Dear Diary, just think about today

Dear Diary

By Francine Van, Guest contributor 

the beating of a pandemic pulse …today ….. a senior witness

We are now months into our isolation and my last writing about the arrival of a pandemic. Interesting that some of us have disregarded the virus as non-existent or just a flu, and others have secluded and hunkered into shelter in place orders, like we are at war with our neighbours.

Simply, seniors, strong or vulnerable, have witnessed the best of times and the worst of times. We have a point of reference. We know balance must exist in all areas of life as we know it. Instructions today have changed often with an overload of misinformation, so I understand the confusion. I also understand the newness of this situation in the world. I grow angry and feel hopeless. Navigating life is a new challenge. I get it. There is no cure. There is no safe.

We are on our own now to choose. And so, I understand the Black Lives Matter movement. I know the protests and need for them. I hope for goodness of change.

But, the days continue with increasing numbers of deaths reported, no longer the story of a life. We are lulled.

When I look out my window I see the peace of nature. When I go for a walk we step away from each other when passing. A shrug replaces a smile.

I lost my mom not to the virus, but to the natural end of her lovely being. Residing in long term care, I believe she knew things around her had changed. Today, her life was no longer comfortable with the imposed pandemic rules. I think she was ready to exit in her 95th year. I am glad she was never rushed.

Erasing a life seems our society norm. Return of her OHIP, passport, and closure of accounts has brought a sadness I never knew. Grief is different. A few boxes left on a table of a nursing home for me were her last possessions. Interesting what we keep till the end. My memory of her seems all I have left. Even if our society systems wish to expunge her existence, she forever lives in my heart. I will always remember standing at the end of her casket alone. I know others are also faced with this moment. These are our times.

Today I am reminded to treasure my day and let go of non-essential items that bring no joy.

Some days I watch movies and forget about the pandemic. I can do that. There is a record of society prior to now. It looks warm and strangers hug. I remember. Then I witness the news.

Today, I was driving and noticed a dead squirrel on the road; I cried. Another veil of sadness.

Projects and painting inside bring distraction and creativity. Contentment for a moment.

I go to the coffee garage on occasion to see my kids and stay socially distanced. My granddaughters watch me knowing we cannot hug. My daughter steps back as I hand over donuts. It is just a second of caution, but I notice. Today.

Fear emerges when I least expect it now. Has the grocery store become dangerous? Is there food?

Moments of joy surprise me. Healing brings a hug. I watch weddings and moments of love. I find myself emotional in a good way too and cry. A life after will come. Hope for tomorrow.

Today is History.


Posted in Ageing population, COVID-19 Pandemic, Quality of life, Social isolation | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Belle de Nuit ..… the darkness of this moment

By Francine Van, Guest contributor 

The Belle de Nuit is my depiction of both the darkness of this moment and the reminder there can be beauty opening in the night, just like this flower.

Seniors are facing an isolation with the Coronavirus, aka COVID-19 pandemic as spring arrives. A time for exiting our households has been put on hold to reflect and pursue new creative connections. I loved the video of an Italian group on lockdown singing in the evening on their balconies. Although isolation is different from social distancing, and both are different from loneliness, we find ourselves balancing our life spirits in a new way. Our contributions, as the largest volunteer group has come to a halt and a staycation for many.

Perhaps social distancing just might be my new excuse, even for future invitations. Before I had these words in my vocabulary, there were times I enjoyed being alone to pursue a craft, have a nap, or watch a movie. My group of friends all enjoy not having to explain why we have declined invitations, so we are enjoying reaching out by email with our social distancing observations and projects. Spring cleaning has been discussed as an option only during commercials, although not a necessity knowing we are unlikely to have unexpected guests.

YouTube has become popular for finding walking on the spot exercises, meditations, and yoga stretches. I have also been instructed to turn on some music and dance. Just keep moving.

But seriously, I am hoping to start a connection with this blog. Perhaps a funny story you can submit to our comments, best practices, a kindness story, and/or how you are filling your time? I would love to hear about the changed lives of seniors like me at this precarious time.

I am seeking new ideas and will share mine too. Without symptoms, restrictions, and healthy, I take a walk daily. For a new view, look up. I will tell you what I saw later.

Reminiscing my younger days, we lived with these limited store hours, there were no fast food places, or even many restaurants. Time seemed more relaxing or is it just my perception? Is mother earth looking after herself as I hear stories of reduced pollution? I feel reminded to be mindful of what I eat and what products I use during the day. I sense lasting changes.

To the Couches!

NOTE. Belle de Nuit (Lady of the Night or Beauty of the Night) earns it name from its flowers which open in the evening and close when touched by the morning sun. It is a tropical annual plant with origins in Latin America. The blooms are in a range of colours … yellow, white, pink, fuchsia, purple.


