A VERY GRATEFUL OLD LADY GIVES THANKS

I know it’s rushing the season, but I would like to give thanks today on this blog.  I need to thank the incredibly large number of thoughtful New York Times readers who took the trouble to respond to my earlier essay printed in “THE NEW OLD AGE.”  In this essay, I ranted about being old, almost blind, sick, and NOT wanting to be a burden to my dear, caring family.  These are truths. Boy, did I get advice!

Hundreds of readers responded – from all over the world. Some scolded me (not harshly, but scolded, nonetheless.  I mean, I am 86 years old!) for ingratitude, or for still being trapped in the problems of an impoverished childhood, or for being selfish.  Psychoanalysis was recommended, and antidepressant medication, and religion, and other folks just suggested I had to acquire more generosity of spirit.  Passivity and acceptance were advised, and greater parental thoughtfulness. I needed to be aware that there were worse fates than mine. My children could be alcoholics or drug addicts or just inattentive, I was cautioned.

So I was reprimanded because I admitted that I minded being a burden.  On the other hand, people did not agree about my frankness; some commended it and admired my honesty and thought they would one day feel the same way.  Others disagreed  strongly. Many NY Times readers spent a lot of time recounting their own unhappy histories and struggles. A lot felt that their parents had not appreciated them!  Handicapped folks wrote to me generously offering their own useful survival tactics. Some of the comments were a little harsh and some were bitterly humorous, but overall I would have to say–ungrateful old lady that I am–that there was a huge generosity of spirit in these comments. After all, who am I?  A name in a newspaper–and they took the time and the trouble to try to help me. To correct me. To guide me.  And to point out all the errors of my ways.

I am overwhelmed by all of this and by the single truly remarkable serendipitous benefit: An old friend, with whom I started my teaching career more than sixty years ago – in a Harlem junior high school – wrote to the editor who put her in touch with me.  In the 1950’s, we were each putting a husband through college.  I was writing my first published novel – about the lousy racist school we worked in: COME BACK ON MONDAY (Abelard Schuman 1960) . What a joy to find this dear friend again.  We have already e-mailed, and talked by phone.  She sounds so very much the same. Finding her is the capstone of this incredible adventure, which I have enjoyed enormously.  

Being a writer, for me, means engagement, complications, misunderstandings, problems, and criticism, as well as being ready to reveal my eccentricities. The point, after all, is the prose.  Words. My words, carefully considered and selected and arranged, the precious treasure offered by the writer.  

So I conclude with gratitude here, not unmindful that I have been blessed in many ways, one of which is that I am getting to tell the world about all the ways in which I am ungrateful. 

Happy Thanksgiving to all! 

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About blogginggrandma

I'm 86. Legally blind. But a force to be reckoned with!
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17 Responses to A VERY GRATEFUL OLD LADY GIVES THANKS

  1. Ruth Rosenberg says:

    Sheila,

    Your response to all the readers of your blog out there was heartwarming. And I am as delighted as you are that we reconnected. Our young past were the formative years of our adult life.
    I will be call you soon, so we can continue our friendship, at least verbally. Ruth

  2. I just read your wonderful piece over at NY Times and had to come over and check out your blog. I didn’t read all the comments so I don’t know if anyone else said this to you, but here is what I wanted to say. When someone I love is sick or going through something hard, I wish I knew what to do. I feel helpless. When I offer, “Is there anything I can do?” in such vague terms, I know it’s hard for them to think of anything. But if they say, “Yes can you do XYZ for me?” I am overjoyed to be able to help in some way. So think of it as your gift to your kids to let them feel valuable to you. Instead of thinking of yourself as a burden, unburden them by letting them do something that makes them feel less helpless and of value to you.

    Thanks for sharing your great piece at the NY Times.

  3. Maureen Moss says:

    What a wonderful, honest response. I would like to offer a comment from an old friend who is no longer on this side of the grass: We don’t need to die w/ the same hang-ups we were born with and had in our younger days. Neuroscience has also taught us this ~ we can, w/ effort, change the way(s) we think and live in the world. All it takes is conscious effort ~ much easier said than done! But… it can be done, and can also be worthwhile .

  4. Sheila W. says:

    Sheila,
    I found your blog to be refreshingly blatant. You weren’t whining, you were explaining what it felt like to be 86 and dependent. And why. Many of us haven’t been there — yet — and godwilling, when we are, perhaps we can remember your words are try to “let it go” and enjoy dependence. (Yes, I know that won’t happen here.) And for those of us who have assisted our older parent, and might now be assisting an older spouse, you words give us a greater understanding of their feelings.
    Thank you so much.

  5. Cherie Azad says:

    You are fabulous. Thank you for the insight into my mother’s head, because surely she’d never admit to such resentments. At least now I’m a little more sure it isn’t “just me.” I love her dearly and am grateful for the time we have left with her, but some days….

    Hope you are well. Keep writing.

