I was 70 years old on Saturday. When friends had asked what I wanted to do on the day of my birthday to celebrate, knowing me, they were not surprised to learn that I wanted to have a party at the Equinox Sports Club New York that would include a yoga class for all my guests.
Thanks to the support of Monique Dash, the group fitness manager at the Club that’s what happened on Saturday afternoon. Thirty of my friends joined me for a gentle yoga class and celebration planned by Whitney Chapman, one of my long-time teachers.
The beautiful, sun-flooded yoga studio was all set –up when we walked in; mats were facing the windows and the New York skyline. The energy in the room was palpable as we all chanted “OM.” One of my other instructors, Jeanene Garro, shared the teaching with Whitney. They were an incredible team.
As the class was ending, Whitney asked everyone to bring the cardboard container that was next to their mat and form a circle around me. The containers were filled rose petals. One –by –one, my friends looked me directly in the eye and made a one-word wish for my future; which was sealed by showering me with rose petals.
There were multiple wishes for love, health, magic, adventure, companionship, and fulfillment. My friend Dede Brown, one of the founders of the Spinsters Union, was the last to step forward. In a booming voice, she shared her wish for me: “Great, passionate sex!!!” “Amen!” shouted my friends as rose petals rained down.
A yoga party was the perfect way to celebrate this Milestone Birthday.
This week, I closed the joint checking account I had with my mother. It was the final act of the more than a dozen years I had spent as her caregiver.
My mother died on April 16, 2014. I had kept the account open until I was sure that her final tax returns, which I had filed in July, had been accepted. I had indicated on the returns that the person filing was deceased and had included a copy of my mother’s death certificate.
Before the Labor Day weekend, I received a letter addressed to my mother from the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance informing her that her tax return was not complete. She hadn’t signed it. What part of dead did they not understand? It took several phone calls over several days to straighten it out. The case is now closed, as is the chapter of my life that was devoted to and defined by my responsibilities as a caregiver.
Like many New Yorkers of their generation, my parents had retired to Florida, Century Village to be exact. Over the years, they had survived medical crises that are often fatal or severely debilitating. They sprang back like the Energizer bunny, a little worse for wear but still ticking.
Intellectually I knew a day would likely come when my parents were no longer able to care for themselves but I operated as if it would never happen. I got used to seeing my once overweight father become painfully thin. I believed my mother when she said that her wobbly walking was not a problem. I blithely embraced the freedom of my single, childless life.
In 2002, that was all changed by a phone call.
I was shocked to hear my father’s voice. He NEVER called. I knew it had to be serious. In a shaky voice he said, “I’m really worried about your mother. She’s got a terrible pain in her left leg and lower back. She can barely walk. You better come to Florida.”
My mother was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a condition caused by a narrowing of the space surrounding the spinal cord. A cortisone shot relieved much of her pain. The doctor prescribed a brace for her left leg.
My mother’s mobility was compromised; she needed help dressing and bathing. Housework, shopping, and cooking were no longer possible. My father insisted that he could handle the situation; that under no circumstances would he have help in the house.
Thus began my journey as a caregiver.
For the next two years, I called my parents at least once a day. I made frequent visits to Florida. When I was there, I cleaned my parents’ apartment and went shopping; accompanied them to doctors’ appointments and for haircuts; and cooked and froze enough dinner meals to last until I returned.
Despite my best efforts, both my parents’ conditions steadily deteriorated. My mother was having difficulty getting in and out of her bed and lift chair, and she was showing increasing signs of dementia. My father was having trouble swallowing and weighed less than 100 pounds. After much cajoling, my stubborn father finally relented and allowed me to hire an aid to come to their apartment for five hours every day to take care of both of them. That arrangement lasted only a few weeks. On January 10, 2004, my father had a heart attack and died.
The first thing my mother said was, “Who called Marian? When is she coming?” She had no doubt that I would come, take care of her and make sure she was safe. (I have an older sister but she was not a participant in my parents’ care. It is not unusual that one offspring bears the full responsibility.)
It was clear that my mother could not live alone. She shuddered at the thought of having an aid live in her apartment with her. She nixed the idea of moving back north to be closer to me and the rest of her family. She said she couldn’t face the cold winters.
My mother wanted to stay in Florida and go to an assisted living facility that served three meals a day. She wanted somewhere she could play bridge and if possible, she wanted a water view. I found just the place, The Classic Residence by Hyatt. My mother adjusted well and was happy there. But she was plagued by a variety of medical problems, and I constantly had to go to Florida to be with her. The truth was, it didn’t matter whether she lived in Florida or New York. Her mobility was so bad, she never went outside.
