How do you live well into your 90's?
The best way to answer that question is to take a retrospective look into the life of someone who has done it.
This is the life story of a remarkable matriarch, Patricia Hoff, mother of eight, grandmother of 17, great-grandmother of 19, and a mother-like figure to many. She happens to be my mother whose celebration of life was held in January and attended by over 70 friends and family. She was a living example of how to live a fulfilled life even through tragedy. She lived until the age of 93. Here’s how she did it.
1. Start by living authentically
If you speak with enough people about Patricia Hoff, a consistent picture emerges: a highly verbal and honest woman, a fabulous communicator, a charmer, a large personality whose life’s arc encompassed change, growth, and, yes, heartache in her 93 years.
2. Make the best of your education
My mother received master’s degree, so to speak, in living. She often put it in dramatic musical terms: she lived a C above high C. That fundamental education from St Paul’s High School in San Francisco was just the starting point. When my father converted to Catholicism at her behest, they both perhaps bit off more than they could chew with a family of eight children, all happy accidents for following the conventions of the church. That strict adherence to Catholic rules spawned a rebellion in her later years, out of a strong reaction to the obedience she gave blindly to a system that did all the thinking for her.
3. Be defiant and make your own rules
She’d often insist: “Nobody’s going to own me anymore,” a defiant proclamation of freedom. She had played the part of a dutiful wife and mother until my father’s death in 1989 and our brother Kenny’s passing five years later. Though she’d already experienced tragedy when my sister Rosemary succumbed to leukemia in the early sixties, it was Kenny’s death that transformed her more abruptly.
4. Gain freedom by losing your religion
This self-examination began to solidify her new-age thinking, which was a mix of Christian principle and a belief in reincarnation and karma. She truly believed that we all have a life lesson and we return again and again until we get it right, a kind of Buddhist-Hindu thinking sans yoga or mediation (she hated exercise). She told me that even if there were a magic pill to stop AIDS, she would not give it to Kenny because he needed to return to Earth at a later time to learn new lessons--and she would be in his new life story again but in a different role.
5. Find a good mentor
The pillars of my mother’s faith had been cracked, but her personality remained largely unaltered. She found true independence living alone and sought to understand more of the world, more of herself, drawing on an intellectual account first stocked by Dr. David Warren, a junior college humanities instructor who proved to be, I believe, her biggest inspiration.
6. Always be open-minded at every stage of life
Concerning this period, the early 1970s, she wrote the following in an email to me three decades later: “How could anyone remain in a box? The lid sprung open and I jumped out. Eager learner, I exposed myself to all thoughts: radical, religious, the political and the outrageous. My life took many turns, good and bad, but there was always a lesson there, like it or not.”
7. Educate yourself through traveling
Her curiosity, always a strong point, blossomed magnificently. She travelled extensively through Europe, Asia and Africa, visiting her beloved Ireland twelve times. Now the woman who could talk to anyone found common ground with everyone.
8. Never stop seeking to find your voice even in your later years
Where many of us peak in our forties and fifties, Patt Hoff seemed to find her true voice, the easy confidence and sense of self, in her seventies and eighties. Her broad experience, gift of communication and ability to focus and listen enabled an ability to connect with anybody, from a bus stop stranger to fellow passengers on a cruise.
9. Be curious about other people
Oh, what a delight to see her in action. I remember the night she met my girlfriend Virginia’s mother, Ginny. Ginny is a shy, private woman, but my ever-ebullient mother opened her like a can of butterflies. “Do you read, Ginny? What do you like to read? Tell me about your favorite books.” Later on the phone Virginia and I laughed with glee and amazement how Patt got to the heart of Ginny as no other could. Patt’s humanity, this acute intuition into others, might have been her biggest strength.
10. Have a motto to live by
She was a worldly woman at home in any crowd. Some of her famous quotations still ring in my ear:
11. Be resourceful
The most remarkable thing about my mother is that the whole time I was growing up she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found. Was the role of cook, house-keeper and solicitous nurturer exactly right for her? I’d answer that this way: she did the best she could in overwhelming circumstances, and all of us grew up happy and healthy. The part of mentor, matriarch and confidante developed later when we matured enough to appreciate what she had become, Bon Bon, the name her grandchildren called her, with the gentle touch.
12. Always be a comfort to others
My sister Jeanne describes it this way: “She had the gift of comfort, the gift of praise, whatever the occasion called for.”
