Octo Observations: Blessings and Learning Curves

Thanksgiving  Day 2020 is upon us…a very unusual Thanksgiving  for most Americans. How easy it is to grumble and groan. We cannot do as we wish. We are advised against traveling from state to state; we should not gather together with family and friends, in large numbers; we cannot enjoy a plethora of hugs, carefree conversation and close contact. Covid-19 safety rules are tantamount….indeed necessary.

Take heart! Effective vaccines will soon be launched. Hopefully in another six months, the world will return to normal. December 10th is the date the FDA meets to approve vaccines’ release! Endless Thanksgiving  blessings to each scientist and researcher. Can you imagine the sheer relief they feel about surpassing previous records to achieve an effective life-saving vaccine? Some, like measles and polio, took ten years to develop.

Nonetheless, 2020 will  forever linger as one of our most challenging years, certainly in my life time. I love the words of Ray Davis, a now deceased musician, “A challenge only becomes an obstacle when you bow to it.” And challenges present learning curves. From the moment we are born, we are faced with a lifetime of them. Some are steeper than others; some are more readily ascended, and some are very, very difficult. But from each experience, we emerge stronger and more resilient.

Think of the pure joy that young parents feel when their baby is born. Such delight, such pride, such awe….like no other that God gives us.

With first babies, we parents are tasked with a significant learning curve….unless, of course, we are equipped as experienced older siblings. However, for many, this newborn baby business catapults us into unexplored adventures. And in retrospect, I recall how incredibly naïve my husband and I were when our first baby was born. To this day, I call Allison our little “miracle child” because she survived the myriad mistakes of her ridiculously uninformed mom and dad. Without Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care book at my fingertips, I would not  have known how to burp a baby! Then, when our GP doctor in upstate New York told me to put Allison on three meals a day, I thought he meant breakfast of Gerber rice cereal at 4:30 or 5 a.m.

Fast forward 60 years: I find myself, a lucky survivor of many steep learning curves, now, smack in the midst of a new one. My last article, “In Sickness and in Health,” revealed my husband’s health issues. Degenerative disc disease exacerbated by moderate Alzheimer’s. Each day presents a different challenge. And ten days ago John  took a bad tumble when his walker hit the curb outside our cottage. Even with our helper at John’s side, the  fall occurred. Luckily, no real damage…just two superficial, nasty wounds on his left arm and leg….carefully monitored by our head nurse.

This fall was #12 since Covid-19 descended. With each one I notice a decrease in John’s cognitive acuity.  For those of you loving and caring for a spouse with this condition, may I send you my love…..flexibility is a necessity, as we never know what will happen next. We must stay vigilant….often we hear disconnected thoughts that to us may make no sense, but to the person saying them, they mean a lot.

For example, John decided yesterday that in order to use his electric shaver, he needed to apply shaving cream to his face first. “Honey, that is only for straight razors, not electric ones.” To convince him otherwise was impossible, until it dawned on me to distract him. I asked him how he would like French Toast for breakfast. “Oh yes, I love that!” So, distraction worked……until this morning when he decided again to use shaving cream on his face with his electric razor. Light bulb moment. I resorted to Google help, read the facts to him, and for now he understands.

Something so simple to us is difficult for an afflicted person to perceive. Hence, more and more I am learning that when John asks me half a dozen times each morning where we are, where is our house, when are we going home, I realize he truly is sincere. Patience and good humor are essential, as all caretakers will attest. When we consider that we have no idea how it must feel to live inside our loved one’s brain, we are chastened…..understanding flows.  After all, isn’t that what we would want our spouse to give to us, “if the shoe were on the other foot?”

This Thanksgiving I think of all elderly folks who are confined to Heath or Memory Care units of their facilities. Here at Cedarfield there are currently a dozen Covid-19 patients. This feels like a huge number, especially after months of no cases. As a result, no family members, not even a spouse, is allowed to visit. Even on Thanksgiving Day. To me, this is the saddest aspect of this virus. And this is why I will fight tooth and nail to keep my husband here in our cottage with me. 