After five months, I convinced my mother to move to the Hyatt Assisted Living Residence in Yonkers, New York. We were both happy. She had a small studio apartment with a view of the Hudson River. Despite her worsening dementia, she played bridge three times a week; something clicked in her brain when she had cards in her hands. All was going smoothly when my mother and I were featured in a New York Times story about Sunbelt retirees returning north.
In January 2005, almost a year to the day my father died, my mother fell and fractured her hip. She had barely been able to get around before the fall. So it wasn’t too surprising that even after three months of rehab, she no longer had the minimum skills required for her to remain in assisted living. I immersed myself in elder law to explore my options.
I had two choices. My mother could move to a nursing home where she would be a private pay patient for three years, or I could get her an apartment where she could receive Medicaid home care. I chose the latter.
In April 2005, I moved my mother into an apartment across the street from mine. She had qualified for 24-hour Medicaid home care. I was going to run a nursing home for one.
Charlotte Oti was the primary aid assigned to my mother’s case. For nine years, my mother had home health aids 24/7. During that time, many different aids were assigned to my mother’s case. There was no one who ever compared to Charlotte. She was my partner in my mom’s care. Even when Charlotte became a Certified Nurses Aid and started working in a nursing home, she was always there for me. She was the one person I could always depend on. Charlotte and her children are now an important part of my life; we are family.
It had been my plan to have my mother remain in the apartment and receive home care until she died. As the years passed, I missed the freedom I once had. I was well into my sixties and was beginning to feel like my life was passing me by. Friends encouraged me to move my mom to a nursing home, but I resisted. I changed my mind after an aid had a heart attack and died while caring for my mother. I realized how vulnerable my mother was. She was wheelchair bound and no longer could make a phone call.
The decision to move my mother to a nursing home was the hardest decision I ever made. I did extensive research and chose what was supposed to be one of the best nursing homes in New York. Getting a Medicaid bed for my mother was considered a major victory. She moved on June 1, 2013.
I was traumatized eight days later when I learned that while being transferred in a Hoyer lift by an inexperienced aid, my mother’s left arm had been broken, and her shoulder dislocated. I turned into a raving lunatic. Having given up my mother’s apartment, I had few choices.
Rather than move my mom again, I decided to keep her at the facility. I arranged for her to be transferred to a different pavilion where the supervising nurse was sympathetic to my concerns. I hired private companions to be with my mother ten hours a day. I sued the nursing home and used the money from the settlement to pay for the companions.
My mother was content. Her companions took her to concerts, the art studio, bingo and other activities offered at the home.
She was at the nursing home for ten months before she died in my arms in April 2014. It has taken all this time to be finally able to put a period on that chapter of my life.
The most important lesson I learned from my mother during my years as her caregiver was the power of a positive attitude and an appreciative nature.
My mother had an incredibly positive and upbeat attitude. She NEVER complained. This was her mantra: “I consider myself very lucky. At my age, I’m not in pain. I’m lucky because I’m never bored; I read and watch television selectively. I even count the taxis that are going down the street. I’m lucky because I’m VERY well taken care of thanks to my daughter.” Every time I find myself in a negative frame of mind, I give myself an attitude adjustment a la my mother.
My mother never asked for anything without saying “please” and she was quick with a “thank you.” She expressed her gratitude to me daily. She was kind to her aids, and they loved her for it. She enjoyed every morsel of every meal. She took pleasure in the smallest things.
As I start a whole new chapter of my life, I’ve been working on myself to become more like my mom.
As part of this summer’s countdown to my 70th birthday, I scheduled a series of doctor’s appointments. I’ve been fortunate health wise. I have no chronic conditions; I’ve never been hospitalized, and I’ve never had surgery. My intention is to keep it that way. I wanted t make sure that if there were any potential problems, I’d catch them at an early stage.
In the last two months, I’ve seen my eye doctor, general practitioner, dentist, and gynecologist. All delivered good news. “The cataract in your right eye hasn’t changed. No need for surgery.”“ Marian, your test results are good. Just keep doing what you’ve been doing.” No new prescriptions. No problems.
My most recent appointment was with my dermatologist. I was nervous before this one. I wondered if the stupid use of a sun reflector when I was in college and the endless hours I spent in the blazing sun during my years representing the scuba diving industry had done more serious damage than the freckles that dotted my skin. Were the hated bumps and blotches that had sprouted on my body like a garden out of control more than an annoyance?
My concerns were not unfounded. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
She determined that the blotches and bumps I loathed were Seborrheic Keratoses, common, non-contagious skin growths that can appear anywhere on the skin in middle-aged and older adults. (An unwelcome gift of aging????) Some people get just one. Most people have many. Too bad, I’m in the latter category.
According to the AAD, most Seborrheic Keratoses do not require care. However, they recommend you see a dermatologist if:
The growth grows quickly, turns black, itches, or bleeds (possible signs of skin cancer).
Many new skin growths suddenly appear. This can be a sign of cancer inside the body.