Posted in Coronavirus, COVID-19 Pandemic, Isolation, Loneliness | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Embracing All Seasons of Life

by Francine Van, Guest Contributor

Losing Life SpiritI arrived at this moment with age but know the feeling of loss of myself. It happens. The crucial question is how to preserve it and thrive.

Ageing brings forward the essence of life. Defining this spirit is impossible because of the uniqueness between us and I have learned the emotional weight we carry contributes to its demise. Families and friends layer burdens unintentionally in addition to doctors, grocers, transportation needs, or any other interaction. As a person in pea-time or the ripeness of my life, I decline the use of senior as an adjective to describe myself. Elder a little better at least implicates some wisdom in the matter. And ripe is defined as developed. I like it. This quote reminds me to embrace all seasons of life, not just the spring of our lives:

           “To be interested in the changing seasons is …a happier
           state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring”
           ~~ George Santayana

I found my spirit challenged a few months ago with medical tests, and the thought of knowing when the possible period at the end of my life sentence may come physically, decided to sit still. I realized the busyness I had created and allowed around me. Me, who is me now?

I stopped answering my phone, except to necessity, emailed those close to me that I was fine, and I was, just not well. I had no goal but to indulge myself. Some of the days I watched TV all day, movie after movie with a glass of wine or I sat and felt the wind.

But I continued two obligations a few days a week. One to a school lunch program and a half day volunteer gig with a retail re-cycler. I learned I had chosen well after numerous attempts volunteering for different causes. I found one as a cashier enjoying interaction with the public helping shoppers find deals in a restore. I also found a part time job at schools that offers the loving energy of children. Their hope and sincerity will lift anyone and their truth telling, like how old I am, punches directly at my ego. Talking with children has no room for self importance.

I took a month off. I stopped social engagements of any kind filtering them slowly back, but with limits. I found myself writing more, my passion, and working on some projects that have been laying around without progress. Needless to say, I found my spirit. Honestly, it is never really lost, just buried under the emotional weight or what I have come to define as death by a million cuts. I believed this to be part of ageing, but again, now realize it happens all though our lives.

Awareness and confidence are the only solutions. Awareness of how you are spending your time to ensure balance. I believe that in retirement the façade of the golden years, or fulfilling a notion of a perfect grandparent, or dedication to volunteering to help everyone in need, will drain you. Thus, the confidence in choosing your activities for the day to help you  thrive is the most important goal of each day. Learning to say ‘no’ is a requirement. Take time to feel the joy of life. I would never have guessed being on a school playground would bring light to my spirit, but it does and for now my life continues with a comma. It was only a pause after all.

Merry Christmas!
Merry Xmas
Hoping I find this spirit too.

Posted in ageing, Elder population, Quality of life, Retirement | Tagged , | 1 Comment

West Coast Wonder, a bucket list item

By Francine Van, guest contributor

The cab arrived in the darkness at three in the morning. I was off.

Zone six was never called. Forty minutes waiting to board I quietly checked into the gate with the few remaining passengers. I didn’t ask why. This was my final checkpoint in the people mover system created for airplane travel. It all starts with that first scan of arrival and you are captive under their control through their flow. We remove shoes, clothes, and belts to be compliant to their demands as well as answering the personal questions of why you packed nail clippers. Yes, I was asked this question apparently in conflict with regulations. It is the only way if you wish to reach your destination.

Still re-gathering my belongings and redressing I was pushed along through the people mover. As a senior, this process takes me longer than before as my mind wandered through the reasons why I was embarking on this journey that had been on my bucket list. Entering the aircraft, I squeezed into the directed aisle asking a flurried flight attendant how many people were on board. Her quick response indicated too many at four hundred. I could not see the end of the crowded aisle as anxiety set in. Further maintenance delays on the tarmac ensued while we sucked the air out of the cabin until finally, we made lift-off.

Taking in my surroundings and feeling the crush of my seat I realized this would be my world for a few more elongated hours. Where were the washrooms?

Toronto to Vancouver was my agenda, one that had been planned last year as a leisurely revisit to an old haunt, while I still could. Facing the honest reason for even creating a list before death, I knew I was into my “lasts”. Comfort is challenged for any person flying, so with age even with health, it can absolutely incapacitate. Time itself on board pushes personal limits both emotionally and physically. Add the delays, turbulence, and food, and you have an over-whelmed elder. But I sat tight.

