I’m 65 and I’m Alive!

Seems like an odd heading for a party invitation, but that is exactly what my Mother’s 65th birthday bash invitation said in 1989 when she celebrated by inviting over 100 people to a hotel luncheon. She had survived beyond expectation, having experienced a brain tumour at age 28 and then a broken neck from falling down our basement stairs while still recovering from brain surgery. My Mother was a walking quad, a highly energetic, socially-minded, volunteer-oriented, beautiful woman, who survived in style and humour until age 83. She fell because she insisted on doing laundry herself and on maintaining normalcy in adversity.

reunion, mom, deb and me

Andria, Mother, Sister Deborah 2005

In October I turned 65 and celebrated this in a small town in Calabria, Southern Italy, with total strangers who became good friends over the period of a ten day tour that included Sicily. My life at 65 is still full of long work days, three young adult (but dependent) children, hours of weekly volunteer activities,  and a bevy of funny, interesting and loving friends. My life is very much dedicated to my Mother, who despite many physical and emotional hardships never gave in to “kvetching” (excessive complaining), though she dined out on medical stories and inventions. She became somewhat of a “go to person” amongst those who wanted cheap medical advice as over the years she racked up experience with multiple surgeries, innovative drugs for pain, and laborious experiences with physio, hypnosis, acupuncture, and every other modality aimed at overcoming her limitations and her agony. Had she had a total spinal cord lesion, she would have had no pain and though she occasionally contemplated having her spinal cord totally severed, she generally, laughed at the idea, and said, ”Its only my pain that tells me I’m alive.”

I can hardly believe that arriving at 65 is so easy; it came so fast. My Mother never looked old; she aged beautifully, and had few lines on her face, uncalloused hands and feet, thick white hair, and sparkling clear blue eyes. She cared almost too much about how she looked, but then vanity is a medical marvel also. She wanted to always look beautiful, so she hid the neck braces behind scarves, painted her canes to match her outfits, and refused most of the time to stay home, use a wheelchair or let others do her errands.  She would have worked but for her disability; in 1954 when she was diagnosed, the prognosis wasn’t good.

My Mother was different. She wasn’t like other Mothers because she used a cane, could not get on a bus, never drove a car, could not lift or carry groceries, never picked up her daughters for a hug, because she physically couldn’t. She couldn’t turn her head sideways, step backwards, or wear high heeled shoes. She did try to look elegant and she never missed a party if invited, but she had to sit out the dances, much to my Father’s pleasure I think as he was much more the introvert.

My Mother was an inspiration. Her friends and family heralded her achievements in just surviving multiple surgeries, and not despairing. They referred to her strength as if she had a PhD in survivorship. She drove her children crazy because of her difference, but she became a role model for taking life as  it comes, feeling blessed about being alive, seeing the obstacles as mere challenges to be overcome, and expressing humour and zest for living and loving others. She was always there for me.

So, as I move through this momentus year of 65, I think often of my Mother, Dinah Spindel. December 25th will be the 6th anniversary of her death, and I will think a great deal about her and the wonderful path she set for me. She set expectations, she sowed ideas of commitment, persistence, generosity and above all, caring for others. I hope at 83, I can look back on a life well lived, as she did.

About modcpresident
I grew up in Calgary, where I completed a BA at the University of Calgary, then travelled and taught in Kenya and the Canadian Arctic during the heyday of Trudeaumania, hippie travel and social experimentation. I settled in Vancouver to complete a Master of Social Work degree at the University of British Columbia, and stayed another 8 years. After graduating I was a Social Planner and eventually became the Executive Director of the Social Planning and Research Council of BC. Ontario March of Dimes recruited me in 1981, the International Year of Disabled Persons and the 30th anniversary of the agency. It has grown from a budget of $5m in '81 to $100m in 2010. Services have expanded drafmatically. We incorporated a non profit housing corporation in 1992 and a national charity in 2001, and since 2006 the latter has operated as March of Dimes Canada. We own and operate several properties that provide accommodation and independent living services to 77 people in 4 municipalities and will add another property this year. Two other exciting non profit entities have been incorporated in my 30 years (yes, it has been 30 years!) and we expect to hold our first fundraiser in the US this year and to initiate our first service south of the border also. My role as President and CEO continues to be that of creating a vision, fulfilling the mission and developing strategic plans to meet an increasing demand for services from people with disabilities and their caregivers. This is achieved through direct service, advocacy and peer programs. On a personal note, I live with my 17 year old daughter and two cats, and enjoy their company a lot. My two adult sons are doing interesting exploration in their own lives and I am intrigued with how they are progressing. In my spare time, I have various volunteer roles on several non profit boards and committees, and enjoy creating programs for building awareness of diversity and disability. I think it has become true for me that youth is, while not "wasted on the young," something that I appreciate more with age. Adventures are physically more challenging for me now, so they have to occur in new dimensions.

7 Responses to I’m 65 and I’m Alive!

  1. David Taylor says:

    Congratulations Andria, and for sharing your special moments!

  2. Elizabeth Lounsbury says:

    What an inspirational Blog. Now I know what to tell myself, I turned 70 two days ago and hate it hate it hate but now I will tell myself I am 70 and alive, Thank you.

    Love Elizabeth

  3. Maria Ryan says:

    Congratulations Andria. Truly inspirational!

    Maria

  4. J. Teresinski says:

    Another inspirational story! Thank you for sharing.

  5. Kathy Glasser says:

    An inspiration message Andria. Sounds like she was truly a woman to admire.

  6. Gary magarrell says:

    Ever articulate! Ever inspirational in all you do.
    Happy 65th – to some of us this is very young indeed.
    On to the future dear friend.
    Gary Magarrell

  7. Congrats Andria!!! Happy belated birthday! Wonderful memories of your Mom. She sounded liked an extraordinary woman!! Keep on enjoying and doing what you do! 🙂

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