All Things Aging

This is a HOPE Day

Today is a beautiful day – my favorite kind of day in South Texas – very early spring, so it’s cold at night and sunny and warm during the day. The birds are singing and the squirrels are having a field day in the tree outside my window. Today is one of those days that makes you believe anything is possible. This is a HOPE day.

But in Chicago today I don’t think they’re having a hope day. It’s supposed to be snowing and cold and windy. I’ve never lived in Chicago (thank heavens!) but I can imagine that if I did, I would be just done with winter about this time. I’d want to give my right arm for the kind of day I’m having in South Texas. I don’t know how people muster up the stamina to put one foot in front of another on yet another yucky day like this in Chicago. It seems like putting that foot out might just land my boot in a puddle of slush.

So what’s my point? We deal with our parents day in and day out. Sometimes we have hope days – days where we can laugh together at a joke, or Crocuses peep out of the winter groundwatch the sunshine tease the crocuses out of the soil, maybe take a stroll through the garden. Those days are the best! They give us fuel to make it one more day, maybe even arouse a song humming on our lips.

Other days are snowy-windy-slush-puddle-why-won’t-this-winter-ever-end days. Nothing seems to go right: you can’t find the clothes Mom wants to wear, Dad hates the way you cook his eggs, the doctor’s office calls to cancel just as you pull in the parking lot but you’ve already missed your son’s soccer game. Or maybe things aren’t going wrong, they’re just going on the way they did yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that... Is my life ever going to change?

We all have those days. In South Texas, while we don’t have snow, we have heat. One year we had 37 days of over 100° temperatures. During those awful hot, humid days I would think about hope days like today and wish I could somehow bottle up the cool weather and uncork it every now and then just to get a break from the heat. Although I haven’t figured out how to do that I decided to try that same approach to those interminable days when I just don’t know how to put one foot in front of the other anymore.

I started making Kodak moments in my mind. (Yes, I know I just dated myself.) I have a snapshot in my head of the view from the porch of my Spring flowersfavorite vacation spot on Whidbey Island overlooking the Puget Sound and the Olympic Peninsula. I know the colors – the greens of the grass and pine trees, the blues of the Sound and the sky above, the whites of the clouds and snow on the mountains. I have other snapshots, too – our closest beach on the Gulf of Mexico, my granddaughter snuggled up sleeping on my lap, putting flower arrangements together with my daughters… When things get really harried, or panicky, or mundane I can close my eyes for a few seconds and see those pictures. Take a deep breath and focus on those colors, or sounds, or emotions, and I’ve just gotten a whiff of my bottle full of hope day.

There are other ways of breaking the vacuum of a stuck-in-a-rut day. Counselors talk about mindfulness, which is “a technique in which one focuses one’s full attention only on the present, experiencing thoughts, feelings, and sensations but not judging them.” Some of these exercises are very simple – like yawning and stretching for 10 seconds, or eating a piece of fruit or chocolate very, very slowly – paying close attention to the look, taste, smell, and feel of it. There is a 5-4-3-2-1 tool that uses all of our senses to root us in the present, rather than in the scary future that our anxiety can conjure up. Just make a list in your mind: 5 things that you can see, 4 things that you can hear, 3 things that you can feel, two things that you can smell, and 1 thing that you can taste. This brings you back to being rooted in the present and broken out of the whirlwind of “what ifs.”

Find your bottle full of hope day. Yours may be a song, a quick prayer or meditation, or a fuzzy blanket – keep it handy. Pull it out when you really need a break, own your five-minute vacation, and then take that next step.

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Marianne Smith, CSA
Certified Senior AdvisorĀ®
Director, All Things Aging Parents

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