The landing uneventful, the vision of the stunning mountain views brought comfort, but with arrival I knew this trip would be a final. I would not again endure this distress feeling dehydrated and dizzy. Interesting in reference, so many times now I find myself thinking something will be my “last”… like the car I purchased. I remember my parents saying these things many years ago and I scoffed at their silliness. Now I get it.

Going back in time zones I found my friends for lunch although I craved any food now, it being the dinner hour for me.

Vancouver had changed over the years, over ten to be exact, yet the west end English Bay area remained intact. I enjoyed walks through quaint neighbourhoods admiring the spring flowers in bloom, their season well ahead of the east. Beaches mixed with the urban seemed more disjointed than my memories. Construction predominated the landscape in this city now. A ferry to Bowen Island offered the majestic peak scenes and glacier waters for a new scenic view.

I changed hotels several times, learning that trusting the internet can bring unacceptable accommodation. We expect comfort at this age but more importantly, safety. Comic memories of walking the streets rolling luggage in search of the next hotel, while stopping for washroom breaks at restaurants reminds me of travel hazards. Without expectations for this adventure I enjoyed meeting up with old friends, sharing some meals, we perhaps cackled a little too loudly in restaurants, hearing sometimes an issue too. Updating about our new lives it was most interesting to learn a friend who had been laid off from her advertising job in her late fifties found wealth in the newly legalized pot industry. She also found a new young beau and her stories were hilariously interesting, especially when she confessed being on the no-fly list.

I won’t mention the details of the return flight. I am rehydrated now.

Years fly by too quickly, but good times are still to be had. Enjoy your journey and for me that might be in theory only, although I do wonder if I have the courage and strength to take one last desired trip.

Never say Never.

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Bussing Along the Atlantic …A Bucket List Item

By Francine Van, Guest Contributor

What had I been thinking, I mused in the travel queue waiting to board.

The noise level heightened with my anxiety listening to the excited chatter around me. Fourteen days with these strangers jarred my sensibility. The Atlantic Ocean had been calling me for years and, now retired, I was ready for a new adventure. The time was now, but this exploration would perk a different experience than I had expected.

Finally seated and settled, I noticed a spattering of mature ages giving way to excuses for not remembering names. I began an association name game for my future reference. British Bob and his wife sat in front of me and quiet Quinn across the aisle. We forced conversation to connect. Nothing like telling a stranger your personal secrets.

Eagerness was in the air as our bus departed.

The enthusiasm then deflated for a late arrival at our first city stop of Montreal. Bodies cramped we were restless to disembark. After finding dinner and a quick sleep it seemed only hours later we were back on the coach. Our disenchantment reflected in our faces through the shaded glass windows exiting the city that day.

The tour guide promised a more relaxing break in Old Quebec City for a restful lunch and shopping. She promised a meander through the cobblestone streets with the recommendation of good walking shoes. We unfortunately arrived on St. Jean Baptiste Day, a Quebec National holiday. The busy streets had detours through the road-closure mazes, which caused lengthy delays. This time the late arrival went unmentioned by our guide who smiled providing pamphlets with many suggestions for sight-seeing. Yet she cut the time frame allotted. Motivated with maps in hand and running shoe laces tied, we whirled in all directions searching for our mid-day meal. I found a coffee shop with quaint views while waiting in the long lineup. Time up, I rushed back. I saw others had returned with coffee and snacks like me. Conversations between bites indicated restaurant line ups were too long to wait, but grateful to have food our road trip continued.  This was not the romantic lunch I had been offered. A gnawing concern crept into my thoughts or was it hunger.

Onward toward St. Simeon to ferry across the St. Lawrence we were informed there would be no stops to ensure our timely arrival. We snoozed through the three-hour journey of trees having been assured there was a restaurant on board. Breathtaking water sights appeared during the crossing, however many of us scurried to locate the back-kitchen-style restaurant. A spicy homemade soup was available, which was not to my liking, but famished I thankfully ate. Evening arrival at our Riviere-du-Loup hotel was on schedule for this holiday, but closure of the nearby restaurant and grocery store was not. Our hotel eatery took reservations but were booking well into the night. I passed and with laxer pants started to realize I just might be on a diet tour. The next morning Mediterranean Mary offered me peanuts she had found at the bar. I accepted. Might be a lunch for later.

The coach pushed through scrub land with minimal time for relaxed breaks. Although not an expert driver of the area, I questioned the remote road choices. Service centres or grocery marts were the chosen stops by this tour operator as we foraged for food. Everyone seemed to be stocking piling the overhead bins and I was not the only one buying Rolaids. A delicious rushed dinner was enjoyed in Miramichi, the first with fish that was not breaded and a vegetable side that was not coleslaw. Although this appeared a favourite in the Maritimes it just might have been our meal stops. At a kitchen party we were entertained with some history, jokes and the spoons. Delightful but no food.

