Saturday, June 30, 2012

Happy Birth Day, Sweet Henry!

Today isn't just Henry's birthday: it's his birth day!

Henry Patrick McCoy was born today at 2:58 a.m. in Los Angeles.  He weighed 8 pounds, 6 ounces.  His parents are my brother Mike and his wife Amp. His already bossy big sister Maggie is nearly three.

His Daddy says he's a beautiful, perfect, incredibly sweet boy who loves to cuddle and who rarely cries. He marvels at how his laid-back, sweet son differs from his high-energy, intense little daughter whose enduring personality was quite evident as well in her first hours of life. How fascinating to see, once again, how each one of us is born with so much of who we are and who we will become already in place.

Henry's arrival, however, was much more stressful than his sister's nearly three years ago. There were some medical complications and concerns. But these were soon forgotten when Henry made his appearance, healthy and robust. As he held his newborn son for the first time, Mike felt a sense of warmth and peace and serenity from this child.

Sweet Henry. He is the second sweet Henry in our family.

He is named for his great-grandfather, our father's father, the grandfather we never knew. That Henry Patrick was a lawyer and activist who had lived in China and Mexico before returning to the U.S. He won a Carnegie Hero Medal for plunging into a well filled with poison gas to rescue a man trapped there. The effects of his exposure to the poison gas made his health delicate and may have been a factor in his untimely death at the age of 38.

                                Henry Patrick McCoy (1884-1922), attorney and activist

 He was a gentle and loving father to his children. Jim was eight and Molly four when he died and they never forgot his kindness and the warmth of his loving arms.

                                    Henry, Elizabeth and baby Jim in 1913                         

                                   Henry shielding Jim from the Tucson sun - 1913

                                                 Henry, Jim and Molly - 1919

After our beloved Aunt Molly died in 2004, we discovered a trunk of old family photos in her attic, seeing pictures of Henry Patrick for the first time ever. We were stunned at how much he and my brother Mike resembled each other. They shared many traits as well -- intellectual brilliance, a penchant for Asia and Asian languages, social activism, compassion for others.

Though he died decades before my brother, sister or I were born, Henry Patrick was an important member of our family, kept alive by the loving stories our father and Aunt Molly told. That love lives on as another Henry Patrick has entered the world -- nearly 100 years after the late Henry Patrick cradled his son Jim.

What a different world it is and will be for little Henry Patrick!

The first Henry Patrick died when horses and buggies still mingled with cars on the dusty Tucson streets.  His son Jim and daughter Molly were still young children. He would never live to see them grown. He could not have imagined grandchildren. He would never have guessed that nearly 100 years after he held his newborn son Jim, there would be another little boy coming into the world -- a baby boy named for him, testimony to the fact that he is remembered with love by the grandchildren who never felt his embrace.

This 21st century Henry Patrick McCoy will grow up in a vastly different world than the one his great-grandfather knew. Communication is global and instant -- and his older sister Maggie is already computer literate. Her iPad is her favorite toy.

And it's a much more multi-cultural world. Great grandfather Henry Patrick grew up near Chicago, part of a ten child family, in an era where being of Irish descent wasn't considered a social or professional asset. Baby Henry Patrick is part of a larger world: his roots are not only in the U.S., but also in Thailand. His mother Amp is Thai and Henry has very excited grandparents, aunts and other extended family there. His parents own homes both in Los Angeles and Bangkok. So, like his sister Maggie, little Henry will grow up bicultural and bilingual, feeling at home both here and in southeast Asia.

                             Minutes old, Henry weighing in at 8 pounds, 6 ounces

                                Growing family: Amp, Maggie, Mike and Henry   

                                    An armful of love, Mike with Henry and Maggie

What will he be like? Who will he grow to be?

Today, the day of his birth, there are so many unknowns, and so many warm wishes.

What matters most is that he is here.

Welcome to the world, little Henry Patrick!

May you be well loved and love well and live fully, blessed with the capacity for joy, insight, empathy and laughter every day of your life!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Joy of Kittens

The notice caught my eye despite my efforts to ignore it. It was a picture and description of a two-month old flame point Siamese kitten named Prince Charming, available for adoption from Friends for Life in Gilbert, AZ.

