Octo Observations: Loose Ends

Some insider information: when responding to a query as to where ideas for Octo Observations originate, I heard myself chuckle and say that today’s story sprang to mind while washing my hair. Who would ever guess! Inspired by split ends in need of trimming? Was it because the blood flow was refreshing my brain, hence a fleeting thought of “loose ends?” Who can know, but at least the happy outcome is that this feels like a worthy topic to ponder.

According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, “loose Ends” refers to a fragment of unfinished business, job or story.” First coined in the year 1546, this expression has been around infinitely longer than any living soul. I do not know how it started or why. But truth be told, we all have bits and pieces of tasks left to do. I believe that some of us old(er) folks are more aware of them simply because we are running out of time on earth. Younger folks may be able to prioritize and set “loose ends” aside as they deal with imminent deadlines requiring immediate attention.  We old guys don’t have that luxury. 

SO, what are the “loose ends” in our lives? Probably each of us can think of a few. For example, with the holiday season a few weeks away, we are beginning to make or finalize plans. Many families are booking airline reservations for Thanksgiving, the most traveled holiday of the year. Others are corralling close friends to gather at home or a favorite restaurant. Some are undecided, not really sure how they will spend the holiday. Nevertheless, Thanksgiving is a historic tradition that includes ALL Americans, regardless of race or religion. We each have blessings to remember and count.

Large family gatherings can be great glorious fun. Most are, but just because folks are related by either blood or marriage, not all are naturally compatible. Sad but true; as one dear friend remarked many years ago, “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.” We can, however, show respect to everyone regardless of our private opinions. As my mother always said, “The cream rises to the top.”

As an avid listener of Sirius talk radio on weekday afternoons while in the car, I tune in Dr. Laura Schlesinger, a noted California therapist. Her style is direct. She does not mince words. She can be abrasive, but occasionally she is sympathetic and thoughtful. Most always, her advice is 95% on target. Over the years I have learned volumes from her. One of her frequently asked questions is how to deal with family members who either create or absorb problems. With holidays approaching Dr. Laura will again counsel concerned callers about possible challenges of their Thanksgiving get togethers. Dr. Laura’s advice is “either get over it or don’t go.” Simple solution.

The reason I like Dr. Laura is that she does not leave any “loose ends.” She zeroes in on her callers, tells them to assume responsibility for their own actions. In three or four short minutes, she identifies an issue. She can discern if the caller truly wants answers or is merely ventilating feelings. She does not waste time. Rarely does she hang up without exerting effort to give sage advice. She believes a relationship can either be salvaged or discarded. But either way, there is resolution. There is closure, and life moves on.

Some of us have “dangling” relationships, either with a family member or a friend. Sometimes life takes a U-turn, and we go in different directions. This is normal. And when those of us who have moved all over the country during our lives leave for a new home, it is impossible to keep up with all folks who have meant something to us. But that is why Christmas cards help. That is why a birthday card can speak volumes. Even an occasional note does the trick and keeps the “loose ends” from unraveling.

My heartfelt belief is that if a person is truly important to us, we don’t let her or him disappear from our lives. We make the extra effort to stay in touch, either by phone, email, text or personal visit. For example, reaching out to someone, asking questions, sharing personal news, thoughts from the heart, signals intent to maintain the alliance. If an earnest effort goes unacknowledged, it equals unfinished business. A loose end. It only takes a minute to let someone you care about KNOW that you DO care! A quick response is better than none. Think how you would feel if you reached out to an empty space.

Happily, children can learn early on how to avoid “loose ends.” They can be taught to say thank you for an act of kindness. They can draw pictures or write simple notes of appreciation. Grandparents love that…so do aunts, uncles and cousins….and friends. A life-long habit of thankfulness never goes unnoticed.

Receiving an unexpected text or call from a beloved chickiepie makes my heart soar. Just last night, our twenty-year old granddaughter, a sophomore at a North Carolina college, called. “Hi, Grammy! How are you and Pop? Guess what, my friends and I are off to find Hallowe’en costumes, and I will send you pictures, for sure.” On Sunday afternoon, our youngest grandson, a senior at Washington State University, initiated Face Time with his grandfather and me to update us on his job search. Friday there was a quick text from our 22 year-old professional ballerina granddaughter before her opening night performance at The Kennedy Center….so thoughtful. And we can’t forget the plethora of pictures of our toddler great-granddaughter at a Boston mall wearing her adorable ghostie costume. Each of these thoughtful acts reflects a subliminal effort to avoid any “loose ends.” And of course, these young people did so unaware they would be mentioned in this story. So wonderful. 

An unavoidable reality is that grandparents are not forever alive and well. Time is sacred. When we feel the love of young people, we know that no matter how many hurdles they may have yet to vault, they have learned the importance of thinking beyond themselves. Applause to them, and to their parents for helping them grow into caring young adults.

Consider a different thought: on a practical level, we older folks need to be sure that we are tying up every loose end while we can. What do I mean? I believe we must do all possible to plan for whatever lies ahead of us in our last years. Yes, a recurrent theme with me, and as a reader, you have heard references to our taking charge of our future before the future takes charge of us. Do not put off making a will. Do not stall about updating it periodically. Make sure whatever assets you have are well managed. Be cognizant of inheritance laws. Don’t leave anything in limbo. Downsize your house or apartment, even if you decide to keep living in it. Unload unnecessary possessions. Tell your loved ones how much they mean in every way possible….by your words and actions.

Take time to itemize on paper or iCloud document the treasures you want each of your loved ones to have, such as family heirlooms, special jewelry or furniture. This is a loose end that is easily remedied while you are alive, and so much easier for your loved ones after you are gone. I have a list…and even now, I have gifted granddaughters or daughters with trinkets that I no longer wear. IF they want them, fine, if not, at least it will be one less “thing” for them to unload when I am gone. 

“Loose Ends” can be perplexing if they remain untied. Each of us has our own ideas of what they are. For me, probably the most salient loose end centers on relationships. Silly to waste time harboring angst. I want to do all I can to mitigate it. If a loved one seems unable to overcome his or her challenges, I want to keep the door open to conversation. It may not be easy. Someone has to be the grownup. I nominate us. We know our days are precious.

A true confession: my most unforgettable, regrettable loose end occurred during my twenties. My adored father was afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease even before I graduated from high school. For many years, he fought valiantly, and I kept believing he would recover. Children don’t contemplate the demise of parents. Sadly, I did not see daddy during his final year. He was bed ridden. He and my mother lived in Ohio and my husband and I lived with our little ones in Maine. Travel was difficult, phone calls were rare. Letters were the norm. But no matter. I will never forget that I ignored one loose end that could not be tied up. I did not make the effort to go to Ohio until receiving my mother’s frantic phone call that my father had pneumonia and was in the hospital. If only I had not waited so long, I might have had more than a final half hour with him. He died within minutes of my arrival at the hospital. Too soon, too fast… to say a proper goodbye.

You understand this message, so I won’t belabor it. Allow me, please, to leave you with a parting thought. My father adored Winston Churchill, a man of incredible intellect whose wisdom is for each of us. Although we can’t predict the future, we can try to be prepared. Take time to consider your own “loose ends.” Don’t procrastinate. Make each day count. As Mr. Churchill said, “It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link of the chain can be handled at a time.” And one link at a time is doable. 

Thank you, Mr. Churchill, for another bit of valuable insider information.

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

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