Personal

Aging Mindfully

While walking with my friend Keri last weekend, I told her I’m struggling to accept the fact that I’m getting old.

“We’re not old,” she said. “We’re sixty-three and that is not that old.”

The key phrase that jumped out at me was “that old.”

Old, yes, but not “that old.”

I told her I’m trying to embrace aging.

Trying is the key word here.

Until now, I’ve been in outright denial about it.

The pandemic, however, has done an excellent job of reminding me that I am in the “vulnerable population.”

I’ve decided to try harder to gracefully glide into the golden years even though 63 is “not that old” and it doesn’t feel that golden.

My friend Stacy has been telling me we need to “age mindfully.” I’m not even sure what that means but she has been dealing with aging parents and believes we need to be realistic about what’s ahead and have a plan for how we want things to go when we hit certain, shall we say, “milestones?”

A Psychology Today article defines aging mindfully as “aging in a way that doesn’t deny the negatives of getting older but doesn’t blow them up either.” Instead, the author recommends turning the mind to the benefits of aging with “realistic positivity,” which is defined as “seeing and accepting what is—both inside ourselves and in the world—and then shifting our focus to what we would love.”

If I’m going to have to age, which apparently is inevitable, I’m going to opt for the realistic positivity approach.

You may think this is not a revolutionary thought but coming from a woman who thinks she’s a solid 10 years younger than I really am, this is a big step.

I blame others for making me feel old — like the CDC with all that vulnerable population talk. (Aren’t you so sick of the CDC? We went along for years hardly knowing it existed and now, we can’t get through a day without hearing several mentions of it.)

And I certainly can’t forget what I’ve labeled “The Parable of the Irises,” which is a story about that time I ruined my shoulder while GARDENING from pulling out stubborn iris bulbs.

My doctor kindly pointed out that the chances of tearing a rotator cuff are commensurate with your age. If you’re 50, you have a 50 percent chance of it tearing. If you’re 60, you have a 60 percent chance, and up it goes as you age.

So, there’s a helpful piece of aging trivia for you.

I’ve done some deeply embarrassing things during my age-denial phase.

Like the time I ran into someone who claimed we went to high school together.

“No way,” I thought. “We are not the same age. We absolutely did not go to high school together.”

And then — I can’t believe I’m sharing this story — I said these words: “Oh, maybe I went to high school with one of your kids.”

Yes, I did.

I said that.

As soon as the words fell out of my mouth, I felt completely embarrassed and all the blood vessels in my body felt like they were on fire. I wanted to run and hide and never come out again.

My family slinked away in utter humiliation, slowly backing up as if they didn’t know me.

I wish I could say I learned my lesson through that experience, but that would be a lie.

I have been going to a water aerobics class (good therapy for the shoulder) and I told Doug that it’s a class full of oldsters – people who are there to soak and socialize, not exercise.  Then, one day, a lady asked how old I was and after I told her, she spritely said, “Oh, so you’re just six years older than me!”

I think this is called age dysphoria, a condition when people don’t identify with their chronological age.

Scientists claim that 60 is the new middle age. We know that can’t be true because how many people do you know who have lived to be 120?

So, maybe I can blame the scientists, aging experts, and the media for my age denial because they’ve contributed to this idea that I’m much younger than I really am.

Since I’m choosing to age with “realistic positivity,” I need to see and accept “what is.” That is going to require some work.

I also need to focus on what there is to love about this stage of life. The truth is there are so many things. One of them is apparently not caring about what other people think which frees me up to write things like the time I thought I was the same age as my classmate’s child.

Friends

Gregoria Korologos: 87 years was not enough of you

One of my best friends in the world died Monday morning, and even though she was 87 years old, lived the fullest, most fascinating life of anyone I know, and was completely physically worn out, I still feel like she died too soon.

Even 41 years of friendship with the one-and-only Gregoria Korologos wasn’t enough.

I was a young professional on Capitol Hill working for U.S. Senator Jake Garn from Utah when I met the legendary Greg — the proudest Greek, truest American, and most loyal friend I’ve ever known.