                            The Official Shelter Portrait: Prince Charming                                

I stared at the notice, memories of my beloved flame point Marina, who died of leukemia two years ago at the age of only three-and-a-half, came flooding back. Marina was the only cat I've adopted who wasn't a kitten, but a young adult. She had been given up by two families complaining of her emotional neediness. But Marina not only needed love and attention, she also gave at least as much as she got. She sang and trilled with joy when Bob and I got home from work. She slept on my pillow. She worked with me in therapy with conflicted families, soothing them with her warmth and making them smile with silly antics. Once relaxed, they began to resolve their problems with new calm and cooperation.

                     My beloved Marina (2006-2010), my first flame-point Siamese                

No cat can ever replace another.

Still, another flame-point, a kitten....

It was just too tempting.

Bob and I adopted him a week ago and are totally immersed in the joys and challenges of living with a kitten.

We're kitten-proofing the house again and discovering that this one is more athletic than most -- taking pleasure in weaving himself through wood blinds, jumping into the entertainment center shelves, and, impossibly, squeezing under the bureau drawers in our bedroom. We're constantly on the lookout for something small and white streaking past us or playing with our shoelaces as we walk around the house.

We're on the happier end now of the tedious ritual of kitty introductions and integration with our older cats in residence -- with much growling and hissing under the closed doors as our female cats Maggie and SweetPea adjusted to the idea of another little life around the house. Gus, a veteran of new kitten companions, mostly ignored the psychodrama.

We've spent a lot of time watching him and trying to imagine a name, deciding to hang onto the Prince part of his shelter name and then add an at-home name with a myriad of variations. That name is Hamish -- Hammie or Ham for short. We're waiting to see if it suits him  -- and if, eventually, he will answer to it.

When we took the big step of letting him out to roam freely around the house (closely watched) three days ago, our sweet 14-year-old Gus was there immediately to groom him, hang out with him and play with him. Hammie has since won everyone over with his sweetness, his ready purr, his curiosity, his affection and his boundless energy.

                        Gus, 14, grooming two-month-old Hamish, his new buddy

                                                    Hamish and Gus just hanging out

                                             Gus and Hammie playing

                                       Hammie and Gus pause for a quick nap

                                        More napping with Hammie and Sweet Pea  

                                               Hammie and his new social circle

Yesterday, when Bob was sitting on the couch, struggling with another epilepsy-related bout of severe depression, Hammie jumped into his lap and, uncharacteristically, settled in for a good amount of time. Bob's spirits lifted almost instantly.

                                                   Hamish keeping an eye on Bob 

                                    Hammie lifting Bob's depression with a warm cuddle   

And as I work on the computer, struggling with the proposal for my book about my therapy cats Timmy and Marina, I feel a gentle tap on my ankle. I look down. There is Hammie, looking up at me, trilling softly. I pick him up  and cuddle him as he purrs. An outgoing, loving little kitten -- not unlike Timmy, a creme Burmese/red tabby mix, who was my therapy cat when I added animal-assisted therapy to my practice. Timmy, who was Gus' more extroverted littermate, died of melamine poisoning from tainted cat food in 2007.

                           Timmy (1998-2007) who loved flowers and people         

Hammie purrs and rubs against my cheek, reminding me, in his own way, to be present in the moment.

This soft bundle of fur in my arms is not Marina nor Timmy, even though my memories of them are close and warm as I watch him. He is very much himself -- the quintessential Hammie. And he is a delight.

One of the greatest joys of raising a kitten is watching the unique personality of a young cat evolve, day by day. Kittenhood is one of the most brief, precious, fleeting experiences we share with our companion animals. But even as we enjoy romping, playing and laughing over their antics, we anticipate years of the pleasure of their feline company.

After losing Marina and Timmy at relatively young ages, I no longer assume that a new kitten will invariably be a companion for many years. I feel gratitude for whatever time I will have with a baby Hammie and the cat he will become.

We've been fortunate with our cats. And Hamish is our newest treasure.

Each cat we've had, for however long, has been a joy. Through the years, our kittens have became wonderful cats... warming our memories, blessing our days.

                                                      Prince Hamish at rest

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Helping Adult Children Through Rough Times

Over coffee at our community Cyber Cafe, a neighbor I'll call Frank confided his concerns about his 24-year-old daughter Emily. "She has no direction in her life," he said. "She has had three jobs in the last year and is once again unemployed. She's depressed. She doesn't know what to do with her life."

