Living a Long time

Two Interesting Articles

Last week I read two interesting articles on milestone Birthdays. The first one was written by Jane Brody, in the New York times, whom I have been reading off and on for 40 years.  She opened this latest article, A Birthday Milestone: Turning 80! with a question and an answer.

“The secret to a happy and vibrant old age?  Strive to do what you love for as long as you can do it.”

This fits with my experience. I often say that retirement is not part of my vocabulary. There are several reasons for that but the dominant one is that I love what I am doing. Writing my blog, facilitating webinars and programs for people living with illness and playing an influential role in my grandchildren’s lives gives my life meaning and purpose. Furthermore, I should mention, cycling, poetry, nature photography and learning new things. I am lucky to have several reasons to get up in the morning.

Here is the thing.

The work I do is not a job. It’s a way of life, and although I realize that I need to systematically reevaluate how much time I devote to my work I have no desire to give it up.

I love how Jane Brody, a columnist,  writes easily about “lost words and grammatical errors,” as she turns 80 this year. I notice the same lapses as I turn 75, but the difference is she has an editor who fixes her lapses  and mine go, imperfectly, out into the world. Yikes! Although in my webinars, when I forget a word, I invite my participants to call it out to me. They always know and generously get me back on track. I was delighted when I came to be emotionally relaxed about those dropped words and could easily ask for help. I simply see my brain as being filled to overflowing and on occasion it springs a leak.

An important part of living well and long is a gentle and realistic  acceptance of the things that may no longer be possible. Brody puts it this way: “If the vicissitudes of life or infirmities of age preclude a preferred activity, modify it or substitute another. I can no longer safely skate, ski or play tennis, but I can still bike, hike and swim. I consider daily physical activity to be as important as eating and sleeping. I accept no excuses. And as you can see I still write…”

Help Ourselves

Brody doesn’t mince words about how we can help ourselves have fewer lost words, fewer aches and pains, and fewer mobility issues by getting enough sleep, moving our body everyday, eating healthy food and not too much, and maintaining a strong and vital social life.  This is where my mind is going now –  the need to make time for these basics. We all know the value of the basics. It is not lack of information that is the problem rather it is lack of consistent action. Not for all, I’m sure.  I suspect that you are much better than me dear reader, but I am ready to turn over a new leaf once again.

Dr. Muriel Gillick

This brings me to the second article, by Dr.Muriel Gillick, a physician who specializes in the care of patients with advanced illness (palliative care) or advanced age (geriatrics), or both. She is also a professor at Harvard Medical School, writes a blog called Life In the End Zone, and she just turned 70. Coincidentally, she quotes Jane Brody this week too, and between the two articles I realized that it was time to re-evaluate my own lifestyle to make sure that I am doing my part. The main obstacle I face due to my work is that I spend alot of time sitting.

Gillick noticed a paragraph in Brody’s article that struck me:

Without regular exercise, she opines, “you can expect to experience a loss of muscle strength and endurance, coordination and balance, flexibility and mobility, bone strength and cardiovascular and respiratory function.”  Translated into geriatric lingo, what she is saying is that to preserve function, the ability to walk, to do errands, even to dress and bathe without help, regular exercise is important.

Of course just like saving money, Dr. Gillick states that much of this work needs to be started when we are young. Of course, when we were young we couldn’t  imagine mobility issues but my kids can. They prioritize exercise and sleep in ways that didn’t occur to me. I took false pride in how effective I could be without optimal sleep. No more, by the way. I know the toll it takes.

Milestone Birthdays

So like all of you, these milestone Birthdays remind us to take the time to question if we need to make some changes. One important point in Gillick’s blog post, which I concur with because I see it all the time is this:

The idea of successful aging has been the subject of both intense criticism and passionate enthusiasm. One problem is that we all want to lead a “good life,” but we may have very different ideas of what that looks like. Sometimes, what we think we need for a good life turns out not to be what we need at all: people who have a life-altering medical condition, whether Parkinson’s or osteoarthritis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may wish they hadn’t developed that disorder but find that they are nonetheless able to lead rich, enjoyable lives.

