Category Archives: Ageing

Spring Cleaning a Life – Decluttering Mum’s Wardrobe

It was the ant world that pushed me into cleaning out or more precisely ‘decluttering’ my father’s wardrobe. Those pernicious insects propelled me into doing what 18 months ago grief couldn’t. With repulsion, I watched ants scurrying along shelves and up the walls of the walk-in robe that Dad had once shared with our mother. Following their trail, we discovered nests under books, boxes of old mobile phones, in the crevices of Mum’s ski boots and probably a lot of other places we didn’t look. 

These nests were all new since the February, nearly 2 years ago, when we had started to clean out the wardrobe after Mum’s unexpected death. Back then, my sisters were wandering around the house, dealing with their sorrow and needing to be kept occupied so Dad gently suggested they clean out Mum’s side of the wardrobe. It was only a few days after she had died and so, while I wrote a draft Eulogy, they sorted the clothes into three piles: ditch; give away and keep. It was a time to remember our mother and the occasions on which she had worn these clothes. It was also a way of dealing with saying goodbye.

My daughters were slightly disconcerted at the speed with which their aunts made these decisions. They kept dragging clothes from the pile and hiding them in a cedar chest for us to go through later. 

Although she loved fashion, Mum wasn’t a slave to it but her clothes were an integral part of her personality and she bought well. Tall and slim, she wore her clothes with a touch of elegance and style. Mum had an innate sense of what would look good on her and rarely bought something that she later regretted. Growing up, we girls often raided her wardrobe searching for something different to wear. 

Sensibly, my sisters realised that not all the clothes should be removed immediately as this would have left a very empty wardrobe for Dad to look at each time he got changed. Looking around the wardrobe as he and I tracked the ants I realised what a sense of Mum’s presence these clothes still carried. The fabrics have absorbed her smell and her perfumes.

The magic of cloth has the memory of the wearer

Her blouses evoked the shape of her body as they hung from the soft padded coat hangers that she used. It is the magic of cloth that it has a memory and I could still see the creases at the elbow of the shirt that Mum had hung up to wear a second time. If I was considering a memento mori it would be one of my mother’s silk shirts that have started to fray at the edges and seams. I feel like that myself some days. 

Decluttering the wardrobe,

We looked at her shoes, none of which either I or my sisters and our children could fit. Mum had long slim feet and was justly proud of them. Now after a hot humid summer, mildew was forming on some of the shoes that hadn’t been worn for months.

I’ll share this task with you I said to Dad as I climbed a small step ladder to inspect the top shelf. This was where suitcases, carryon bags, satchels, pillows, rugs, etc had been placed. There were three carry-on bags and three large suitcases. I handed the first down to him which was light then reached for the second one, an early Samsonite, well-made but now superseded in design and materials. This needs to go I suggested pulling it off the shelf. Feeling the difference in the weight even he agreed that it might be surplus to requirements. Suitcases also have changed. Mum’s father had given her a crocodile skin suitcase when she first travelled to England in 1955 and she had kept it. It is a beautifully crafted piece of luggage and I cannot throw it out, despite knowing that none of us will use it when travelling. It is now the happy depository of our Christmas decorations.

‘At 94, I think it is ambitious to plan decluttering each year.’

 ‘We should declutter your shelves every couple of years,’ I suggested, looking at the wardrobe.

‘At 94, I think that’s a little ambitious,’ he responded.

The lower shelves were a clutter of half-read books, old and unused out of date diaries, wrapping paper and ribbons, and boxes. Boxes of old mobile phones both Mum’s and Dad’s dating back to their first Nokias. The backing on the old clamshell phone had melted the sides together. ‘I am keeping them just in case,’ Dad protested as I tossed them into the bin.

I gave him a scathing look. ‘Dad, you use a phone on which you can facetime my sisters and our children who are all interstate or overseas.’ Why do you want to go back to the dark age?’  I could feel my Mother whispering in my ear pointing out that she was not the hoarder in the household. ‘Keep going.’ I could hear her urging me. 

We paused for a coffee then I departed with bags of lovely shoes and shirts for our local charity. Later that evening I found Dad distributing his clothes on the now empty racks. ‘I have found shirts I had forgotten I had,’ he said, proudly pointing to his shirts all hanging off quaint padded clothes hangers. ‘You know, I think your mother used to buy me a shirt whenever she bought her herself an expensive outfit as I have shirts I haven’t worn in years.’