Frank and his wife Jan drove to Colorado to pick Emily up and bring her for a two week visit here. She has been exercising, swimming, enjoying the sun and their company. "It has been a great vacation for her, a pleasure for all of us," he said. "But I dread taking her back. She has no idea what she is going to do."

Another neighbor recently told me that her son and his wife recently separated and she is sad to see his pain, concerned about the two grandchildren caught between warring parents and wondering what, if anything, she might do to help. "I don't want to make anything worse by butting in," she told me. "But I feel so bad for all concerned."

Yet another friend told me yesterday that her son is having financial problems -- again. His money issues have been ongoing throughout his adult life. He is now nearing 50 with a family and a car that needs a new transmission. So he called Mom, who is living on Social Security and a small savings account, to say "Hi" and to hint, rather broadly, that he would like her to buy him a new car.

Whether it's money or relationships or trying to find a direction in life, it's always hard to watch an adult child struggle. What do you do when an adult child is going through rough times? How do you nurture without rescuing? Encourage without diminishing their own problem-solving skills? Help without hindering growth?

1. Listen. Sometimes your adult child, more than anything, needs to vent. As you listen to this venting, you may hear clues to your child's own problem-solving ideas or desires and will be able to make appropriate suggestions. And as he or she vents, your son or daughter may find the beginnings of his or her own solutions.

2. Encourage a young adult to fight his or her own battles with your support. Don't be a "helicopter parent" for your college student or young adult son or daughter. I've seen many parents call college professors to discuss a grade or their child's difficulties with a class. By stepping in and taking over, you are taking away a valuable chance for your child to grow in competence. It is much more useful to listen and discuss your child's difficulties -- whether with a college class, a boss or co-worker or a troubled friendship or love relationship -- and  to share some ideas or strategies for dealing with these difficulties. Then step back and let your adult child handle the situation. Learning to face challenges and conflict, do the hard things in life (from asking for help to apologizing) and work through worries and anxieties are all important steps toward full, functional adulthood.

3. Give loving support but stay out of marital troubles.  It may be more helpful to say something like "I'm so concerned for you and love you so much. I hope however you work this out, it will be for the best." Taking sides could come back to haunt you when or if the young couple decides to reconcile. Instead, encourage careful thought before acting. Encourage marriage counseling. Encourage communication. Share your thoughts about all marriages having ups and downs, times of closeness and times of distance and caution your child not to panic at the first signs of trouble, but to see difficulties as a sign that some change needs to happen.

4. If child is in danger from an abusive spouse or boyfriend, offer love and safety: If your adult child is being physically or emotionally abused, letting her know that she has your support may be vital to her finding a way to leave. Do some research into local organizations for victims of spousal abuse and their support services and shelters. Talk with your child about the signs of an abuser and the cycle of abuse which can range, in a regular pattern, from violent lashing out to tearful contrition and attempts to woo her back emotionally. Give her a brochure outlining the signs of abuse so the information isn't simply coming from you. Many times, victims are in denial or have been so damaged emotionally that they see no way out.  Gently encourage your daughter to remove her children from the abusive home, especially if the abuser is a stepfather or boyfriend (which puts the children at increased danger). Sometimes a young adult will respond to threats to her children before threats to herself. It's important to know, too, that if a violent abuser is in picture, your adult child may not be safe at your home.  She may need to be in a special shelter where she can't be easily found. Let her know that there are options and that she has your loving support, that she doesn't have to stay in a dangerous situation.

5. If your adult child has a substance abuse problem, offer love and support for sobriety, but stop rescuing him or her. A drug or drinking problem can, sadly, defy logic and the best of efforts to help. Let your child know that he or she is dearly loved and that you emotionally support his or her sobriety. But bailing him out of trouble again and again may delay recovery. As difficult as "rock bottom" may seem, often it has to happen before the goal of recovery can be realized. It may mean withdrawing all financial support or not allowing your child to move back home (and steal from you to support a habit). It may mean letting him stay in jail after the latest DUI.  It is agonizing to stand back and watch addiction spiral out of control, but especially if rehab has been a revolving door, sobriety lost and found countless times, there may be little you can do except to set firm rules, stop decreasing the uncomfortable consequences of maintaining a habit, and express your unwavering love and your hope that your son or daughter can and will get clean and sober.

