Author Archives: Sandra Pesmen

Face it! Own it! And You’re not a victim!

She was alone for the first time in 43 years. When her husband died, she thought she could handle day to day issues. She knew how to care for the car, the house, pay bills, manage financial arrangements.

Oh, don’t pity her. She was going to be fine.

Except she wasn’t. The day- to- day lonliness, coupled with sincere grief and sorrow at losing her best friend and loving mate at a time in life when she could no longer go out and start a career, or make new friends. (And when someone called to say they tried to reach her but she was out, she said, “Try Saturday night.”

“Tough.” That’s what everyone said she was, with some admiration. And she tried to maintain that image.

But it was stressful, and then, horror of horrors, her hair began to fall out.

All her medical experts said it possibly (and probably) was caused by  stress from suppressed sorrow.

The good news is there was a satisfactory solution: Get a wonderful wig (or two) and start wearing them so you won’t constantly be reminded of the  loss.

“I just can’t,” she protested. “l’m afraid people will notice it,” she protested.

“And what’s the worst case scenario if that happens?” I countered.

“They’ll ask me if I’m sick and if I have Cancer!” she said, tearing up.

“The best news is you can smile and say, ‘NO, thank God. I have hair issues so I bought these, so I can look nice. Do you like this one or should I try another color?”

Face it, own it, and you’re not a victim!

And once you can again look in the mirrow and see yourself looking normal, you can focus again on your very real grief and take steps to start diminishing it.

It will never be gone entirely, and perhaps we don’t want it to be. If one had a good relationship, the remaining partner will constantly be reminded of that missing mate. “Grapple them (those good memorie) to your soul with hoops of steel,” (Thanks, Shakespeare) and talk about them with others who are doing the same.

They may be the people sitting at your bridge table– who just told you your new wig is pretty.

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‘Remember Me’

At a beautiful funeral for a very special friend this week, I found the following poem by English Painter and Poet David Harkin in thre program. It seemed especially fitting to read again during the Menmorial Day holiday:

REMEMBER ME

You can shed tears that she is gone

or you an smile because she has lived.

You can close your eyes and pray that she’ll come back

or you can open your eyes and see all she’s left.

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her

or you can be full of the loe you shared.

You can turn  your back on tomorrow and live yestrday

or you can be happy for tojorrow because of yesterday.

You can remember her and only that she’s gone

or you an cherish her memory and let it live on.

You can c;ry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back,

or you can do what she’d want: smile, open  your eyes,

love and get on.

I’ve Been ‘Tired’—–By My Car

Ever been ‘tired?”

I have—by my car.

When my granddaughter and I left a local restaurant last weekend, she commented, “Grandma, your front tire looks low on air.” The parking valet, standing near by, warned me not to drive any father than home on it.

You must understand that when my husband died, I didn’t know any more about air in tires than I did about working the gas pump gas or changing the oil. He did all that, and until this week I was still in the dark about tires.

That night, I went home and began worrying about which towing company to call in the morning so I could drive it to our local Just Tires franchise and have whatever was wrong fixed. I was already mad about having to pay God know what for the tow.

Then a wise friend told me to look at my car insurance policy, because most have road service coverage and a low tire fits that description. I looked. I had it and the next morning I called the insurance company’s help line.

In 45 minutes, the road service car pulled up in front of my home and a friendly young man hopped out. He checked the valve and said it was fine and it didn’t look as though any had slow leaks in the rims, or anywhere else, Then he filled all the tires to proper levels and gave me the astounding news that I’m supposed to check the air pressure every few months (Duh!) and have someone fill any tires that are low.

Because I drive far less than when I worked, I have less auto checkups and fewer oil changes, so the service people probably didn’t get to check the tires every few months.

I now have a schedule—with encouragement from my Just Tires franchise—to drive over there every ow and then, have someone help me check the pressure and fill them with air.

I feel rested.

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Memories and Heirlooms Help Us Live On

As long as memories of us live on–we do too.

I make sure our children and grandchildren remember my husband, “Papa Hal,” with stories and anecdotes we continue to tell about him at every gathering around our family dining room table in the home we shared for 55 years.

But I believe tangible items help too.

This week I gave our 15-year-old grandson Josh, a musician, his grandfather’s tuxedo, complete with designer evening shirts, cumberbund, and accessories. Tall and slim like his grandfather, Josh was “over the moon” and marched around the house in it, planning to wear it when he performs, as well as (eventually) to his prom. “I’ll rock in retro!” he exclaimed.