13. Be patient and live in the now
My sister Dolores recalls, “She was just content to be waiting, people watching. She actually enjoyed the waiting time, acknowledging the fresh air, the scenery, the people, the moment, catching her breath, it was all part of the outing.” Living in
the moment before it became a new-age trend.
14. Define your dignity by blessing others
Her final years at Emily’s Guest House were mellow. She prayed with Dolores and reconverted to Christianity, back to a salvation and belief she probably never truly abandoned. This was a peaceful soul who had done everything she needed in do, having completed a full life by any measure. In her last months she maintained a dignified stoicism, a self-composure recalling one of her favorite adages: “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and you cry alone.”
15. Have no regrets
Tears do not feel appropriate today. She told us to laugh and play songs at her funeral. So mother, Patricia, Bon Bon, you onward-ever soul, as you view us from the great beyond, or even as a reincarnated fly on the wall, may you find this event today a rollicking good time.
This eulogy was written and delivered by my brother, Mike Hoff, with help from me and my siblings.
Over To You: I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Hit the comment box and leave me a message.
It’s been a long time since you’ve heard from me. Last October my mother passed. As a family, we decided to hold the celebration of life memorial in January in order for family members far and wide to find time to attend. My emotions vacillated from the sadness of loosing her to the relief of knowing that she died peacefully surrounded by family. At times I felt like an emotional volleyball, and I couldn’t produce a single word until now.
I also had to ask myself whether I wanted to continue the task of producing a blog. Here’s the answer: I’ve always loved writing letters and had many pen pals. Gone are the days of opening the mailbox with great anticipation of receiving a letter, the kind of personal correspondence that says, “you matter.” Back in the day, I’d tear open the envelope, read the letter with a thumping heart, and then rush to respond, to keep the lifeline open.
This blog is a substitute for the old-fashion pen and paper. I count friends and family all over the world. Blogging is the best way to keep everybody abreast of my thoughts and experiences. As you have read from past blogs, I especially like narratives that nourish the mind, body, and soul.
Social media is great for sharing photos, updates and finding old friends, but it doesn’t get to the heart and soul of the person. Photos of my meal and family vacations can’t replace the more introspective stories behind the picture. It’s in meaning of life and the raw experience of it that makes a story great. I like to share what the bigger and smaller pictures of life mean to me. And I’d love to share yours too.
I know not everyone has a passion for the art of writing. I don’t expect long drafted missives in return. But if a particular story moves you, please make a comment. I’d love to hear from you. If you have a special story you want to share—something that is inspiring, please let me know. I am open for guest posting or writing your story. Interviews are always interesting to read.
By the way, what is it that you like to read in a blog? You, the reader, are the reason I write this blog. Your thoughts are welcome and appreciated.
This is a journey. I’m glad you are along for the ride. I will blog at least one or twice a month. I also updated my website. I keep it under that name Destination Life Coaching but that might change one day. I created the blog on a free website called Weebly. I’ll probably move it to Wordpress next year. Since I manage the website without help of a professional (please note, my brother Mike Hoff is my editor to whom I owe a great deal), there’s a learning curve for me, and I’m in no rush to switch website hosts.
Please check your promotions box and as well as the spam folder for my blog. Once you move it to your inbox, it will show up not as spam.
Talk to you soon. Love, Paula
Imagine this scenario: Your partner got a fabulous career opportunity with his or her company in a foreign country, and you move the whole family over to start a new life abroad. You’re sitting in a new environment with all the luxuries that you couldn’t afford back home such as a beautiful apartment in a chic part of town, private schools, exotic holidays, memberships to the swanky social clubs, and domestic help. But far from basking, you are feeling depressed, anxious, and isolated among all the trappings.
What Is There To Be Unhappy About?
Just about everything according to expat expert and writer Robin Pascoe. In her book Raising Global Nomads she states, “Few people are willing to shout this out loud, but culture shock and grief are closely related.”
When you relocate to a foreign country, you mourn for your former life just like you’ve lost a loved one. You’ve abandoned your life, family and friends. Nothing around you now is familiar. You miss everybody and everything that once orbited around your last place of residence.
You also left behind your culture and language, which strike a core of your essence, values and perspectives.
I recently conducted a research interview with over 40 expat participants. One of them said, “You feel a loss so deep that it is like you soul is split in two when you move to a new land.”