As for those of us in independent living, we are told we may have two relatives or friends visit us between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., only ONCE, from Thanksgiving day through next Sunday. That prevents visits from  far away families, even those living within the same state. How do you ask your son or daughter to leave their children behind on a holiday weekend? You do not. You count your blessings that they are in your lives and accessible via technology.

As we have said before, thank heavens for Facetime, Zoom, telephones and texting, blessings of the highest order for all of us isolated old folks. Even young families are being super cautious as their college students are tested before leaving campus. We are all learning, regardless of our ages.

A few weeks ago our younger son, who last month received a happy promotion within his corporation, phoned us as he drove home. “So how is it going, Charley?” “I am working like mad on the learning curve, mom.” True!!! This is not a first  for him. Truth be told any new job or situational challenge requires unwavering attention and a receptive mind. “Good thing, Charley, this is not your first learning curve. You have managed many before and always triumphed. Dad and I know you can do it.”

If you find yourself  separated from loved ones this Thanksgiving, and you slip into a bit of a slump, flip your attitude switch to “ON” and consider what you can do to light up someone else’s life. Reaching out to others is a proven panacea. The following is a true story, worthy of sharing.

On Saturday as I was at our local Publix market pushing my cart down the coffee-tea aisle a voice said, “Hello, I wish you a happy day.” Turning my attention from Tazo teas toward the greeting, I saw a friendly, masked MUCH younger lady. As I reacted with surprise to her kindness, she revealed, “I am an unemployed professional clown. And because of Covid,  I can’t go to nursing homes, children’s hospital wards, private parties or anywhere to do my thing. And I miss it terribly…my husband told me to figure out other ways to connect with people. So, I have decided to be spontaneous to strangers, and it helps.” Having never met a professional clown before, I was enchanted.

This lady and I chatted for a few minutes, and as we parted, I said to her, “Thank you for making my day lots brighter!” Her eyes twinkled, and for sure she was smiling ‘neath her colorful mask.

Lucky me to be the recipient of a random blessing during  this peculiar Thanksgiving week. Maybe something happily unexpected will happen to you or maybe you can do something spontaneous for someone else. Having met this woman, I have felt much brighter and out from under myself. Such a simple thing, but so meaningful. Perhaps she sensed that this older woman was wallowing a smidge. Perhaps this was a touch of divine intervention. No matter what, it worked, and I am counting my blessings daily, which are truly manifold. In the words of Rev. Dr. Allen Hilton of Austin, Texas, whom we are fortunate to know and admire: “Life gets better in a hundred ways when we live grateful.”

And one more tidbit! I just reached up to replenish paper for my printer and found another little heart message posted on the inside of my desk cupboard. When all four of our beloved Originals were here in early October, daughter Seattle Susie surreptitiously hid Post It notes around our cottage…..only to be found after she, her sister and two brothers left. What a beautiful blessing she has given me over and over. Thank you so much, sweet Susie!

Wishing each of you, wherever you are, a glorious Thanksgiving  day, filled with virtual hugs and the realization that steep learning curves and wonderful family and friends create a special feast unto themselves. 

As the Canadian folk song singer Willie Nelson said, “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” 

And in the words of Meister Eckhart, whom I do not know: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”  


Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.

Top photo: Bigstock

About Joy Nevin (68 Articles)
Joy Nevin was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. She graduated from Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights, attended Connecticut College for Women for two years until she married John Nevin in 1957. Four children later, with twelve corporate moves in 20 years, the family learned flexibility. In 1990, with a nearly empty nest, Joy and John moved to Richmond, Virginia where they put down roots. Now in her eighties, Joy is the author of “Get Moving: A Joyful Search to Meet and Embrace Life Transitions” (2002) and “Joy of Retirement: Live, Love and Learn” (2015). Since 2016 she has written numerous articles for Woman Around Town on downsizing, moving to a retirement facility and her current series, Octo Observations. She is also a proud Grammy of nine, great grandmother of two…..AND forever grateful to Charlene Giannetti for supporting her passion for writing!