  6. mgershun says:

    Sheila (and Ruth) – I have goosebumps reading about your re-connection. Staying in touch with Perri is one of the brightest lights of my life – how wonderful that you have found each other again – and because of the written word! Friendships from our early years are a precious gift.
    Martha

  7. Da Hype 1 says:

    Thank you sincerely for your post, and for the frank way in which you wrote. It made me rethink my own mother’s occasional crankiness. You have a wonderful family (you don’t need me to tell you that) and I hope that I am nearly as thoughtful to my mother as they are to you. I wish you the best, but most of all I wish you peace through the act of writing.

  8. Irmin M says:

    Happy Thanksgiving Sheila. I read your piece in the NYT, hurried over to your blog, and now I am a subscriber. For the longest while I have been contemplating starting a blog but have made
    excuses. You have inspired, as I am much younger than you are, and have my sight. You truly are a force to be reckoned with.

  9. laura says:

    The most interesting thing about you is that you are so visual yet you are almost blind.
    People of today never understand this unless their in the situation.
    On this note I want you to know this- that you are allowed to be grumpy you allowed to hate the world but why waste your time on that when you can just enjoy the rest of your life.
    Enjoy the delecies of life……. Enjoy ur children, enjoy urself.

    Sorry if I stepped the line.

    Your story also made it to durban south africa.

    May you have a wonderful thanksgiving and a merry christmas.

    Lots of hugs from a 28 year who admires you.

  10. Gwenn says:

    I loved your essay. It was so honest. I took care of my mother when she was ailing and she also felt like a burden and hated it, but rather than being cranky about it, she’d cover up the things she really needed help with, trying to muddle through on her own. Which made me feel terrible, like I should have anticipated her needs more. Gosh I miss her. I’d give anything to have that burden back. Anyway, I thought your essay was terrific. I don’t think you need therapy. Too many people seem to think we should all be happy, all the time. You’ve made me feel like I need to be more compassionate to the cranky older people I meet in life. And I have to admit, I am sure I will be one of them too, one day.

  11. Sylvia Lang says:

    Dear Blogging Grandma – Thank you immeasurably for this column (A VERY GRATEFUL OLD LADY). I read it on the New York Times web site. Something you wrote clarified something for me to the core: “My parents were survivors and their fears were real, and I do not mean to belittle them. But they left me with a lifelong fear and loathing of dependence.” I always have wondered why I never could ask for help, never could sustain a long-term relationship and always lived in constant fear of having to depend on anyone for anything. Thank you for writing something so insightful, so truthful, so helpful to another. Now I am a huge fan of your blog!
    Sylvia, age 65, a Californian

  12. Janie says:

    I just discovered your blog in the NYT and want to read every single entry right now…but I’m on my way to a painting class and will have to postpone the pleasure. I’m a bit younger than you, but every word I’ve read so far rings so true to me…thanks for sharing your life with us! Janie, 69, Memphis

    • Sheila says:

      Dear Janie,
      Your mother is obviously blessed with considerate children – as I am. I like best to be included when it’s possible – not socially necessarily but as a working functioning mind – an adult! Even though I’m often a big baby. Company and liveliness please me extraordinarily. But you know your mother and what gives her joy. That’s the best gift! Joy to all of you! Sheila

  13. Steven Septoff says:

    Dear G’ma – thank you for words and insight into something that my brothers and sisters have been wrestling with. You see we are taking care of our 83 year old mother who raised us all with a lot of TLC and helped each one of us grow to be incredibly successful adults. After Dad passed in 1997, Life dealt her a tough hand when it came to the boom and bust of the stock market. we want to help her as much as we possibly can. She lives with my brother most of the year and with me during the rest. How can we give her more?? We have the means and want to do so. Can you recommend anything that you would be okay with?
    thank you –
    Steven

  14. Mo says:

    I just came across your essay; I love your level of engagement in life, your writing and the personality that shines through it, and your kindness to the commenters in what can sometimes be a very ugly blogosphere. I can empathize with feeling resentful at losing independence (I have a lifelong disability that means I am sometimes more able than others). But….you know there’s a ‘but,’ right? But…my experience of being a caregiver for my father in law in the end stages of his battle with cancer was made so much worse than it could have been by just this thing. His resentment of “being a burden” was taken out on us in many of the ways you describe, and many worse. The net effect? His behavior – his resentment, nastiness, snappishness – made him a burden in ways his caregiving needs never could. His complete lack of acknowledgement that we had turned our lives upside down for him, inability to ever utter the words “thank you” in any circumstance, and to find fault with any and all efforts on his behalf – this is what was burdensome. The only thing that was burdensome. Had he been able to allow grace or even neutrality, our “burden” would have been lightened a hundredfold. If you channeled some of your considerable creativity into accepting your children’s efforts with grace, you would leave them the gift of a lifetime, instead of a legacy of bitterness.

  15. Ruth Rosenberg says:

    Blogging grandma and I are old friends…back in our twenties, and we are still here. Ruth

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