Our tribe began straying in groups. Familiarity was found between individuals like the smokers, the single women with roaming Rex, and the couples. Bonding was happening on the bus.

The next stop in Shediac was for a lobster dinner and cruise but reviewing the itinerary I noticed a difference from the brochure, now noted as a lobster “experience.” An open hauler with picnic tables awaited. A dumbfounding demonstration of how to determine the sex of your lobster occurred while they boiled on the rear deck. The whole creature with the familiar coleslaw side and a stale bun landed on our plastic plates. I detected butter in the bun basket, but my co-traveller mentioned the meagre one allotment per person. I complied not wanting issues with my hungry friends. My diet theme continued when my eyeballs became riveted on this  creature from God, now too close for comfort. Not everyone can eat lobster Acadian style.

Eastward bound, comfortable rhythms now enveloped the afternoons of silent dozing with old movies playing on the overhead screens and munching from the stored processed food. Our arrival on the Confederation Bridge into P.E.I. impressed a second glance at the longest eight-mile bridge in the world over ice covered water. The Anne of Green Gable luncheon, “reminiscent of the era”, per the brochure, was a brown bag lunch. A ham sandwich was offered with a raspberry cordial which kept the advertising in check. Was I the only one feeling a little cheated on this advertised foodie tour?

Spectacular scenic views came in Cape Breton, the Cabot Trail a unique experience. I had finally found the pictures in the advertising. I made it. I weighed less, had vertigo from the bus, and digestive problems, but I made it.

Capers are the known slang for individuals from Cape Breton, and if you visit but are not from there, you’re a come-from-away person.

In transit to Halifax I realized Canada has more uninhabited regions than I ever imagined. My novel family nodded our daily greetings when boarding and enjoyed our regular, jovial Jim telling his jokes. One morning he offered a vow renewal ceremony with his spouse of sixty-four years, claiming he was only fifty-six. She did not appreciate his openness on their anniversary, and when asked if she would retake her husband, she replied she would think about it. The moment did not go as planned and he confirmed it had not been an easy road with her. I appreciated the humour to start the day.

En route to picturesque Peggy’s Cove several women came to the back of the bus to show me their swollen ankles. A quiet revolt had been developing in the rear seats; we needed to get off.

I ditched the tour on day ten with two others and booked a one-way flight home. The coach was continuing, but my body would no longer co-operate. I needed to end the diet. With baggy pants I said my good-byes and remember one final comment from roaming Rex, “take me with you.”

I received a smiles questionnaire from my tour operator upon parting, however I could not smile in response, I laughed instead. I had survived.

Posted in Bucket List, Golden Years, Quality of life, Retirement hobbies | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Walking into Age …Have you Loved Enough?

By Francine Van, Guest Contributor

I live a simple life, my place has basic needs without the richness of excess, although for me, it houses so many life treasures both lived and unlived.  I feel the gratitude of pure luck being born in this country, at this time in the universe, or was it all intended just as it is?  Stories from other countries cannot be ignored when pushed into your face telling of despair and desperation.  Neglect and terror scream for focus and I am reminded of the luxury of even considering a search for purpose.  Survival is purpose for many.  When we are young, this society and school pushes reform into the norm, yet individuality is what we seek as we grow. Be different is good advice. Age brings wisdom, as popularity loses importance.

I pray for the children that never know the meaning of love.  Hostages for a human race that kills its own and kills our habitat sincerely keeps me in question.  The possibilities and technology available, with a new generation more compassionate, gives hope our abilities can overcome.  We can create a new world with balance and union.  Globalization is a key requirement. Contributions to the cause are becoming visible spraying hope in new places and people. Watching societies put focus on helping “one” and saving “one” yet will turn away when hundreds of thousands are killed, raises concern. No discussion needed, we all know the answer.  I will not be here to see the result in this body.

Death, in contrast forecasts change in perception.  Can death be love?  Our elders, including myself, express desire to exit without waiting for natural pathways to death. Life swerves and for some the road is too difficult to bear. Death appears to be the freedom from the burdens of this life, and even if not burdened, the promise of a rebirth to a better space of energy. The fear of how you will die seems more fearful than the dying itself. Our world is over populated with new threats of death. There are no saviours. We are living in a war zone; it is just not identified as a structured war. There is no exit from death. We are all on this road.

For now, find a level of contentment. When love exudes through your pores, know this vibration of contentment can be achieved as the norm.  This aliveness secret can be lost in our busyness of life but was known by many of our historic teachers giving advice to live in awareness and mindfulness.

Have you loved enough?

Posted in Elder population, Quality of life, Retirement | Tagged , | 2 Comments