His cousin, Sara, who is getting married in June, is equally delighted when she receives something  memorable from our family “treasure trove.” At a recent shower I gave Sara the silver butter dish her adoring grandfather and I received at our own wedding.

(And of course I included a check with a note on it that said, ” This is for the butter!)

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Don’t Chase After Married Kids

There’s that temptation when you live alone after your spouse’s death, to want to tighten the bonds between yourself and the rest of the family, particularly children and grandchildren.

One friend of mine sold the large family home when her husband died and moved with her grown son into a small ranch home in the same town, close to her newly married daughter.

That was fine until last year when the daughter bought a home in a far away suburb, became pregnant. She just had the family’s first grandchild and my friend, who still works full time, spends every free moment at their home, babysitting when the parents leave and helping when they are present.

Last month my friend announced she planned to sell her current house and buy one closer to her grandchild so she can be more helpful.

The kids didn’t see it that way. Her daughter told her they’re thinking of selling their new home in a couple years and moving back toward the city because the commute is too far to work.

Let that subtle message work for all of us. They don’t want us on top of them. They will call when they need us. Trust me .

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Randhill Park Welcomes Interfaith Couples

My nephew, who lives  in Arizona, recently came to Chicago and visited his parents’ graves in Shalom Memorial Park and Funeral Home in Arlington Heights, IL.

“It’s such a pretty, restful place” he told me, “And now that I’m turning 70, I’m thinking of my own final plans, and I was wondering what to do because my wife of 26 years is Christian and I’m Jewish. I want to keep the family together.”

Fortunately, the Jewish cemetery where his parents are buried includes a special section for people who have intermarried, and he was able to pre-plan satisfactory arrangements.

This problem becomes even more relevant as more people  continue to marry outside their faith.

Shalom’s Executive director Maynard Grossman explains: “Many families we serve have individuals from different backgrounds and traditions. Shalom Memorial Park and Funeral Home are formally affiliated with Randhill Park Cemetery to accommodate the needs of these diverse families.

Randhill Park is a non-sectarian cemetery located on the grounds immediately adjacent to Shalom Memorial Park. Many interfaith families are drawn to Randhill Park’s lovely Garden of Devotion. This private garden was designed particularly for the needs of interfaith families.”

Randhill Park offers a full range of options including its general grounds, outdoor mausoleum and columbarium. For more information about Randhill Park, please contact  (847) 255-3520.

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Help Keep Sales Associates Working

Headlines screamed “American Retailers Lay Off Thousands!” again last week, and we learned the reason is that too many shoppers are doing their shopping online.

Well, I am not one of them. I am doing my best to keep sales associates working.

Aside from EBooks from Amazon, I pretty much browse through the Internet for ideas, then go to retail stores to see, smell, touch or try on the items I searched. That goes for food, fashion, furniture and anything else I need.

I met a woman on a plane last month who works as a personal grocery shopper. People phone in orders to her company and she goes to the store and squeezes the lettuce for them, fills the order and has it delivered. I know it’s a time saver for busy people, but it’s very expensive and also, when I worked full time in the city while caring for a home and family in the suburbs, I relished that quiet time alone in the supermarket on weekends (where nobody could get at me.)

The same goes for clothes and home furnishings. For example, if I see a dress online that interests me, I search for a nearby store where I can try it on, feel the fabric, and decide if it’s really the same pretty shade it appeared to be on my computer. Also, I can see if it fits properly. If the answer is yes to all that,  I pay only what the dress costs with no shipping charges, and carry it home with no need to wait for delivery in a week or  return it if it disappoints.

My young friends and relatives who order almost everything online cry, “I’m sooooooooo busy,” and they find me ridiculous. But I pay no attention to them. I have been equally busy over the years and was grateful for the opportunity to have both a family and a career during earlier years when so few women did.

Let me know if you agree or disagree. And remember, those sales associates need you!

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Your Driving Is- Driving Me Nuts

You may not be guilty–but too many women drive around while talking on cell phones and clicking at texts when they should be watching the road.

I know, I know. The call came in while you were at the stoplight.

If so, then pull over to answer, or let it wait until you get where you’re going. Answering while driving is DANGEROUS for you and everyone in your path. (It’s also rude if someone else is in the car.)

Similarly, I’m annoyed when I see you turn left into the far right lane because  you plan to turn right later. As a driving instructor taught me: THAT IS AGAINST THE LAW AND WILL GET YOU A TICKET OF A COP SEES YOU DO IT. Always turn left into the same lane you are in, then turn on your right turn signal and cross to right lane. It’s not rocket science, yet too few people do it.

