the years, more sisters in writing joined us: Cynthia and Bev are regular contributors, while Brenda, Jill, Jean and Rosemary have occasionally posted. 

Our insights arise from our lives—mothering, working, aging, living through COVID, reacting to events in the news, planning our futures and setting goals. I’m proud of the breadth of topics we’ve covered and the connections we’ve made with strangers all over the world . 

Most of all I’m proud of us for persisting. For being here long after many bloggers have faded away. 

One of our strengths is the variety of voices, styles, and subject matter each of us brings. In that spirit, here is a collection of best-of posts. I hope you’ll enjoy sampling them. 

Thank you for being our readers.

Ellen

No More Guilt with Every Bite 

What Work Would I Do if I Were an Immigrant?

Elizabeth

I Didn’t Come This Far

Until It Becomes Personal

Cynthia

Shake the Marbles

Broken Dreams

Bev

Let the Hope Shine

When It Comes to Your Age, Do You Share? 

Brenda

Confessions of a Pandemic Parent

I’m (Not) Sorry

Jill

Opposing Thumbs