Wearing a Kelly green linen suit with matching espadrilles, she was a striking presence with her then- jet black hair, deeply tanned Mediterranean skin, and signature fuchsia lipstick.

She was a powerful, intimidating woman with her booming voice, big personality, style, sophistication, and unmatched humor. My friend MaryJane called her a supernova — an apt description for a woman who was a rare, bright star.

Greg had just been hired as the senator’s new office manager. She wasn’t technically my boss but.. well, she thought she was everyone’s boss. She was older, wiser, and more politically savvy than most everyone else, and she believed we all worked for her.

As the assistant press secretary at the time, I was rushing to finish a press release for some reporters who were waiting in the hall when I heard a loud, long, repeated buzz on the office intercom. (Remember this was in 1980!)

I knew it was Greg because she was the only one who “buzzed” with that kind of drop-everything-and pick-up-the-phone-NOW urgency.

“Hello,” I said hesitantly.

“Get you’re a*# back her NOW,” she ordered.

I walked back to her office, wondering what could be that important.

When I entered her office, she was pounding away on her typewriter, and without even looking at me, she shoved a dollar bill across her desk and said, “Get my coffee — black.”

I was stunned.

Did she just order me into her office with such urgency so that I would get her coffee?

I wasn’t even sure how to respond, but then, probably stupidly, said, “If you want to ask Curt (the press secretary) if he’d rather have me stop writing this press release so that I can go get your coffee, go ahead.”

Then, I turned and walked out of her office.

When I told Curt what had happened, he said, “Well, you might have just ended your Senate career right there.”

Yes, we all thought she had that much power.

A few weeks went by, my job remained intact, and we steered clear of each other. Then, she buzzed me again on the intercom — with her signature style as if it was a life and death emergency, and when I answered, she said, “Wanna go out for a belt?”

“A belt?”

“You know, a drink — like a Tab or whatever Mormons drink!”

I agreed to go, wondering what kind of evening I had in store. We went to the American Café on Capitol Hill and it was an absolute riot like all interactions with Greg would turn out to be. We chatted and laughed for hours. She regaled me with her endless supplies of hilarious, entertaining stories, and we became fast friends.

After we heard the news on Monday morning that Greg had died, Doug asked me if I could imagine what my life would have been like without her.

The question brought me to tears.

“Absolutely not,” I said.

She has been part of every large and small thing that has happened in my life from the time I was 22-years-old — “a kid,” as she always said.

“Your mom might have raised you through childhood, but I raised you in Washington,” she said. There is so much truth in that statement.

Our Capitol Hill lunch bunch — the official Utah State Society with President Korologos at the helm

So, when I think of her not being part of my life, I am filled with immense sadness but also gargantuan gratitude.

How did I get so lucky to cross paths with her?

After that first annoying “buzzing” on the office phone, I never wanted to miss one of her urgent calls because they were always full of surprises like the time she called me and said, “Pack a bag. We’re going to the World Series!” And off we went to New York City to watch the Yankees and the Dodgers — a memory we always savored.

She had a code phrase for playing hooky at work too. If it was going to be a beautiful, sunny day, she’d call and say, “get your gear!” That meant, Joanne, Greg and I were taking a sick day and heading to Rehoboth, Delaware beach for sunshine, Dolly’s caramel popcorn, and shopping at her favorite stores.

Greg taught me to appreciate a handwritten, personal thank you note, a thoughtful gift, and the importance of always returning a phone call. “You’ll never make it in Washington if you don’t return every call,” she said.

She taught me to be a generous tipper, how to navigate around a congressional reception, how to cook and eat an artichoke, appreciate Greek pastries, festivals, and certain choice Greek words! She introduced me to high-end fashion brands I’d never heard of like St. John, Ferragamo, Gucci, and more. She took me in my first limousine ride and said, “Act normal like you do this every day! Don’t let anybody know you’re from Springville, Utah! and that you’ve never been in a limo!”