It is odd to think that you would grieve terribly for the familiarity of places and things in your life you left behind—things both intimate and commonplace such as schools, shops, places of worship, and routine activities. But it happens.
Why Leave If You Knew You’d Be Miserable?
Pascoe says, and I agree, that moving overseas is a life changing, enriching positive experience that shouldn’t be missed given the opportunity.
According to grief experts, when you uproot to a new location you have to work through it the grieving process in order to move on and enjoy the benefits of the adventure.
How Can You Say Goodbye To Your Home And Feel Peace Before The Move?
I recently spoke to Annabelle Breuer-Udo, a coaching colleague, who specializes in Leadership and Relationships coaching and is a Process Facilitator, about her recent experience moving from a small town in Germany to Munich and finally to America. Annabelle shared a wonderful process about about letting go of her former home to create a new place of happiness in her adopted city.
Annabelle wrote a gratitude letter to her life experiences in the former town thanking it for what she had experienced and loved about living there. She thanked all the places she used to visit such as cafés, shops and sport clubs stating the positive things they gave her and how she has to now let them go in order to open space for new experiences. Afterwards, she crumbled the letter and threw it in the river.
What Are The Benefits Of Writing A Letter Of Gratitude?
I asked Annabelle how she felt after writing the letter. She said, “It allowed me to create space for new experiences. I came to a state of peace and balance in letting go of the old and opening a place for a new life. I have peace with my decision.”
Writing a farewell letter to your current residence thanking it for the gifts of joy and abundance it gave you before packing up is a great way to work through the emotions of letting go. The benefits are therapeutic which could ease some of the distress that comes with the move. It’s the first step to pave the way for a new adventure.
For some making a new home and diving deep into the new culture come as a welcome change. For others, they feel like lost souls wondering endlessly on a desert island. If you are feeling the latter, it is important to get counseling or coaching with a professional expat coach to work through all the stages of grief.
Over To You
What is your experience with relocating to a new place and saying goodbye to your former residence? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.
Having a good friend, one with whom you can speak openly and candidly, is like gold. Especially if that friend imparts gentle wisdom and doesn’t pepper the conversation with negatives, such as bunch of do’s and don’ts.
My friend Jo Voon, a native of Singapore now living in Washington DC, is one of those glistening nuggets.
We were talking the other day about how friendships, like anything worth investing in, need to be nurtured and tended to like a beautiful garden.
Jo, by the way, is a wonderful gardener. She toils in the garden all year round just to be able to enjoy the spring flowers. She says gardening is an extension of her spiritual self. As she explained,
“The garden is full and lush; it’s an expression of your heart and soul.”
The conversation meandered on about how we sometimes stumble upon roadblocks that force us to make a U-turn or go in a different direction. But really our challenges are here to help us become a bit more mature, a bit wiser version of ourselves. As we chatted, however, the gardening metaphors popped up like tulips. She offered this,
“We need to have the seasons of spring in our lives to find renewal and rejuvenate. The garden has been symbolic of that.”
In other words, there is time to take rest and celebrate wherever you are in your own life’s journey. It might be hard to believe, but your contributions to the universal garden of life have made a difference. You need to sit back and acknowledge where you are and how far you’ve come. You will find peace in the process and be inspired to continue on.
Perhaps it is not a sudden change that you are working through but a long-term project or goal you are striving towards and, at the moment, you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe it is a higher educational degree, a new relationship or health regimen that you are pursuing but not yet experiencing any benefits. The point is to be patient and wait for all your efforts to spring forward when the time is ripe.
Jo’s ah-ha moments were overrunning her thoughts like weeds. I quickly grabbed a pen and paper because I knew these words would blow right past me. She stated,
“When you tend to the garden think of it as tending to your heart. You draw inspiration from friends and God. It’s like getting a dose of fertilization that will enrich your garden and life. The time put in will be well worth it.”
Recently we’ve given our garden a face-lift, uprooting the old tree, replacing it with a Japanese maple tree, smaller perennials and annuals. I added a few potted plants around the yard and a colorful table and two chairs giving it a more open, friendly look. Compliments from a few neighbors made me feel that I’m adding to the pleasant aesthetics of our street.
Like bees, Jo’s words kept buzzing in my head.
“When a neighbor walking by expresses his pleasure at seeing your garden and praises you for your efforts, you feel validated. It brings me joy.”
I’m not a great gardener by any means, but my smile brightens every time I look at my little garden patch. The weather here in Germany is still cold and wet, but I know my time in the sun is coming soon. Without the April showers there could be no Mayflowers.