Your skin growth does not look like a typical seborrheic keratosis.
Your growth is dry, flat, rough, and scaly. It could be an actinic keratosis, which can progress to a type of skin cancer.
The growth is easily irritated, such as from shaving or clothes rubbing against it.
You want the growth taken off because you do not like how it looks. An option I may consider some time in the future for the blotches beginning to develop on my face.
There was only one spot, the size of a pinhead, which Dr. Travis said could be problematic and she wants me to watch. To me, it looked like just another freckle. She explained that it was much darker than my other freckles and that color was an important variable.
Before I left the office, I asked Dr. Travis the most important things people my age should do to keep our skin healthy and hopefully, cancer free. She said her recommendations would be the same for people of any age.
First and foremost, be sure always to wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. She also said that everyone should examine his or her skin regularly. She suggested that I visit the Skin Cancer Foundation website that has an excellent step-by-step guide for skin self-examination. I did that as soon as I got home, and I encourage anyone reading this to do the same.
All-in-all, it’s good to know that I’m as healthy as I feel.
As I countdown to my 70th birthday, I’ve been examining every facet of my life. I’ve got diet and exercise under control. Walking at least 10,000 steps a day has become a habit I plan to keep. I continue to take multiple yoga classes weekly. I’ve seen my primary care physician and had appointments for a bone density test and a mammogram. I’ve been to the dentist and had a full check-up and x-rays taken. I even consulted with a master of mystic sciences.
Next on my ‘to do’ list was a meeting with my financial advisor, Ronnie Blaufarb. What I like best about Ronnie is that he’s calm, patient and realistic. I spent the better part of a day with him and bombarded him with questions. Do I have enough money to feel secure as I age? Are there any changes I need to make to my investment portfolio? Should I continue to pay the premium for my long-term care insurance?
It was reassuring to hear that my years of saving and investing had left me in a secure position. Thanks in no small part to my rent-stabilized New York City apartment, my monthly retirement income will continue to cover my living costs and leave me with enough money to travel and enjoy my life.
Having been a self-employed consultant, I had to create my own retirement accounts. I chose to put a large portion of my assets into annuities because I wanted the peace of mind of knowing that I would have a steady income despite the vagaries of the financial markets. There’s nothing quite as comforting as having those checks along with my social security deposited into my checking account month after month.
The big decision I had to make was whether or not I wanted to continue to pay the premium for my long-term care insurance policy or to let it go.
I had received a letter from Genworth Financial, my insurance carrier, that they would be raising the premium for my policy by 60% and most importantly, that I should expect additional increases in the future. Oh Really??
My policy is part of the New York State Partnership for Long-Term Care, which had been heavily promoted. The lure of the Partnership was that if you used the benefits according to the conditions of the program, you could apply for Medicaid Extended Coverage, which would assist in paying for your on-going care but unlike regular Medicaid, would allow you to protect your assets.
It had sounded good, and I had budgeted for the premium in my financial plan. However, I did not anticipate gouging increases.
After running the numbers with Ronnie, and realizing how much the policy would cost me over time and which I might never actually use, I have decided to let the policy lapse.
The truth is, I have zero interest in being cared for on a long-term basis. I never want to see the inside of a nursing home, and I suspect that a good percentage of my generation feels exactly the way I do. My plan now is to come up with an exit strategy. Pills anyone??
Fitness experts advise people that when choosing a health club, convenience should be their number one priority. So, when it was announced that the 47 story building that was being constructed directly across the street from my apartment would include a health club, I joined before it opened. The Sports Club New York, first owned by Reebok now by Equinox, has been my home away from home for more than 20 years.
While I have used all the facilities of the Club at different times, it is the mind/body classes that are the core of my workout routine. The yoga studio is my dream come true. Big windows allow light to pour into the room, and the view of the Manhattan skyline is the antidote to my closed-in apartment.
Though I had taken many a yoga class before I joined the Club, I had not been exposed to Iyengar Yoga. It turned out to be just the right form of yoga practice for me. It is slower; poses are held longer, and props are used to help students achieve proper alignment. Depending on my schedule, I take 3-5 Iyengar classes a week. I also throw in a couple of gentle yoga classes for good measure. I have been taking the same classes, with many of the same students for 20 years. We are a community. During the decade that I was my mother’s caregiver, my yoga classes kept me sane.
In the last couple of years, I’ve added two additional techniques to my weekly list of classes. The first is Melt, which helps to rehydrate the connective tissue, rebalance the nervous system, and restore space to compressed joints. The other is Floor-Barre, which helps with alignment, correct muscle usage, and strengthening joints. I’m such a floor-barre fan that for my summer pre-70th birthday shape-up, I’m taking a Wednesday evening class that my instructor teaches at another studio.