We went to White House events, Orioles games with front row seats right behind the dugout (Thanks to the generosity of her brother, Tom), Washington National’s games, birthday luncheons, Christmas dinners, Cherry Blossom Festivals, and more. We went to space shuttle launches, election night parties, Junior League Christmas events, St. Patrick’s Day parades, Kennedy Center productions, and even to a palm reader who shocked us both by how much she knew about us.

Greg ready to get a baseball in case one of the players rolled one across the top of the dugout

One night we were in Georgetown, and we walked past an ATM. She asked what it was, and I told her what it was and explained how it worked. “Are you serious? A machine on the streets that spits out cash?” She tried it over and over just because she couldn’t believe it.

There never has been and never will be anybody like Greg again in this life.

As our Garn office Chief of Staff Jeff Bingham said, “There are just so many things I could say about Greg — all of them superlatives and yet still so inadequate.” So absolutely true. She made an indelible impression on everyone she met.

Oh, how I will miss this one-of-a-kind woman

Rest In Peace, Gregoria, my forever friend. I will look forward to seeing you on the other side which surely has already become a more exciting, fun place now that you’re there lighting up its every corner.

I can picture you now holding court with everyone you know, taking your place as heaven’s most popular, entertaining angel, keeping everyone rolling on the floor laughing in the celestial aisles in the skies.

I can hardly wait to see you again because even at 87, you were too young to die.

If you knew Greg or even just knew of her, I’d love to hear your stories. If you knew her, I know you have stories, and I know they are unforgettable because she sure was…

From my Bookshelf

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse

I heard about this book on the Today show and ordered it immediately because it just oozed with sugary sweetness and nuggets of simple yet profound wisdom.

Hoda Kotb said it moved her to her core, and as she interviewed the author, I couldn’t resist ordering it right then.

It’s a gift book, a treasure — the kind you want to gift to yourself, hold close to your heart, and then share with others.

The author, Charlie Mackesy, shared some readers reactions to it, including one from a family whose 90-year-old father has Alzheimer’s and doesn’t even know them anymore. They said the book helped them emotionally connect with him, which was something they missed.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

The book is not just a syrupy story, it’s collection of wisdom, a piece of art, and a little timeless treasure.

It captures the love and wisdom of four unlikely friends — a boy, a mole, a fox, and a horse.

Here are a few gems:

I’m so small,” said the mole. “Yes,” said the boy, “but you make a huge difference.”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” “Kind,” said the boy.

“What do you think success is?” asked the boy. “To love,” said the mole.

“What do you think is the biggest waste of time?” “Comparing yourself to others,” said the mole.

“Isn’t it odd. We only see our outsides, but nearly everything happens on the inside.”

“What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said?” asked the boy. “Help,” said the horse.

“Asking for help isn’t giving up,” said the horse. “It’s refusing to give up.”

“Sometimes,” said the horse. “Sometimes what?” asked the boy. “Sometimes just getting up and carrying on is brave and magnificent.”

See what I mean? Don’t you want to just savor each word and sentiment?

Each little jewel could be a blog, an essay, a book, or a stirring speech.

Thank you, Hoda, for introducing me to it, and thank you Charlie for writing it.

Let’s just sit with this one bit of loveliness for another minute…”What do you think success is?” asked the boy. “To love,” said the mole.

I want that to linger in my mind for a good long while, and enjoy feeling successful because I love.

Personal

COVID Chronicles

Doug and I tested positive for Covid over the holidays.

Our symptoms started out quite mild — feeling tired, a little achy, a small cough, and a scratchy throat.

We went to be tested just to be on the safe side.

The next day, we received our results. Doug tested positive and I tested negative. We had the same symptoms so I was quite sure I had it. Then, later in the day, I received another notice that I tested positive, followed by yet another message that my test was negative.

I made a few phone calls to clear up the confusion and finally was told that my test was absolutely positive, which explained my worsening symptoms.