I follow up with the words of Dr. Art Frank from the University of Calgary:

The ill and impaired may, in the sense of fulfilling life, be far more free than healthy people. The healthy require health as an affirmation that their will is still effective and they must continually prove this effectiveness. The ill accept their vulnerability as an affirmation that the world is perfect without any exercise of their will, and this acceptance is their freedom…we are free only when we no longer require health, however much we may prefer it.”

I so appreciate this statement of Dr. Frank. Yes, I will do my part to remain healthy and mobile.  However, I will never believe for an instant that our lifestyle prevents or cures, in the way we can turn a light switch on and off. I have met far too many people who have done all the right things and still been struck down by an illness that is out of their control and absolutely not of their making.

However, when we have a reasonable lifestyle we do improve the quality of our everyday lives no matter our circumstances. And that is something worth doing.

The Good Life

So, we all get to make choices, when we are privileged to do so, and in the end I stick with what I see as the most important component of the “good life.” Our relationships. Here is our gold. No matter what happens, this is the secret to the well-lived life – taking care of our loved ones and allowing them to care for us. And expanding that caring in ever increasing circles. Sharing our sorrows and our joys.

PS Just the same, paying attention to the basics will always help us to do that.


Note 1:) Links for both articles I referenced. Jane Brody and Life In the End Zone

Note 2:) A wonderful version of Bob Dylan’s Blowin In the Wind by a French musician, Valentin Vander and 77 musician and singers around the world.  A gift for everyone impacted by Covid.

Note 3:) May you get to spend lots of time outdoors and immerse yourself in sunshine, bird song, blossoms and many shades of green. And please accept my thanks for dropping by once again. I appreciate you! Warmest wishes, Trudy

Musings on On a May Morning

The Beauty of May

In this wonderful month of May, I walk a few times a week. Through the Ornamental Gardens at the Experimental Farms,  the Dominion Arboretum and along the paths by Dow’s lake and the canal. All of this exists in the same area spread over multiple acres of sublime beauty. It is a feast for the senses.

Now I go early morning before the sun heats up the air, even though work projects call out my name.  Furthurmore, they call in a demanding voice, to “do this now;” I hesitate. But I have learned to override that voice. Now, I take advantage of the season, the temperature and the shortness of this sensational spring.

My adventure begins with the aroma from the lilacs. Dozens and dozens of varieties arranged on both sides of walking paths. Their fragrance and beauty in many shades of purples, pinks and white are a feast for my eyes. And if there is truth to aroma therapy, than I am bathed in their healing scent.

As I make my way through the garden I am surprised at the blossoms, which have opened in the one day since I last visited. Today it is the peonies. Their buds are fat and bursting at the seams. Some already made their brief appearance, and they blush with the rave reviews from passerby’s who enthusiastically praise their beauty.

The Arboretum

Crossing over Prince of Wales Drive, to the Arboretum, I make my way across the green dewy grass in this urban grove of trees. So many shades of green and so much variety. The coolness, as compared to the open garden soothes my spirits and the fragrance here is more earthy and fresh, punctuated with bird songs and trills.

I have a friend with me this morning and we gravitate towards a natural canopy providing shade and light. At that moment, I long to put a blanket on the ground, open a picnic basket for lunch and enjoy what feels like a summer day. Not only is it too early for a picnic lunch but I have none of the fixings so we enjoy it as it is before moving along.

I love hearing the birds even though I rarely catch a glimpse of the particular bird that is singing. This morning, however,  I caught a brief peak at a luminous orange wing in flight. A magical moment.

Just sitting and observing is a balm to my spirit, yet the restless mind wants more and soon the water beckons.  As we make our way down the hill and across two picturesque bridges to   wend our way back alongside the lake, I am smitten, once again.