I want to take this moment to thank all the teachers past and present who have helped to keep me flexible and grounded. They are Carol Foster, Cheryl Malter, Michelle Hill, Eve Holbrook, Robin Simmonds, Kavi Patel, Whitney Chapman, Jeanene Garro, Suzanne Taylor and Jodi Moccia
My mother told me that by the age of two, I was an expert at the Match Game. She would name one-half of a married couple, and I’d supply the name of the spouse. Marcie… and Murray. Evelyn… and Ira. Schendel… and Abram. Ruthie… and Manny. Corinne… and Aaron. Selma… and Nat. There was no fooling me. Ingrained at that very early age was the belief that adults lived their lives two-by-two.
Growing up, I thought a crucial element on the ‘to do’ list for my life was finding the Frick to my Frack, the Salt to my Pepper. It never occurred to me that I would live most of my life alone
When puberty hit I was at an all-girls junior high school, so there were no boys around; the search for Mr. Right was on hold. Though popular in high school and college, I was never one of the girls who had lots of boyfriends or dates.
Senior year in college, a crop of new engagement rings would appear on the fingers of friends after a holiday break. I hadn’t found my Mr. Right but I was sure he was out there somewhere. In the meantime, I’d go about the business of my life.
During my two years of service in the Peace Corps right after college, my focus was on my assignment, traveling, and learning about Filipino culture. I managed to find a couple of Mr. Wrongs that were fun to be with but offered nothing in terms of a future. Not to worry. I had time.
No pressure, right? Wrong! It would hit when I’d least expect it.
My parents came to see me while I was living in the Philippines. They spent two weeks visiting my assignment, meeting my friends and witnessing first hand how I had adjusted to life on the other side of the planet. We were saying our good-byes at the Manila airport when my mother leaned over and whispered to me, “I’m so proud that you’re doing so well as a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) but I can’t wait until you’re an MRS”. Would someone please shoot me!
Over the decades, there have been Mr.Wrongs, Mr. Okay for Nows and a Mr. Almost, who was in and out of my life for a dozen years. There was a time when I secretly suspected that the authors of the book Smart Women/Foolish Choices did their research while hiding in one of my closets.
I got used to being the third, fifth, seventh, etc. during gatherings as more and more of my single friends found Mr./Ms. Rights. My coffers would be in much better shape if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard: “You’re not married? How could that be”? “I wish I knew someone I could introduce you to.” “You must want to stay single or you would have found someone.” “Do you think maybe you’re too fussy”?
My lack of a Mr. Right did not stop me from living a rich and full life. I was not one of those sleeping beauties who was waiting around for a prince to come before I started living.
Yet, here I am at nearly 70 thinking it would be nice to have a Mr. Right in my life, which is a pretty tall order for a woman who hasn’t had a date in ten years. But hey, I’m ever the optimist. In the spirit of ‘God helps those who help themselves’, I joined Match dot com where I’ve been resoundingly unsuccessful.
So, should you happen to know an age-appropriate, healthy, financially secure, single man with loving children and grandchildren (Why not go for the whole enchilada??) who is affectionate, kind and generous; whose politics are left of center and who possesses both a great sense of humor and of adventure – do me a favor – send him my way.
In 1995, I was hired as a consultant to the Secretariat of the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women. My assignment was to partner with the in-house Senior Media Advisor, Patsy Robertson.
When I first met the dignified, impeccably groomed ‘Lady’ Robertson (my nickname for this remarkable woman), I told her how excited I was that my 50th birthday would occur when we were all in Beijing. Patsy looked directly into my eyes, put her hands on my shoulders and said, “My dear, a lady NEVER tells her age.”
She said it was acceptable for a woman to tell people when her birthday was, but it was nobody’s business how old she was going to be. I chose not to take her words to heart and continued to plan for a 50th birthday bash in Beijing. Gertrude Mongela, the Secretary-General of the Conference, heard of my plans and whispered in my ear one day that her 50th birthday was going to be the day after mine.
For ‘Lady’ Robertson age was something you did not discuss. For large numbers of women AND men, age was something you lied about. Thanks to Google, that option doesn’t exist anymore. With a couple of clicks, your date of birth is available for all to see.
One’s chronological age is fast becoming just a number. Pervasive stereotypes of how one should look, act, and feel at any given age need to fall by the wayside. Baby Boomers are reinventing aging.
Medical advances will make it possible for us to live longer. We’re more aware of the importance of exercise and nutrition. We want full, meaningful and vibrant lives. That’s exactly the kind of life I intend to have as I start my Golden Years.
This lady does tell her age. I’m going to be 70. It’s fun seeing the shocked expression on people’s faces and hearing their exclamations of surprise when they hear how old I am. “No way!” “You’re kidding, right?” “Really? Show me your driver’s license.” My favorite is “Shut up!!! You look younger than my mother.”