Once more, with feeling

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Those of you who have been reading my monthly column for a few years know that I occasionally write about my parents’ experiences with healthcare, finances, moving and the like.

You also know that my father, may he rest in peace, died a few weeks ago, just shy of his 94th birthday, and that my 84-year-old mother has moved to this area from Texas to be near my brother and me.

The first time I wrote about my parents in this column, I was concerned that readers might think it odd that I would discuss personal matters in this space. After all, the Beacon generally focuses on topical news and objective information, rather than personal accounts.

But I received many favorable comments — from friends and strangers alike — to that first column. And indeed, later columns that touched on my personal experiences and those of my parents continued to generate an unusual amount of response. 

For years, I’ve wondered: Why was this so? Wouldn’t my more objectively researched columns — or my carefully reasoned (and reasonably argued) positions on matters of the day — be more likely to elicit response from readers?

Why should I get more positive feedback to personal columns laced with angst or pathos or vented anger, when they seldom had answers to the questions I raised?

I think I am only recently, and gradually, coming to understand why this may be so.

When it comes to major changes in life — the various turning points we all experience — all the objective information in the world cannot really prepare us for what we will encounter.

I have spent 25 years working with our staff to write, select and edit articles meant to cover every aspect of our lives after 50: the health conditions and challenges, financial hurdles and legal matters, family matters, employment issues, housing options, even entertainment and travel opportunities.

While we were gathering and sharing all this practical knowledge, I thought I was also absorbing everything I would need to know to prepare myself and my family for the future. I wasn’t going to be blindsided by unexpected problems or feel helpless or uninformed!

But the columns I wrote about my family, as I look back on them, were not crowing about how everything fell into place beautifully.

On the contrary, they generally shared my frustrations and disappointments in how real life often didn’t match up to my expectations. It was the surprises, the challenges, the failures of our systems that moved me to write those columns.

Many readers saw their own reality mirrored in my words. Others were happy just to see me recognize that an individual’s experiences may differ — sometimes greatly — from the “typical” or regular case.

And everyone, I think, appreciated having human feelings added into the mix. One ingredient often missing from our otherwise well-written and helpful articles is how it feels to experience a change. There’s just no substitute for experience when you want to know not what the best “answer” or option is, but how it will feel when you choose it. 

Each of us will face life’s challenges in our own personal way. But when we get a glimpse into how other people live their lives, and how each decision they make truly affects them and their family, we gain a new and valuable perspective.

So I plan to continue writing, occasionally, about my family’s experiences. I can tell you now that, despite my state-of-the-art knowledge about many topics, in these few weeks since my father passed away, my mother has daily enlightened me as to how it feels to cope with the loss of a spouse (after 63 years of marriage), the move to another state, the separation from one’s friends and support network, and the adjustment to a new community.

Needless to say, there is fodder here for several columns.

I hope many of you will, in turn, share your thoughts and personal experiences with me and our readers as well.

Thanks, as always, for reading this column and for reading the Beacon.