Over To You
What does your garden look like? What are the milestones you can celebrate at this time? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions.
When you live abroad and have to deal with every little problem in a foreign tongue, often there are communications breakdowns that can make simple procedures seem like gigantic tasks.
When I’m struggling to understand what is being communicated it sometimes feels like I’m facing a Teutonic Goliath.
But then once in a while grace steps in.
Some people would call it luck, but to me it’s like the universe lifting the linguistic burdens of syntax and grammar.
This week our washing machine was leaking water and making a loud thumping noise. I took out the washing machine manual to translate the machine parts: barrings=kugellarger, rubber sealing=gummydichhtung, spinner=schleudern.
I got a hold of the repairman via telephone and slowly pronounced every word to him explaining the problem:
After I finished talking, he replied with a bit of humor in his voice, “So, I think your washing machine is broken.”
I laughed so loud into the phone that I must’ve broken his eardrum! In good English he described what he thought the problem was and made an appointment to come to my house and fix it. I hung up the phone and breathed a big sigh of relief. It made my day knowing that I didn’t have to fumble my words like a toddler learning to speak. My spirits soared as a high-speed elevator.
These are the little saving graces that help us get through the day.
I’m sure the washing machine repairman was unaware that his speaking English made my life just a wee bit easier and set a positive tone for the rest of the day. I was so grateful.
Searching the Internet for a simple quote to describe moments like this, I found a gem by Carly Fiorina:
“Life is measured in love and positive contributions and moments of grace.”
My hope for you is that today you will experience a moment of grace.
Over To You
Have you ever had one of the “saving grace” conversations that bolstered your attitude? I’d love to hear your experience. As usual, leave a comment below.
Last month, I traveled to Sacramento to see my 92-year-old mother for the last time. Again. Eighteen months ago my mother was lying on her deathbed gasping for an elusive breath while loved ones tearfully kept watch.
Two days later she woke up with an appetite. Chips, cake, and junk food of any kind, she’d wolf it all down. Then came the daily beer that she loves so much. For her meager nutritional needs, the doctor advised giving her anything she wants, as long as she is eating.
She was sleeping soundly when I entered the room. Upon seeing me she quickly sprung to life—as much as a feeble person can--as if she were waiting for this very moment. We chatted for about 15 minutes, in between bites of Cheese-It snacks that I brought as a treat. She asked questions about my life, eager to hear everything. I knew she was doing her best to be animated. My mother is a good actress. The show must go on.
Soon, she stared mindlessly at the TV. Even on good days, ten minutes of conversation can wipe her out. But within the next few minutes she perked up again to ask questions about my friend, Pam, whom I visited before coming to Sacramento.
In her infirm state, my mother still shows her intelligence by making small talk about life and possessing a keen interest in other people. She has a remarkable memory for dates and places that I’ve long forgotten about. When I inquire about her life, she cheerfully though wearily replies, “I’m fine as ever.” Her will to live has outlasted her physical body. In fact, she's already used up her six-month hospice care three times.
It is well documented that about 80% of elderly patients die within the first year upon entering a nursing home, many within the first six months. It’s also noted that people with strong social connections live the longest. Fortunately for my mom, she has lots of visitors due to our large, extended family.
I feel that the real reason for my mother’s longevity and general well being stems from the unconditional love shown to her by us and Maria and Bill Tintas, her caretakers, who own the board and care home where she resides. It’s a residential home where licensed caregivers live and render assistance with bathing, feeding, dressing and managing the medication of a maximum of six patients. Home healthcare, hospice and other medical assistance can be brought in from outside providers. Some of the patients in this home have been there for many years and even one patient recently turned 100-years-old.
To be sure, changing diapers on a 92-year-old patient six times a day is not an easy job, but Maria and Bill do it with kindness. They show respect to all their patients, making them feel wanted. I’ve even heard Maria tell my mother that she loves her, as my mother is an easy patient who seldom complains. The Tintas’ seem content in their business decisions, wise in their dealings with no hidden agendas.
“Maria has seen a lot of death and sadness, yet her spirit is light. That is a God given gift to a caretaker,“ said my sister, Dolores Martinez. “Maria has God’s love and spiritual protection which brings peace to the house.”