6. If your child has ongoing financial problems, don't automatically run to the rescue. Financial discussions, trouble-shooting and help in planning can be better than constantly funneling money in your adult child's direction.

One friend, who is far from rich, confided recently that she and her husband forgave $50,000 worth of "loans" to their middle-aged son and that soon thereafter, he was back asking for more money, including ongoing help with monthly bills. He is 48 years old and has never been unemployed. He simply aspires to live a lifestyle beyond what is available to him on his salary. Finally, when he became angry at his mother's refusal to pay his escalating cell phone bills, she told him that her checkbook was closed.

Another friend, whose middle-aged son was hinting that he'd like her to buy him a new car, said "No" firmly and with love. "You know I love you unconditionally and forever," she said. "But I can't keep bailing you out. I'm on a limited income. My savings aren't infinite and they're for me right now.  What I can do is help you think this through: to pay $2500 for a new transmission or to get a new car. Either way, it's going to be a major expense. So where can you cut back to make this affordable? Maybe you need to re-think that big vacation you were going to take this summer. Let's start with that....what can you live without to make this car expense do-able?"

7. If your child has problem finding himself career-wise, set rules and talk options: Finding one's own path can be a life-long pursuit and we can learn a great deal from work experiences, career detours, mistakes and small victories along the way.

If you are willing and able to offer your young adult child a place to live while he or she is job-hunting after graduation or after a layoff or other unpromising job start, that's terrific. But it's important that this safe haven not be without limits. What timeline seems right and fair? What rules will you set about serious job-hunting and participating in family chores? Loving support during difficult times -- and this IS a very difficult time to be just starting out in the world -- can make a big difference. But loving your child can also mean making your expectations clear: he or she must get a job. That first job may not be the job of his dreams but it is a start. He must have a plan for responsible adulthood - planning for major expenses, paying bills on time, showing up at work and in life.

Encouraging your child to get out into the world and start on this winding path to full adulthood can be a great gift.

On the other hand, sheltering him or her as your adult child waits for the perfect job opportunity can be crippling.

I once saw a family in therapy who had a son in his mid-twenties still living at home and going nowhere fast. He dabbled in, but never completed, college and dreamed of a stellar musical career. But he did little to get into the workforce and take the first steps toward making these dreams happen. Instead, he lounged in his room, dreaming his dreams, playing video games and reacting angrily when his mother, who was working three jobs to keep the household solvent, suggested that he take whatever job he could get right now in the industry or outside it, to support and build toward his dreams. The young man would snort derisively at the thought. "Why should I do gofer work or flip burgers?" he would say. "I have talent. I'm going to make it big. I don't have to work stupid starter jobs."

As I listened -- sometimes gritting my teeth -- I could hear a mixture of fear and arrogance in his words -- and I would make the observation to him and his family that continuing this endless summer of prolonged adolescence was not going to cure either condition.

And I thought, and would sometimes remind him, that many people who have gone on to enjoy success in their careers have started small -- and learned immensely from the experience.

Indeed, sometimes the starter job has built an entire career. I think about Michael Feinstein, who worked as an assistant to Ira Gershwin in his later years, and whose career as an entertainer started with his loving tributes to Gershwin music.

And my own starter job at 'TEEN Magazine, where I sorted and read mail like everyone else just beginning there, was low-paying, not an obvious journalistic plum, and an immense influence on my career for years to come. In sorting that mail, I discovered more about teenagers than I ever would have learned otherwise. In writing for this magazine that some people I knew considered impossibly frivolous, I learned much about blending substance with humor and story-telling and giving advice with a light hand. And my growing expertise at writing for this critical age group led to more than a dozen books over the years. Looking back, I'm so grateful for that modest first job that taught me so much.

If you have an adult child who is struggling to find a career direction, listening and discussing the options can be one of the best things you can do. Community colleges often have career centers offering aptitude testing -- and this may be a place to start. If your adult child has completed college, gone in a career direction that once seemed like a good idea but is now an emotional dead-end, career counseling may help. Your encouragement to consider his or her passions and how to turn these into a new career can be helpful as well.

There may be times when a passion is a high-risk career -- like one in the entertainment industry -- where a back-up job may be essential. If your child dreams of being a rock star or comedian or filmmaker, that's great. But they need to have a plan for supporting themselves while waiting for stardom to happen. Sometimes back-up and passion careers are not incongruous.