The last irritation is illegal use of handicapped parking spaces. It’s a great temptation to continue to use the handicapped card after your husband, who actually needed it, has died. Also, no one can actually catch you because many disabilities may not be detected by others. But if that card hasn’t been issued to you for your own disability–please do the right thing and throw it away. People with real disabilities need the space.

Fortunately, you can drive past it and count your blessings if you don’t

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Move Over, Superman. SuperAgers Take Center Stage

Earlier this month I appeared at a seminar on “SuperAging”—a study of people over 80 who still maintain memories unusually well, held in Montgomery Place Senior Residence at 5550 South Shore Dr.,Chiccago,

Main speaker was Dr. Emily Rogalski, research associate professor for the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s disease Center at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. It’s one of 31 centers in the country studying Alzheimer’s disease, but the only center studying older adults who defy—for whatever reason—what is regarded the typical or normal memory loss for most adults their age.

The study also is trying to determine what is “common” versus what is “possible” at a certain age.

Dr. Rogalski reported that the study found one trait in common among the subjects and that was they all exhibited “curiosity,” which many seniors no longer do.

Another, more scientific commonality is that MRIs of those studied show all have an intact “anterior cingulated cortex”  in the center of the brain that affects the ability to control and manage uncomfortable emotions which is often the motivating force in negative behaviors such as substance abuse, binge eating, and suicide.

It also seems to increase the ability to focus and concentrate, which leads to strong memory retention. Research suggests that also may strengthen long- term memory and lead to a tendency to story-telling, all of which was shown in the study subjects.

I also spoke at the meeting, describing my experience as a subject in the SuperAger study. My talk is in the following post.

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SuperAger “Exhibit A” Speaks

I’m SuperAger Exhibit A, one of 74 subjects chosen from 1,000 candidates to participate in the Feinberg Medical School’s Superager study.

Since my mother died at 40 , and my father at 50. They didn’t live long enough to have memory problems, and relatives who did live to old age didn’t exhibit any.

So who knows why we live so long, or why some of us remember more than others.? I don’t.

But I’m gratefully healthy, I walk 1 ½  miles a day, and, since Dr. Maria Piers told us many years ago, “To remain happy and fulfilled, don’t retire FROM something, retire TOO something,” — that’s what I did.

Since retirement 20 years ago, I’ve worked from home for my company, Widlist Media LLC, writing two blogs: www.widowslist.com, advice to widows, and wwwaskdrjob.com, advice to joblorn.

I also give two seminars for senior organizations and communities:

1.Surviving widownhood.

2. a slideshow/ talk called “Celebrities I Have Known” based on my years as a features writer for Chicago papers and on my memoir, “Stairway to the Stars: John Travolta, Woody Allen, Joan Rivers..and Me.”

I joined the Superager program 4 years ago when I found a notice  in the Chicago Tribune, asking people over 80 who had good memories to call. Since I’ve always been told I remember things no one else does, I did call and was given a test on the phone.

During the test I was asked to listen to a list of 20 words then repeat back a many as I could.  I later felt I “cheated” because I instinctively “bundled” like words together, i.e. Shelter: house, tent, cabin. I did confess that and I was told that wasn’t cheating, it was “strategizing” and that was to be commended.

After acceptance, I was taken aback  when they asked me to volunteer to donate my brain (which they MRI regularly)to the study  upon my death so they can compare it to those of dementia patients.

I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to do that. Then I thought, “ What will I do with it?”  (Also, I rationalized that it wasn’t like donating my body, which I wouldn’t do because I don’t want a bunch of young med students standing round, pointing and laughing. Or as Bob Hope said, saying “ that one need pressing.”)

One thing they don’t talk about in these research studies is how difficult it is to grow old and widowed as sickness and death encroach  your circle of friends and family.

It takes a strong sense of self and an even stronger sense of humor—and the ability to look death in the eye as a noble combatant you’ll have to face one of these days.

Many of us try and make sensible exit plans and my friend Estelle was no exception. She lived in a small suburban ranch with a cement driveway. Her neighbor built a small garage on that driveway and after 50 years, the automatic door broke. The repairman said it would cost more to repair the motor than replace the door, so she agreed. As he was writing the invoice, he told her, “This is a great door. If there’s even  a slight whiff of carbon dioxide the door flies up.”

And she said, “Stop right there. Fix the old one. I’m usieng the garage to get out of here.” And Estelle told her she better not change the door because she only had a driveway and she was going to use it too!

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