I’ve Got the Qualified for Medicare Blues

This morning, after I changed my calendars to the new month, I slipped my shiny new Medicare card and my new Blue Shield Medicare prescription card into my wallet. Although my birthday isn’t until next week, the change in health insurance starts today. This is not something I volunteered for. I was perfectly happy with regular Blue Shield. When you turn 65, the U.S. government requires you to switch whether you want to or not. Now I don’t know what is covered and what is not, and I’m not thrilled with the implication that as of today I am old.

Having no children or grandchildren, I don’t have the usual markers of aging. Surely experiences like raising children or watching your daughter give birth mark your progress along the track of life, but that hasn’t happened. No one is coming up behind me with my name and my DNA, nudging me into seniorhood. In many ways, I don’t feel grown up at all. When I see an accurate photograph of myself, I think there must have been a mistake. I get that I’m not the slim, long-haired vixen of 1972, but who is this motherly-looking person staring back at me? And why is she two inches shorter than she used to be? I can tell myself all day long that our bodies are just containers for our spirits, which are ageless, but it’s hard to believe when I’m pretty sure everybody else sees the old woman, not the young spirit. They also think I’m “retired,” but that term is meaningless in my profession.

My birthday, next Thursday, scares the hell out of me. Will I end up celebrating it alone? God, please, not again this year. When I was young and married to a man with a day job, I would typically run away somewhere for the day, a park, a historical monument, a zoo, someplace to explore on my own, then reunite that evening with husband and family for birthday dinner, cake and presents. If this blasted winter weather ever clears up, I could still run away for the day, but there’s no one waiting for me when I get home. That, my friends, is the hell of being childless, widowed and alone.

But nobody knows what’s going to happen in life. I could have had six children and 13 grandchildren and had none of them stick around. Fred could still be alive but not healthy enough to do anything. Or I could be the one who is not healthy and not able to enjoy my birthday. My father will turn 95 on May 1, two months from now. If my brother and I can’t get away from work to make the trip to San Jose, he might be alone, too, despite having two children, two grandchildren and a growing flock of great-grandchildren. You don’t know. Nobody knows.

One of the comments on my recent post about religion noted that the writer believes her life is turning out the way God planned it. I suspect mine is, too. And so will yours. I don’t know if you believe in God or destiny or anything that controls what happens in your life. (Do you? Tell us about it in the comments.) But nobody gives us a copy of the plan, the one that says, at 22, she’ll marry and at 28, that marriage will end in divorce, or at 33, he’ll announce that he doesn’t want kids and you’ll have to decide whether or not to leave him, and you will decide . . . what will you decide?

My therapist, who recently retired, urges clients to do what they’re “drawn to.” In other words, what feels right, what pulls you in, what does your gut say? People ask me what they should do when their partner waffles on the baby question. I really don’t know. I know what I did. Was it a mistake or was that the plan all along?

I know without question that God made me a writer and a musician. I was doing both from a very young age, even though I came from a working class family that did not understand or support the arts. I’m still a writer and a musician with a long history of achievements in both areas. I am not at all sure I could have done those things while raising children. Perhaps I am living the plan, and my solitude at 65 will lead to my best work yet.

Back to you. If you don’t have kids, you could wind up alone. Or you could wind up surrounded by friends, family, stepfamily, co-workers, neighbors, and fans, so many people you wish they would leave you alone. Nobody knows. However it turns out, you will deal with it. Will you regret it if you don’t have children? Yes, sometimes you will. But will there be other rewards? Yes, I’m sure of it.

Because it’s my birthday month, I’m offering you a present. A native American friend of mine has demonstrated the glory of the potlatch, where she showers her friends with gifts on her birthdays. I could never match her generosity, but I am offering a major book sale. For the month of March, you can buy paperback copies of Childless by Marriage, Shoes Full of Sand, Freelancing for Newspapers, and the original edition of my novel Azorean Dreams for $6.50 each, including shipping and handling. That’s less than half price. The first five people to order will also receive a copy of The Dog Ate It, a limited-edition chapbook full of poems and photos about dogs. To order these books at the special price, go to this page at my suelick.com website. Do not go to Amazon.com, where they are still charging full price. This does not apply to my e-books. They are already deeply discounted. Help me clear out the old books to make room for the new ones to come.

Thank you for being part of the conversation here. You are a wonderful gift to me every day of the year.

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I am the Keeper of the Family Keepsakes