One of the best, most original comedians I've ever seen -- Don McMillan -- has an engineering degree from Stanford, worked for some years in Silicon Valley and does many of his routines using Power Point along with business and math jokes. Not only is he popular in comedy clubs and on television, but he has also built a lucrative career in doing gigs at corporate events -- and some time ago began to earn enough as a comedian to finally quit his day job as an engineer.

If your adult child has yet to develop a passion or definite direction, encourage him or her to find inspiration in any job he or she can find in this economy. We can learn a great deal from the jobs we hate as well as the jobs we love. All of these experiences can help us find the right career path. And don't under-estimate the power of your insights and advice -- even if your adult child doesn't seem receptive at the moment.

My sister Tai has always been a natural nurse --at her best when someone was ill and in distress. Our parents encouraged Tai to pursue a career in nursing. She wouldn't hear of it. It took years of working jobs she hated -- as a hotel switchboard operator, an auto body shop expeditor, numerous clerical jobs -- before she decided that our parents had been right all along, that nursing was what she was meant to do. She went back to school for a nursing degree when she was nearing forty -- while working nights as an aide in a nursing home -- and has now been an RN specializing in labor and delivery for nearly twenty years. At long last, she has work she loves -- and a wonderful feeling of making a difference.

It can be incredibly difficult, as a parent,  to watch an adult child go through rough times, but in those challenges, setbacks and disappointments, growth can happen, Think back on your own tough times and what it meant to overcome these. Loving support without rescue, listening without rushing in with a solution, encouraging your adult child to find a workable plan to overcome a difficulty...all of these are ways to nurture your adult child while encouraging him or her to find his own solutions and plans for the future and, eventually, to thrive.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

What I Wish I Had Known at Graduation and What I'm Glad I Didn't

Our young friend Ryan Grady recently received his Master's degree in Social Work and we were so thrilled for him, we drove back to California to attend his graduation.  Watching the joy and optimism of Ryan and his classmates and their justifiable pride in their accomplishments, I thought back to the day I received my first Master's degree, at age 23 in 1968, and to those familiar feelings of happiness and relief and pride and the sense that just about anything was possible.

              My dear friend Marie Traina (l) with me after Graduation 1968                             

From this vantage point, thinking back in time, there is so much I wish I had known and, at the same time, so much I'm glad that I didn't know.

What do I wish I had known?

There's the small stuff:

  • that Apple and Microsoft would be good investments at some future date.
  • that it might be wise to put my sparse money into a California home when you could still buy a nice house for less than the price of today's average sedan - before all those bubbles
  •  the miracle of compounding interest and the wisdom of saving for retirement that all but eluded me in my clueless (and tight budgeted) youth.

And then there's the more important stuff:

  • that my body would never be so healthy or so slim or pain-free, that I should appreciate its youthful strength and beauty instead of wasting time focusing on fat and flaws
  • how important and life-affirming it was to appreciate all the love in my life at the moment -- from family and from friends -- instead of focusing so narrowly on finding just the right man.
  • I wish I had been more watchful, more sensitive and more aware. I wish I had realized that there are many small and subtle blessings in our lives that are so easy to overlook when we're young and careless with time and with people.
What am I glad I didn't know?

I'm glad I didn't know -- as I kvetched and felt occasionally tortured by my work schedule -- that my first job -- as an editor at 'TEEN Magazine --  would be, hands down, the best job I would ever have.

It wasn't just the excitement of monthly publication, the fan mail or the travel opportunities. It was the daily companionship of so many good souls. The staff was full of so many other bright, ambitious and talented young women on the cusp of a new era in women's lives. Some became very special friends then and have remained close through all the years since.

And there was the encouragement of a special man -- Bob MacLeod, 'TEEN's publisher. He was a unforgettable character who was famous as an All-American football hero from Dartmouth, a pilot in combat in World War II and a magazine industry veteran who had been at the helm of several famous national magazines. It was his yearning to get out of New York and to live the rest of his life on the beach in Malibu that brought him to 'TEEN, one of the very few national magazines then published out of Los Angeles. In  my foolish youth, I thought he was weird and a total male chauvinist pig-- a popular catch phrase in the day. I so took for granted the blessing of his constant encouragement, his delighted memos about articles I had written and ways he had seen me grow in my years there, his gift of near complete artistic freedom (which, in two cases, meant his facing down major advertisers who took issue with the frankness of some of my sexuality articles). Fortunately, I had a chance to thank him many years later and he was wonderfully gracious.