I dreaded saying goodbye on my last day. Fortunately, my sisters Jeanne and Dolores were by my side. We had a great two-hour conversation with mom, talking about our travels together and good times. Mom could remember stories with details, much to our amazement. We laughed a lot and took photos. The mood was light.
I finally did say goodbye, with a big kiss and a firm hug. I was almost ashamed of myself for not shedding tears. I’ve said goodbye so many times before why would today be any different? I walked out the door with Maria’s reassurance that mother will be there the next time I’d come to visit.
I wish I could believe that.
In two weeks, my mother will turn 93. How much longer can she go on with her body slowly but surely shutting down? As my sister Jeanne reminded me that today could be the last day we see anyone. It is in God’s hands.
In truth, we really lost her a couple of years ago when she decided not to walk anymore. Now it’s a waiting game. It is not sad, for she has lived a good, blessed life albeit one with its peaks and valleys that she ventured through being guided by a cosmic north star.
I pray that when the time comes for her passing, it is done in her sleep, peacefully. I can only hope for myself to live such a long life filled with love and with no major illnesses. In reality, it means keeping physically and spiritually healthy. There are many books written on both topics, but in the end, it is up to us individually to figure it out for ourselves. This seems to be the topic I like to write about because it is so big and important. I’ll keep you posted on my mom. In the meantime…
Over To You
What are your thoughts on death and dying? Have you ever dealt with caregivers? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Please leave a comment below.
Happy New Year, albeit a bit late. I hope you all celebrated well with your loved ones and friends. As the 2017 promises to be unprecedented in many ways, it is an opportunity to review your successes and challenges of the past year. With a blank canvass, you get to color your world, deciding what changes or transformations you desire to make this year, filling in the dots or drawing outside of the lines of your life.
As I clocked in the New Year, I contemplated some new years resolutions: lose weight, improve my German, write more, and stick to a daily spiritual practice. In a long life of resolutions and half-hearted promises, I’ve been resolute with only one: I decided not to smoke cigarettes. To this day, I’m an ardent non-smoker.
According to Tony Robbins, the world’s most successful life coach, anyone who sets a goal for the New Year will have abandoned it by January 17th. I ditched mine within the first week.
Robbins also says that any goal or vision has to be compelling enough in order for it to be successful. A compelling reason might be a family’s desperate need to save money for a child’s operation, or a down payment for a house, for example. In a nutshell, it’s a determined vision that pushes you past the finish line.
How I Make Resolutions Stick?
The key to obtaining your goals, according to Terri Savelle Foy in her book Make Your Dreams Bigger Than Your Memories, is to break them down into manageable, bit-size pieces that are realistic and have timetable in order to keep you motivated and accountable.
So if the goal is to lose weight, it’s better to have a smaller objective with a specific date. For example, it is better to say, “I will lose 5 pounds by February 15, 2017 by walking 20 minutes every day and by eating five fruits and vegetables daily instead of random snacks,” than setting an arbitrary goal of loosing weight.
Why am I resisting even writing down my goals?
The truth is my goals feel like overwhelming chores, like a chockablock to-do list. I desire an improved streamlined life-style, not one with restrictions and add-ons.
I really don’t want to start a diet, but I want to improve my posture that will help eliminate my back problems. I want to quit my German book club because the reading level is above my current comprehension. I don’t want to put myself under pressure to write every day. I want my daily devotional prayers to be simple.
What does that look like?
For me, it is adding a few posture exercises to my already established 10-minute morning stretching regime. It also means taking daily walks regardless of the weather.
I’ll confess to my German reading circle that I don’t always comprehend the books we read because the subject matter is abstract or political which taxes my overloaded (aging) cognitive abilities. I’ll ask for a pass on the books that are too difficult and join in on the reading that is suited to my level.
Putting pressure on myself to write everyday makes me feel like a failure every morning. It doesn’t work. What I’m really long for is a writing style enlivened by active verbs, apt adjectives, thoughtful metaphors and similes that sparkle like stars.
Lastly, I lack the mental stamina to mediate and pray Deepak Chopa style, but 10 to 20 minutes a day of devotional readings, praying and meditation is manageable.
So far, I'm doing okay maintaining these resolutions. That means, I'm not beating myself up mentally if I skip a day or two. This year I'm giving myself permission to go easy on myself--life is just too short.
Over To You
What are you goals for 2017? Have you ever kept a resolution? I'd love to hear from you. If you are not clear on what you want to achieve this year, I am offering a clarity coaching session to you as a gift. Just fill out the contact form below and I will get back to you.