Some of us just cannot see a clean empty shelf or space without filling it. Dad was always being accused of covering every horizontal surface in their home and I think Mum was justified as the next day, I caught him tying a rope around a wheeled pot plant stand on which he had precariously balanced a carton of wine. He declined my offer to help as he said it was the last carton from under the couches in the study where they had been stored for the past year. 

‘You can’t have drunk it all so where are the rest of the cartons,’ I asked watching him shuffle down the hallway tugging his wine behind him. 

I should have known. The once empty wardrobe shelves are now crammed with boxes of old files and cartons of wine. There was even a bottle opener. ‘Your mother loved her glass of wine and was happy to have a drink anywhere, anytime,’ Dad chuckled. ‘Do you think she’d approve?’ 

Decluttering the wardrobe?

I have a feeling that it wasn’t thunder I heard overhead, but my mother stamping her feet, cross that she hadn’t thought of having a drink in her walk-in robe before he did.


You are never too old to learn a new skill

When do you get too old to learn a new skill? Never if you look at my parents generation who are playing bridge, mahjong, reading new books, golfing and taking up hobbies as well as exercising.

My grandmother when she was in her 80s, stopped cooking with her aluminium saucepans and refused to use deodorant that had aluminium as an ingredient. She was particularly insulted by our laughter when she told us that she was doing it to help prevent Alzheimer’s. Granny died when she was 104 and was alert almost to the end.

Now, my mother has returned from having a bone scan, jubilant that she doesn’t have dementia. Her bone density isn’t very good, but at least she doesn’t have Alzheimer’s. Judging from the number of days each week that she trots off to play bridge and have lunch with the girlfriends, there never was any doubt about her mental capability. However, both she and Dad are determined to slow the ageing process by all means possible.

Aged 92, my father is still playing golf three or four days a week and is irritated that 18 holes is almost too much for him. He comes back after a day on the course looking absolutely shattered. But as he says, ‘The alternative is to sit on the verandah and eat your mother’s cakes while watching the world go by.’

Mum’s hands aren’t strong enough at 87 years, to take up a new hobby such as quilting or knitting but she can still cook and her plan is to cook a new recipe every week. She says that deciding upon the recipe, shopping for the food and then preparing it fills in a lot of her spare time, that is if there is any after bridge, reading and lunches. She struggles to open the tops of jars and is tempted to ask the local shopkeeper to open the bottles of ingredients for her before she leaves the shop. Even the act of squeezing the petrol pump nozzle has become a challenge to her arthritic fingers. Dad complains his muscle strength isn’t what it used to be despite walking the dog and swinging a golf stick with a weight on it.

Keeping your body and mind does become more challenging as you lose muscle strength with age. You may be able to slow down the advance of Sarcopenia with exercise and diet but it eventually affects us all.  Mum says the latest topic around the bridge table isn’t which erectile dysfunction drugs such as Viagra the old fellas should take, it is all about super foods and which source of omega-3 and protein powder is the best one to buy. Whey protein smoothies are popular whilst others sprinkle it onto their yoghurt and muesli at breakfast.

These oldies enjoy life and seem to be determined to live forever and if they can’t slow the body down they will try to slow mental ageing down with Brain Training. However, I think my father’s latest challenge is one of the best.

He and I recently went shopping at Apple and he bought his first iPhone and replaced his very old laptop with an iMac. He is refusing to be overwhelmed and is already becoming more sanguine about using these new machines. There are lots of hiccups and he is often asking me what command he should use, but he is tackling a new operating system with determination. We sit together at his desk while I guide him, letting him use the mouse and keyboard, then he writes these instructions down in his notebook for future reference. He is familiar with internet banking, he scans rental property documents, books his travel online and has digital subscriptions to many magazines. He already has his Bridge notes on his iPad, now his bedtime reading includes manuals for using the Apple iPhone and iMac. Within 24-hours my sister had him on a WhatsApp group, exchanging text messages and photos with his children and grandchildren who are scattered around the world. He is set to become a role model in my son’s business as an example of how not to fear learning a new system. The great-grandchildren love it when he FaceTimes them.