Silly me. I thought all jobs would be like that. I imagined some might even be better. I'm so glad, at that vantage point, that I didn't know the hardships and heartbreaks ahead.

I'm glad I didn't know on that day, as she celebrated graduation with me, that my dear college friend Marie Traina (pictured above), with whom I loved to sing and who so loved my bizarre family stories, would never live to be thirty, that her husband who had seemed so charming and congenial, would brutally murder her as she slept just weeks before her 29th birthday.

I'm glad I didn't know -- at a time when I thought 120 was bordering on obesity -- just how fat I would get in midlife, topping out at 258 pounds in 1999.

I'm glad I didn't know how soon I would lose so many people I loved -- even on the brink of losing them. My last lunch with my newly widowed mother -- listening to her talk about old boyfriends and the allure of an affair if she could just get her weight where she wanted it -- was much more enjoyable in its ordinariness than it would have been if I had known I would never see her alive again. My last memory is of a woman quite vibrantly alive.

And yet....I wish I had known to savor those moments, those people, to judge less and embrace more.

Like many of the parents and families around us at Ryan's recent graduation, I found myself dabbing tears as Ryan and his classmates cheered. These were tears of joy for all he -- and they -- have accomplished against some quite daunting odds. These were tears prompted by their hopefulness, their vulnerabilities and the prospect of so many triumphs and tragedies to come. They can't know what's ahead -- any more than we did. But, oh, how I wish Ryan and his classmates the wisdom to savor, to celebrate, and to embrace all of the experiences and the tough and the joyous times to come and the whole spectrum of love in their lives.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Of Life, Ducks and Love

Life has changed dramatically for my friend John Breiner since his catastrophic head injury in a fall four years ago. He walks with difficulty, with the support of a walker. He can no longer drive. And the damage to his brain is progressive. Despite his yearnings for life to be the same as it was before, he is increasingly dependent on Mary, his wife of 27 years, and one of my dearest friends for the past 40 years.

                                         Mary and John Breiner - May 15, 2012

In the past year, I've flown over to their L.A. area home every few months to spend time with them, thoroughly enjoying their company.  When I visited in February, the changes in John were unsettling. This bright, accomplished man seemed to be slipping away -- though his kind, sweet personality was still a constant.

There was reason for celebration during my last visit a few weeks ago: a new medication regimen had brought wonderful benefits. He was back, reading the daily papers with great interest, engaging in lively conversation and rediscovering his passion for mystery novels.

"Now you and Mary talk and visit tonight and don't worry about me," he said at one point, settling into his favorite reading chair with a fat Dick Francis novel. "I'm going to read this cover to cover tonight so you can just enjoy each other."

Mary and I smiled at him and each other -- delighted to have time together, even more delighted to see John being so much himself once again.

And yet, life is forever changed for this man who once headed the international division of a major corporation, traveling the world. These days, his health is too frail even to travel to Denver for his grandson's middle school graduation. His world has become their cozy, comfortable beach condo with its view of a small stream populated with a wonderful variety of waterfowl and the sandy dunes and ocean beyond, with frothy breaking waves.

                                  Ocean view from Mary and John's Condo Balcony

                                      Creek view from Mary and John's Condo Balcony

                                            Some duck "neighbors" swimming in the creek                                     

His memory does not always embrace short-term events, but the long-term memories, the events that have mattered most in his life are still vivid.

One early evening,  as John and I sat on the balcony, watching the sun set over the ocean and listening to the sound of the surf, he told me -- once again -- the story of the love in his life. He talked about the tragic loss of his beloved first wife, who died of lung cancer, when their youngest child Katie was less than a year old. He told me how his mother had come from Philadelphia to Los Angeles for three years to help care for the children and then how, in subsequent years, several nannies cared for them when his job took him to distant places.

And then Mary, an ex-nun and psychotherapist who worked in Personnel/Employee Assistance for his corporation and who came to his department to mediate some employee differences, came into his life. "I hadn't been dating or even looking for another person to love," he told me, gazing thoughtfully into his glass of red wine. "My life was my children and my work. There wasn't room for anyone else....until Mary."