We weren’t sure what to expect from the famed COVID, and we honestly wondered what our experience would be like. We know of people who have died, others who have been hospitalized, and some who have reported they’ve never been sicker in their lives. Then, we know many who contracted it and had very mild symptoms and some who had no symptoms at all.

So, we weren’t sure where we’d fall in that spectrum.

Just before we were diagnosed, we were notified that a sister-in-law who had the virus ended up going to the hospital, Then, she was told she probably wouldn’t make it through the night!

We were shocked and devastated that it progressed that far so quickly.

Miraculously, she made it through the night for which we are all so grateful. But she spent several weeks in the ICU and is just barely being released to go to a rehab center. Her struggle is not over.

With that on our minds, we checked in with each other repeatedly… how are you? Any changes? Are you better or worse? Do you have a fever? Are you hydrated? Have you eaten? Are you breathing okay?

We are so grateful for our friends, neighbors and family who checked on us regularly, brought us meals, shoveled our driveway, delivered our groceries, dropped off Advil, hot soup, bread, and so much more.

We both had all the classic symptoms. I lost my sense of smell and Doug lost his sense of taste and smell. Over three weeks later, Doug still can’t taste or smell although he is making progress.

I think what surprised us the most is that the symptoms linger — especially the fatigue. We felt a gentle lift of the symptoms after the two-week marker but the fatigue, aches, and pains hang on and randomly reappear. Just as we start feeling like we might be moving out of COVID land, we experience a little setback, which we understand is quite common.

We had a few sobering conversations and asked each other some questions we never thought we’d be asking.

What if things turn south fast? Are we ready for that?

What if we have a sudden decline, have to go to the hospital, and get the news, like our family member, that we likely won’t make it through the night? Are we ready for that? Are our affairs in order?

While we honestly never really felt in danger of that, we couldn’t help but wonder.

We thought about all the people who have died during this pandemic and all of those who have had much more serious battles than ours. Did they see it coming?

The one thing we know is that despite what people say, Covid is real. It’s miserable, and it’s worth taking all the precautions necessary to avoid it.

My daughter, Sara, came to drop off groceries for us one afternoon. She rang the doorbell, left the groceries on the porch, and then walked back to the sidewalk in front of our house. We opened the door, picked up the groceries, and waved to her from the entryway of our house. We were all in masks and more than six feet apart.

That moment was a poignant one for me. I felt like I had stepped into the footage of a news program like so many we’ve seen of separated family members.

I hate COVID and all the chaos, confusion, heartache, loss, grief, sickness, fear, anxiety, and isolation it has brought into our world. But at the same time, I want to embrace the lessons I’ve learned from it and I hope that when it’s all over, I remember them.

In one of our conversations, Doug said, “This has been a wake-up call on so many levels, hasn’t it?”

Yes, it absolutely has been a wake-up call. But the question is what has it awakened? How will we be different now?

Since this virus hit me right after I had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, I’ve had a lot of time to think — too much time to think, actually.

One of the things I learned is that I need to build a better boat.

Let me explain…

I’ve discovered a few holes in my boat…

Kenny Chesney sings a beautiful song called Better Boat. Here are the lyrics:

I ain't lonely, but I spend a lot of time alone
 More than I'd like to, but I'm okay with staying home
 My how the last few months have changed
 I'm smilin' more despite the pain
 I breathe in, I breathe out
 Got friends to call who let me talk about
 What ain't working, what's still hurtin'
 All the things I feel like cussing out
 Now and then I let it go
 I ride the waves I can't control
 I'm learning how to build a better boat
 I hate waiting, ain't no patience in these hands
 I'm not complaining, sometimes it's hard to change a man
 I think I'm stronger than I was
 I'll let God do what He does
 I breathe in, I breathe out
 Got friends to call who let me talk about
 What ain't working, what's still hurtin'
 All the things I feel like cussing out
 Now and then I let it go
 I ride the waves I can't control
 I'm learning how to build a better boat

I hope that I can build a better, stronger, more resilient boat to help me ride the waves I can’t control a little bit better. I also hope I can trust God and let him do what he does and not lose faith.