As the year winds down, I want to thank you all for supporting and interest in my blog. It’s been a journey and I’m glad you were along for the ride.
Writing this blog hasn’t come as easily as I had expected. I hate to admit it, but I did anything I could to avoid writing it, hemming and hawing about what message I wanted to convey, wasting time by finding lame excuses to avert my attention.
Scrubbing floors and doing laundry were my favorite distractions. Somehow, the stories came and the words followed.
Expect The Unexpected
This year ended with a big surprise in the US presidential election. This won’t be a political commentary; but like many people worldwide, it left me feeling less secure about the future.
One night a week after the election, my husband, Joerg, and I were sitting on the couch feeling uninspired and hopeless by day’s headlines: incriminating information about the VW gas scandal, the violence in the Middle East, and Syria’s exploding refugee problem were just a few of the news reports wearing us down.
Pray Like Children
Just then our son, Sean, came in to say his nightly prayers. In his prayers, he earnestly asked God for the grace of getting him accepted into a new school. His current school is not working out well for him so he asked if he could switch to a different one. The week before, we all went for an interview with the principal at the school our daughter, Jessica, attends to see if Sean could get admitted by next semester. The possibly seemed slim, but Sean was hopeful.
Have Hope And Faith
Joerg and I were doubtful but we prayed along with him. Lo and behold, the next day we received an email stating that Sean was admitted. He was ecstatic. His faith was heart warming, the antidote to my apathy.
The lesson for me is that hope is found right in your own home. The faith of children is such a precious gift. It brought me to a passage in the bible that says, “You must accept the kingdom of God as a little child accepts things….” (Mark 10:15). I’ve been struggling with my own faith lately, having lost trust in humanity. But there is hope. And that is what Christmas really means.
Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I believe it is a story based on hope for what is unseen and unknown, always cleaving to the possibility of peace on earth. The key is to believe: you got to have faith.
Saint Augustine said, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”
When I wish you a merry Christmas, I am hoping that you can find some kind of joy in your life, a star that shines within you. It’s an exchange of goodwill, respect, and love in a neighborly way.
Happy New Year
I wish you blessings and good health for 2017. May your year be filled with joy and challenges that help you grow into a person of character, strength, and inspiration.
Over To You
Going forward, I’m not sure which direction I will take this blog. I’m leaning towards bringing a small slice more hope and faith into the world, leading by example. I’d love to hear your input: what it is you want to read? Do you want to share your own story of hope, love, or faith?
I look forward to hearing from you.
I love fall season, especially the variegated trees of crimson, amber, and chartreuse-- as well as the smell of crisp, old leaves signaling a time of change. I know Thanksgiving is just around the corner, a holiday our family celebrates no matter where we live in the world. We have a Thanksgiving family tradition of giving ourselves space to think about what we are truly grateful for at this time and place.
This year I am grateful for the wisdom of the generations who came before me. I have the privilege to teach a wonderful group of women who are in early to late seventies and have been taking the same class for thirty years. They are a treasure trove of information filling me with golden nuggets of knowledge. Whenever I have a question about life in Germany, gardening, or geography, all I have to do is ask them and they eagerly impart their knowledge.
I realize that these women are walking encyclopedias of by-gone days. Their stories have weight, but is anyone listening? They are the industrious, hardworking, resilient generation who reformed Germany from ashes to riches. They are the backbone of Germany’s success known as the “Wirtschaftswunder,” the economic miracle.
Some of them were refugees of WWII who fled to Germany from Poland during the Russian invasion. They tell of stories of families having to live in one room or having to board with strangers who offered their homes. They are also, sadly, the generation that shoulders the guilt of WWII like a bucket of heavy tears.
One student said, “We’ve learned from our mistakes as a country and have paid for it. War is awful.”
When asked about their childhood, none whine about the hardships endured. They withstood the food shortages of their youth and mention how hard their parents, who lived through two world wars, had to work. Their parents had to remove the rubble by hand from the street to build new homes, gather firewood from the forest or steal coal to heat their houses, and use scraps of food to make meals to feed the family. The women say they were lucky to live through it and see their lives improve over the years.
A coaching client of mine told me about her mother’s experience. At age three, her mother had to sit on a bench alone in a cold apartment for two hours until her grandmother would come back with coals.