As this inspirational couple say, at 87 and 92 years of age, Brain Training is probably all the training they can do.

Girlfriends are so important

ww_the-girls-backs-on-logWe were off to Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island which has to be one of the most glorious places to have a girls’ week-end away. A southerly was battering the boat and my girlfriend and I were struggling to stand upright against the swell that was tossing the passenger ferry around like flotsam.

ww_point-lookoutSea water was splashing against the windows of the lounge area where the passengers had crowded to avoid getting wet from the spray that washed across the outer deck. Bracing against the seat, I looked around the lounge and noticed that my friend and I were the only people chatting; our travelling companions were all head down, looking at their iPhone or tablet. This silence was broken only by giggles coming from the front of the sitting area where I saw two little girls playing with each other.

Version 3I had seen the little strawberry topped hat looking out through the rain drops sliding down the glass as the passenger ferry rolled and splashed its way across Moreton Bay through the squall that was making our passage distinctly uncomfortable.

She was playing very happily by herself, running her finger down the wet window and drawing pictures. Occasionally she would turn to the child nearest her and play with her. I have no idea whether they were siblings or friends but when I asked to take her photo, she immediately wrapped her arm around the other little girl and gave her a hug, including her in the shot.

Version 4My girlfriend smiled at me and I reflected that this is what I would experience over the next two days in the company of my girlfriends.

Some of our friendships have start way back when we were as little as these two girls, sharing simple pleasures, some started when we were thrown together as a disparate group at school or later at university when a common interest, subject studied or another friend brought us together.

At the beach house, as I sat sharing a glass of wine and laughing at our reminiscences of past boyfriends I realised how important these friendships are in helping you get through your life. We talked about our worries for our children and our hopes for their careers and love life and how gut wrenching it was when they left home. We mused over the sorrows and tragedies that have occurred hoping that our friendship acts as a barrier to despondency and loneliness.

ww_the-girls-sitting-on-logWe complained about the incremental changes on our bodies that ageing causes and moaned of the challenges faced when dealing with our ageing parents. Although most of us are experiencing it, none of us could determine the best form of treatment for AMS (Ageing Mother Syndrome).

Some of us are married to our first husband, some onto our second marriage and others divorced but we remain friends. The wonderful thing about a friendship with our girlfriends is the acceptance of what you are. It is a liberating feeling to know that you don’t have to appear with make-up on each morning and who cares about the bulges that no amount of yoga or Pilates will tighten up and make disappear. We were content, sitting  on the deck, sipping a coffee and talking about what interests us. We have all followed different career paths and there is no need for jealousy or envy. I am happy to delve into their experiences and adapt their strategies into my life.IMG_0320.JPG

Having a girlfriend as a friend means listening while she talks, trying to see her point of view and abstaining from being judgemental. We walked along the beach fluidly changing groups depending upon whose knees were stiffening up, discussing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We exchanged opinions about people and politics and argued about how to make the country a better place for the next generation. We laughed at ourselves and each other.ww_the-three-girls

Sharing girlfriend time is as refreshing as a tonic and for me, more effective than meditation or a health retreat. I came away happy, knowing I am valued for whom I am and confident that I can deal with what the world might hurl at me this year because there is always a friend I can turn to.ww_frenchmans-beach-1




My International Women’s Day lunch

I have to tell you about my lunch which makes me proud to be a daughter of a most exclusive group of women.   Four women in their very late 70s or 80s who have been friends for decades have a regular lunch date and when one of them cannot come they often include a daughter which this time happened to be me.Version 2

These wonderful women have such a variety of skills and talents and their lives have been packed with experiences. They have lived and worked overseas, been married, raised families, have successful interesting children and grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. They keep their brains alert with playing card games including bridge. They have been to more places than I have including the Amazon, Nepal, India, and Africa as well as the more traditional destinations of Europe and America. I cannot keep up with the number of books and journals that they read and their social life, as my husband says, ‘Would kill an ox.’ They are resilient and independent despite their age. You might expect their conversation to revolve around family, children and grandchildren etc. Perhaps it might include their ailments and the limitations of age. Forget it. Not once did they discuss illness, problems or the vicissitudes of life of which there have been a few.