How Brief

Tonight I look through the photos and see the impermanence, resilience, and surprise of nature. But  most of all the fleeting nature of everything alive. How brief is the tender blossom, yet the bud looks so robust.

People too. Everyone told me how quickly childhood flies by, but I didn’t fully understand until my grandchildren came along. How lucky I was and am to have a second chance at living fully in the moment and to appreciate each wondrous stage of their unfolding.

Nature is a good teacher and a good healer. It is possible to stop and  to look! to listen! to smell! to touch! The velvet of a petal, the rough or smooth bark of trees, the coolness of a running stream, the warmth of the sun on your face and the rush of a gentle breeze against the back of your neck.

Just What We Need

It’s all there. At our doorsteps. Cure is not always possible whether it is illness, loss, or one of our 83 other problems. But for those moments, in the beauty of nature, our hearts can soften, our creativity can get a boost and we can be grateful to be alive to witness these wonders.

Beyond your brisk cardio walk, I recommend a daily stroll through the trees and the flowers, across a field of dandelions, over bridges and see what happens. Take it slow and easy. Daydream. Listen. And if there is a full moon and the sky is clear it might just be worth staying up late to see it. Enjoy your precious life.


PS I forgot to tell you where that graphic came from last week, with the fox. It is a lovely small book that took the world by storm. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charley MacKesy

Note 1:) I wonder if you have a favourite walk where you live. You are welcome to tell us about it.

Note 2:) My big hope is that you are all well and managing the ups and downs of your lives. My other hope is that you don’t miss your unique and precious life. Carpe Diem!

Note 3:) Please accept my appreciation for visiting with me here every Wednesday. I thank you for your company. Warmest wishes always, Trudy



There is no Life Without suffering – yet…

We are creatures of community. Those individuals, societies, and cultures who learned to take care of each other, to love each other, and to nurture relationships with each other during the past several hundred thousand years were more likely to survive than those who did not. – Dr. Dean Ornish

There is no life without suffering

This could also be translated as: there is an absolute universality to suffering; there is no way for any human being, no matter how successful, no matter how wealthy, no matter how blithe of heart, to arrange circumstances such that they will be exempt from the emotional and physical hurts common to all people who have ever lived. This is a given: a foundational reality.” David Whyte

The tricky part of any suffering is that we often think that it shouldn’t happen to me. And then of course we have “piggy-back” suffering. Suffering on top of suffering. Unless we come to the understanding that we too are not exempt, and can let go of the why’s and the why me, and the unfairness, we will suffer more.

Please don’t misunderstand.

This does not imply a passive stance nor do we lie down and give up. It is the acknowledgement of the numerous problems, large and small that we will contend with during our lifetime. And, we turn over every stone and knock on every door to solve the problem and get back on track. I have no idea whether there is deep meaning in suffering. I do know there is deep meaning in living, and suffering is included.

And that’s not all. What is also included is laughter, love, accomplishment, joy, friendship, family in a variety of combinations, coincidences, learning new things, stories, memories, seeing the sunset, hearing not just the first bird song of the day but all of them,  spotting the first crocus or bud or blade of grass…resting, walking, eating, saying hello and good-bye, contributing, comforting…The meaning is in noticing it all, nothing excluded; giving and receiving; doing our bit. Life is a precious gift, each and every moment.  And suffering, disappointment, and loss is included.

As for me, I continue to want more of these living, breathing days.


Note 1:)  Let us grapple with the challenges that come our way. Ask for help when you need it.

Note 2:) The cheerful Couch Choir from Australia. “With 3222 singing strangers from 48 countries  sharing their voices and a slice of their lives with us.Happy Together – listen here

Note 3:) May you have a wonderful week and I thank you for stopping by here to read my blog. Warmest greetings and appreciation, Trudy

PS I forgot to tell you where that graphic came from. It is a lovely small book that took the world by storm. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse


How to Help and Be Helped

This is a reprint from a blog post I wrote three years ago. I have been thinking about this as there are always people in need of help, and others who need and want to help. A book that stands out for me is one by Darlene Cohen called, Turning Suffering Inside Out: A Zen Approach for Living with Physical and Emotional Pain. She describes her experience of being helped when she was very ill and required help with absolutely everything.