What about you? What has your COVID experience been like? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

From the News

Get Real and Stay in the Game

The title of this blog comes from something my husband Doug always says — “Get real and stay in the game.”

In his professional work as an executive coach and in his religious life as a former and current bishop, he counsels with a lot of people about their problems and challenges.

He said most of his advice centers around two things: helping people get real about what is happening in their lives and helping them find hope and stay in the game.

I have been thinking about this as it relates to the many troubling, daunting issues of our day.

When we first started hearing about COVID, I thought it would disrupt our lives for a short time.

Yet, here we are, entering fall, and we are wondering when or if we’ll ever “get back” to life as we knew it pre-pandemic.

This has made me think about Doug’s mantra — get real and stay in the game.

What does it mean to get real and stay in the game in the COVID world and even in this raucous political era?

Sometimes I feel like I’m cycling through the Kübler-Ross stages of grief in rapid succession.

A Psychology Today article in March suggested that our experience with COVID 19 may look like the five stages of the grief cycle — denial, anger, bargaining, despair, and acceptance.

It mentioned that we may grieve our loss of freedoms, or a future we envisioned, or the lives and roles we left behind.

We might miss our old way of life, and on some level, face the questions of our own mortality. (I’ve certainly faced those questions!)

The first stage of grief is denial. I’ve definitely visited this stage more than once, believing the pandemic is overblown or maybe isn’t a real threat at all, trying to minimize its affect or the level of my risk. If I deny its potency, I feel more in control, and less vulnerable.

The second stage is anger, and I’ve been here too – trying to blame somebody – a political party, a world leader, a country, anybody!  That doesn’t usually work so then I sink into a state of plain old virus fatigue and I pretend life is normal because I’m just so sick of it.

And then there is bargaining, the third step, which is another step I often revisit. I tell myself that if I wear my mask, social distance, wash my hands, and be careful, I’ll be fine. So, I can go to my fitness classes, walk with my neighbor, eat in an actual restaurant, fly on a packed airplane, and the list goes on. I need to bargain with the virus and all the confusing messaging around it so that I can feel some sense of personal victory over it.

Despair is the fourth stage, and it’s a step I avoid. That’s when I face reality and recognize all that I’ve lost. I mourn the loss of old routines and find myself wondering if life will ever be good or normal again. Will I ever go to church without a mask and actually socialize with my friends? Will I ever hug people or go to the theater and not feel completely claustrophobic behind my mask? Can I ever touch things in a store again? Will we ever be able to take the extended trip to Italy?

If I let myself stop here, it can be very discouraging, so I do my best to make these visits to the land of despair and depression very brief.

The fifth stage of grief is acceptance, which is really where I want to stay the longest. That’s when I realize I can’t control the pandemic, the racial unrest, the rioting and protests, the political divisiveness, all the injustices or unfairness in the world, or even the things my friends post on social media. And, instead of being crippled, depressed, utterly confused and afraid, I try to pivot quickly and adopt a healthier mindset that helps me accept that just because things are different, it doesn’t mean that goodness and beauty are permanently sucked out of my life.

I accept that life is not the same but I choose to believe that it can still be rich, rewarding, and beautiful.

In a Linkedin presentation on The Power of Hope: Get Real and Stay in the Game, Doug told a story of how our daughter, Annie got real and stayed in the game.

“[Annie] had a goal to run a half marathon… With the virus, the half marathon was canceled. She had been training for months. She really wanted to run the race, but the official pathway was blocked. She decided she would run it anyway on the day it was scheduled. She charted out her own course and ran it all by herself. She accomplished the goal, albeit by a different pathway, literally. When she got home, she took the top of a yogurt cup, made a medal out of it, and hung it on herself. She came in first in her division, but she also came in second, third, and last in her division.”

Annie’s victory!

This is what it means to get real and stay in the game.

Even when we are rapidly cycling through the stages of grief over what we feel has been lost, we can still find pathways of hope and hang on.

What can you do to get real and stay in the game? I’d love to know!