I sit on a folding chair in my garage surrounded by the leftovers of several people’s lives. This weekend I am holding a garage sale, where I hope to finally get rid of these things and make a little cash. The wares include 200 vinyl records, four cases of CDs, several piles of books, an electric typewriter, two FAX machines, darkroom equipment, Christmas decorations, wine glasses, mugs, and more. I have a basket of refrigerator magnets and knickknacks to give away. Where did it all come from? Some of it was mine, some my late husband’s, but a lot comes from his mother, father and brother, all deceased. All of the things that weren’t taken in the initial rush after they died have ended up with me.
There’s lots more in the house. I’m not ready to sell it, at least not yet, not my mother’s sheet music, my mother-in-law’s china, my grandmother’s tea cups and her rocking chair, boxes and boxes of photographs, slides and movies, more crocheted afghans than I have beds, and some of my husband’s clothing that I can’t let go. I seem to be the inheritor of everything. I give away or sell as much as I can. I distribute things to other family members, but I am still the keeper, the curator, the guardian of what’s left that is too precious to sell or give away.
I’m sentimental. I admit it. I can attach significance to the most seemingly insignificant things. The adorable little copper cup in which I keep my paper clips was part of my husband’s shot glass collection. I look at it and remember our antique store expeditions, so many happy days. Reminders of Fred are everywhere in this house, blended with my own cluttered collection of keepsakes.
I know people who would toss it all in a dumpster and forget it about it. Every sign of the lost loved one would disappear. I fear that’s what will happen to my own stuff when I die.
I have written a will and allotted the house, car, money and other big things to my stepchildren, my niece and nephew, and a couple favorite charities, but what will happen to the little things like pictures and jewelry? I suppose it will be thrown away or put out in a yard sale like I’m doing this weekend. I’m the end of my branch of the family tree. As a childless woman, why do I bother keeping photos and souvenirs? Who am I saving it for?
I’m saving it for me. Seeing these things, having these things makes me happy. It would be wonderful to have grown children to step in and take care of things when I’m incapacitated or dead, but I don’t. Still, I don’t see it being much different from what happened to my grandfather’s house and everything in it: dumpster, yard sale, relatives taking home what they wanted. He had children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Parent or not, the process ends up being the same. The only difference is who’s doing it and whether it’s a chore or a labor of love.
People who have children always tell me you can’t count on your kids to step in, so make yourself a will, choose an executor (my brother is mine), and make your wishes known as much as you can. Meanwhile, go ahead and save what makes you happy, just for you. Why not?
Have you inherited your loved one’s things? What did you do with them? Do you worry about what will happen to your things if you don’t have children? Let’s talk in the comments.Meanwhile, if you’re near South Beach, Oregon on Friday or Saturday, come see me.

Copyright 2014 Sue Fagalde Lick

One-year-olds, canine vs. human


Chico and Annie are a year old today. They’re dogs. This is one case where things are definitely different between pets and children. I have a photo of my niece Susan covered in white frosting, her arms and legs chubby and tanned in her striped sunsuit. The whole family gathered at her maternal grandmother’s house to celebrate the occasion. Another picture shows my brother cuddling her in his lap. You can see the resemblance, the same dark eyes and black hair, the lips so like my mother’s. She’s learning to walk and talk, and everyone adores her.

Folks adore my puppies, too. My church choir friends even gave me a puppy shower when I adopted them last April. But asking them to attend a birthday party would probably be pushing things, especially after all the support they have given me in other aspects of my life lately. So it’s just the pups and me. I can’t bake them a cake. Any gift I gave them would be shredded all over the back yard before the sun sank into the sea. All I can do is hug them and say, “Wow, you’re a year old. We made it.” They’re housetrained, and all the odd things they have eaten and excreted have not killed them yet. They’re a long way from becoming calm, mature dogs, But even when they grow up, they will never be like my niece, who is a young adult now, beautiful, smart and old enough to build a life away from her parents. Chico and Annie will be my cherished friends but never my children.

Nor are they Fred’s children. My dear husband, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, is living in a care home now after a series of falls that led to two days in the hospital and 14 days in a nursing home where he wasn’t allowed to leave his wheelchair even though he could walk. He is in a good place now, a beautiful place in the hills above Newport where he is well cared for and loved for his sweet, easygoing nature. However, the dogs are not allowed inside, so I haven’t taken them there. To be honest, he is already forgetting them. He doesn’t even remember that he fell the first time trying to corral them after they escaped from the back yard. Why he fell two more times two days later, we don’t know. Back spasms? A small stroke? Now he has Lucy, who roams the yard at Graceland and nuzzles against his pants and shoes when he ventures out for short walks on his unsteady legs.

Fred’s son Michael has been here off and on during our transition. Everyone gets to know him quickly because he is six foot four, with a unique hairstyle, and he’s usually the only person under 50 not wearing a nursing smock. Michael is good with his father, helpful and caring, thinking of just the right thing to do or say. His presence is a blessing to both of us. This crisis has brought us closer than we have ever been, with very honest talks, not so much as mother and son but as two adults hurting over someone we both love.

Everyone says you can’t count on your children to help you in your old age, that that’s not a good reason to have kids. True. In fact, on “family day” at Newport Rehab, I was often the only visitor. Grace, an immigrant from China who runs Graceland, shakes her head at this. “In my country, we honor our elders. I don’t understand.”

I don’t either.

Anyway, happy birthday, Chico and Annie. Michael isn’t too happy with them because they just woke him up. But when he’s gone back to Portland, I’ll have them to snuggle with, and that’s something.

My thanks to everyone who has sent good wishes and prayers during this difficult time. Our troubles are not over, of course. Fred still has Alzheimer’s, and now we’re living in separate homes. I’m visiting every day and overseeing prescriptions, insurance, and countless other details, but God has taken Fred out of my hands and put him into the care of many capable hands, and that’s a blessing.