Being Helped

I found it draining to be helped by people whom I constantly had to reassure that they were doing enough, doing things the right way, seeing me often enough…How refreshing and soothing it was to be tended to by people who were able to approach me directly, without ideas about what they were doing for me… The two approaches produced a dramatically different impact on my energy level. …if you are suffering, the important relationships to you now are those that support the part of you that is vulnerable but struggling to deal realistically with a difficult situation… Now, you need people who are ready to support the aspect of you that must face catastrophe with courage and truth.

Don’t be afraid that you appear too needy to such friends. When you settle into your true grief, you are not wearing on people in the way that people are before they face their suffering…you are encouraging and inspiring to your friends. This is not the stiff upper lip behavior of the denier; this is grief and tears and agony, but it’s real. This difference is palpable to those who wish to comfort you.

Darlene Cohen makes me think of my experiences of helping and being helped and how confusing it all can seem. I recall my oncologist looking at me and saying, “Trudy this is not the time to be a stoic. I need you to ask for help, as soon as you need it. That is the best way for me to help you.”

Yet, as time went on, I found it hard to receive the help on offer. It was embarrassing. I wanted to continue to rise to every occasion and brush off the need for help. It still isn’t straight forward. Who wants to appear needy? This is a fear not just when we are ill but as we age.

Reading this book has been a nudge in two ways:

  • Seeing how important it is to be authentic, honest, present and vulnerable when I am in need of help.
  • When I offer help, seeing how important it is to be authentic, honest, present and vulnerable.

Not knowing is ok. Showing up wholeheartedly for whatever is going on is energizing even when it is exhausting. When I am the one helping I do not ever want it to be “a favour,” nor do I want to insist on “proper” expressions of appreciation. As a human these are slippery slopes. The gift of help needs to be a real gift in order for it not to become one more transaction.

We can’t do it alone in life and there is no need to do so. We are here to help and to be helped, don’t you think? This doesn’t imply that we can help everyone nor can everyone help us. But it does imply we do what we can with what we know, under our particular circumstances.

And even when we don’t get it right, in either capacity, we still have no reason to throw in the towel. Cohen’s book is a testament to the human spirit and a nudge to fully accept our capacity to keep on learning how to care for ourselves and each other.

We show up for each other, wholeheartedly, and we learn on the job by paying attention, as we live our lives.


Note 1:) Sadly, Darlene Cohen died in 2011 from cancer.  Her devotion to people living with chronic illness and her four books are a significant part of her legacy. I am grateful to meet her through her words. Another title for the book I referenced is Finding a Joyful Life in the Heart of Pain

Note 2:) When we need help and when we are helping it’s best to keep our expectations in check. It is easy to expect too much, in both directions. I think good enough is really good enough. It doesn’t represent carelessness. None of us is in top form all the time. Perfection is a myth and can be a serious hindrance to even trying. Let’s strive for being real and doing the best we can at that moment in time with what we know. And let’s accept the help we receive in the same light.

Note 3:) One other word about help. Let’s be thoughtful who we ask for help. Are they capable of doing what we need? Will we feel drained or nourished by their presence? Not everyone we love is able to fill everyone of our needs. Expectations again. Let’s have realistic ones about who we ask and what we ask for, and what we ourselves say yes too. It’s ok to decline a specific invitation to help but to suggest something else we can do instead. 

Note4:) The photos are from my walk this week, in my neighbourhood. May is such a beautiful month, and I hope you get to enjoy it. Thank you for showing up here and reading my blog. Warmest wishes, Trudy