These women are alert, intelligent and curious about life. The conversation around our table was vibrant and stimulating. I would go on too long if I gave you all the topics we discussed over our lunch but just to give you a quick overview I’ll start from where the discussion brought up David Morrison AO because his family and career were known to this circle of women. This naturally brought up the topic of gender diversity, its impact on professions such as theirs and how they managed. We segued smoothly into a discussion about minority groups and activists and how they are represented in mainstream media and society including films and television shows. The recent Sydney Mardi Gras came up in conversation with much laughter at the suggestion that perhaps they should have a float for the traditional (unnoticed older) heterosexual members of the population. This led to a discussion on government policies and the influence of minorities in decision-making and  the consequences of this on the Australian community. As women we all expressed concern about what comes across as a lack of strategic thinking in our politicians who seem to make decisions based on broadly watered down community consultation and what it takes to keep as many people happy as possible.  From here we moved onto what we expect of government, the quality and capabilities of our politicians in general, their leadership characteristics and the evolving role of our leaders, including the Prime Minister and whether a Prime Minister should attend or participate in the Gay Mardi Gras. Thus we discussed the LGBTI landscape and the Safe Schools education program and what its impact might be on families and society. These women have experienced good and indifferent education policies and we all would prefer it if the Education departments didn’t experiment on our children. This led onto their concern over what is commonly being perceived as a ‘witch hunt’ of Cardinal Pell, again known to some of these women from an earlier life. We reflected on the role of social media in society, the relevance of religion and how attitudes towards individuals have evolved in the workplace since when they first started working in the 1950s. And this wasn’t all we chatted about.

It was the most delightful and intellectually stimulating conversation I have had for a while. These gorgeous ‘old’ ladies expressed their considered opinions, listened to each other, and participated in a lively thoughtful discussion without once maligning or being hurtful about anyone. I cannot wait to be invited to join them again for lunch.

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day. There are so many strong women in our household and we nearly let this day go by without even a squeal!

Most of the time my three girls just go about their working day without giving their femininity a thought. It isn’t until they run up against a co-worker whose attitudes date from two centuries ago that they give their gender a thought. They then turn to the two ancient males in the household to discuss how to deal with their work problem. Neither of these two men have any tolerance for inconsistency when working with women or men. As professionals they have always expected those they work with to act and think the same without recourse to using femininity to gain an advantage.

My father never really acknowledged that he had girls and not sons; he treated us as individuals and expected us to achieve what ever we set our minds to. My husband raised four children for 8 years on his own. He wasn’t sure how to raise a 12-year-old girl, so he did what he did best; treated her as he treated her three brothers. She is now a delightful, well-balanced and successful professional in her chosen career.

I love being a woman and value my fortune in living in a country in which I can play any sport, try any career, wear what ever I want to subject to the ever critical eye of our girls, and think whatever I want to. This is freedom is valuable and worth protecting.

However on a much more trivial but still important issue, every morning as I dry my hair I am reminded that I am encroaching on no-woman’s land. You know what I mean. I have reached the age when there are too many grey hairs to pull out, and when I go for a walk with my daughters, they now walk faster than me. I have to work a little harder when doing my exercise routine and worst of all, I find myself picking out clothes that I then decide would look better on my girls than me!

Watching the Oscar parade I looked with envy at the glorious tresses cascading over the shoulders of the women on the red carpet. I adore having long hair, and I am sure it makes me feel younger but you know you are getting old when you start checking out hairstyles for the over-50 women on YouTube. In addition, I really don’t like what age does to your hair. I too once had gorgeous glowing hair, now I search out shampoos and conditioners, serums etc that bring back that youthful shiny look. I think I have; Klorane products which contain ingredients including oat milk, pomegranate and mango butter really do seem to work. I have tried their Mango Butter shampoo and Conditioner and even better because they don’t have an overwhelmingly sweet aroma my husband is happy to use them as well.

However if you truly want inspiration on how good a woman can look as she gets older, then read how supermodel, Christie Brinkley, who turned 60 this year stays fit. She even features in a bikini for Air New Zealand’s Safety video. Sure she has been endowed with gorgeous looks and she promotes the beauty industry, but she works at it and if she can do it, then women like us should not give into the gravitational effects of age. I think I will have to pin her image up in front of my exercise bike as encouragement.