They married when she was in her early forties and he was a decade older. His son Matthew and daughter Liz were in college at the time. Katie was 10. The children loved Mary from the beginning and stood at the altar with John and Mary at the wedding, Katie wiping tears of joy and snuggling up to Mary as she said her vows.

The kids are all grown now with spouses and children and lives of their own. There have been times, John told me, when one or another of the adult children has grumbled about how much time he spent at work and on the road when they were growing up.  "We all love each other dearly, of course," he said. "But when I was a single parent in a demanding job that required frequent travel, it was hard on all of us, especially the kids. But they have only love for Mary...only do I. What a blessing she is. What a gift it love and to feel so loved."

And I sat there thinking, with gratitude, that, as his memories fade, the ones that still stand out for him are ones of love and connection.

"There is love all around," John said suddenly, interrupting my reverie. He pointed to the creek just below the balcony.  There was a large goose -- a gander -- curled up with a small white duck on the creekside.

John told me that this gander lost its mate and has since adopted the little duck as his constant, loyal companion. He added that he had become very interested in these waterfowl and their habits and has checked out library books to learn more about varieties of ducks and geese.

"Those ducks and geese have become neighbors and friends to me," he said. "It's so interesting to see how they interact with each other. I guess it's another instance of love being where you find it."

Smiling, I told him about my favorite childhood pet: Hughey, a white Peking duck whom my father bought (along with two other ducklings -- Dewey and Louie, of course) at a local farmer's market one Easter. I loved all three, but Hughey was my favorite, the love of my childhood. He let me rub my face in the soft down under his wings and carry him around like a baby. He was gentle. He followed me around like a sweet puppy. He kept the other two ducks from chasing and biting us by holding them back, catching the area between their wings in his beak. My father called him "The Little Gentleman."

Our Easter ducks survived for some years. When they were about five years old, Dewey got caught under the wheels of my mother's car as she was backing out of the driveway one rainy night. (Our father dubbed her car "The Duck Press", a name that stuck, to her chagrin, for years to come.) About a year later, Louie was killed by a predator. Hughey survived for some time after that, continuing to bring joy to my life, until a coyote tore him apart one awful night -- breaking my heart as well.

I suddenly remembered that I had a picture of myself and Hughey in my briefcase. My brother Mike, whom I was going to visit later in the week, had asked me to bring family pictures to scan for an online scrapbook for his children to enjoy in the future.

                                      My beloved duck Hughey and me in 1952                  

John studied the picture for a long time. "You sure did love that duck," he said at last.

"I sure did."

"And I love this picture," he said.

He asked to see it many more times, the last time when I was preparing to leave and he wanted to show it to his respite caregiver Jesse.

Mary and I shared delight in the fact that he was showing such improvement in short-term memory: he kept remembering and asking for that picture.

Several days later, I emailed a scanned copy of the picture to Mary -- who replied that she had printed it out on glossy photo paper and was taping it to the mirror of their bedroom dresser so that it would be the first thing John would see when he awoke that morning.

And I thought of the lesson I had learned from that dear man during our time on the balcony, watching the ducks, the goose and the ocean waves.

He taught me the importance of living in the moment, of savoring the sights and the sounds of life happening around us. No matter how much he has lost of his former life, his keen awareness of what matters, of life happening in the here and now endures.

And it struck me that, with even with age and growing disability, we still can find delight in small but significant things. We find love and warmth and reassurance in unanticipated ways, at unexpected times.

We can find it in memories of love and loss and reconnection. We can find it remembering how our long relationships began and how they have endured through so many years and challenges, shared joys and sorrows.

We can find it in the continuity of life as our children and grandchildren grow and thrive.

We can find it by paying attention to life around us, like watching ducks (and a lone goose) swim languidly in the creek and, as daylight fades, cuddle together on the mossy bank.

And we can find it in the memories and faded photos of people and pets we loved so much in our distant childhoods -- long-ago connections that so enriched our early lives and that still bring a smile to our lips and joy to our hearts.

When all other memories, all titles and prestige and perks and all the other trappings of the work world that once seemed so important, have vanished from our lives, what we remember most is that we have loved and been loved.