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.