My client states, “these ladies are strong - and they never could allow themselves to grieve, it would have been to much. They have a different connection to their feelings. Sometimes they can hardly accept that you become emotional about things that all seem minor compared to the cruelty and suffer of war what makes it sometimes difficult for their children to allow themselves to express negative feelings. They have internalized to restrain themselves for the sake of others.”
In their younger days, a few of them were expats who lived in Iran, Canada, and Afghanistan with their budding families. They raised well-educated children. These ladies continue to travel to far off places like Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. It seems like the more exotic the land, the more they benefit from their travels. I marvel at their robust energy and willingness to keep learning. There is no stopping them.
Instead of driving, some ride their bikes across town to attend English class, even on chilly, winter mornings. I once asked why they do it?
One answered, “In former days we didn’t have a car so we had to ride our bikes to get anywhere. We had no choice. So we just do it.” No complaining, no moaning. They are glad that they still have the physical ability therefore why stop?
They are a determined, no-nonsense group of dames, strong as steel yet kindhearted and modest. I get the feeling that they want me to succeed, live a good life, and embrace the Germany that they help build.
When I asked them what advice would they give to today’s younger generation, they stood on their beliefs:
1) Avoid war at all cost. 2) Respect everyone. 3) Travel and learn about other cultures. 4) Be tolerant.
I urge them to write would down their stories to share with their grandchildren. I hope that one day the next generation will appreciate the primacy of their grandparent’s role in the reconstruction of Europe after the war. I realize we all have a story to tell. Let’s listen to our elders and acknowledge that if it weren’t for them, we would not be living the comfortable life we have today.
Over To You.
What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving season? How does this story inspire you? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Please leave a comment below.
It’s been three years since we’d moved to Braunschweig, Germany. Slowly but surely we are doing some well-needed house projects. One thing that needs work is the landscape in our front garden. It is not very big, only a meter or so in dimension, but it has an ugly pine tree that blocks the window and a dead-looking rhododendron desperately in want of fertilizing. I’m no gardener, having only purple thumbs; therefore I needed to consult someone about how to make this area look pretty. I lack the imagination to even come up with a plan because I don’t know the names of many flowers and plants. I marched through many a garden shop trying to get an idea but I always came out feeling overwhelmed. It’s like being a ratty scarecrow walking through a fancy clothing store with no idea of what fashion looks like.
The worst part is that since I don’t know what the names are in English, I certainly have no idea of what the names are in German. I didn’t want to talk to gardening consultant in my local shop for fear of looking stupid. I was afraid I’d mumble a few words and then get lost in a complex conversation.
This is so much part of the stress of living in a country where you are not fully functional in the language.
My German writing skills are still hovering around the third grade level. In fact, I cannot write a decent sentence to save my live without a slew of mistakes. I converse just fine in German, although I do chop the language into bits and pieces putting the verbs in the wrong places. Most Germans have sympathy for anyone trying to learn this tongue twister of a language. They know the grammar is grueling, therefore they are forgiving. I cope well in everyday life but anything that requires specialized vocabulary is stressful and I avoid it.
It is these simple things that when I was living in an English-speaking country I took for granted. Even without having any botanical knowledge, I could express what I think I would want in English. This becomes a stressful task in German. That is why I decided to have a gardening consultation over Skype with a professional gardener in England.
I met Jo Dyer when I took an on-line marketing course for coaches and other small businesses. Her website is called “Really Useful Gardens” and she creates gardens that make your soul sing.
My garden makes me cringe so when I got serious about learning how to re-do my little plot, I sent Jo an email. She immediately understood my dilemma and suggested we do a Skype call. In the meanwhile, I sent over snapshots of my garden and its dimensions as well as photos of gardens in my neighborhood that I liked so she could have a visual of what I was talking about.
I felt so relieved that I could discuss this and make a plan in English. She walked me step by step through the process so I could learn to garden on my own.
We had a Skype consultation about what I would ideally want my garden to be. I was able to look up on the Internet the flowers and plants she recommended as we were Skyping. Next she made a drawing of the garden plan we discussed, including photos of various plants and flowers with all the information of how to plant and maintains them. She even covered removal of the tree and how to make the soil rich again.
Now not only do I have a vision for my front yard but the know-how to maintain it. The money was well spent. I saved hours of looking up plant and flower names in English and then having them translated into German. The stress of just thinking about how I was going to manage flowed away like water from a barren hill.
The Internet, social media and Skype are a godsend to me.
Being able to look up information and do business over the Internet makes living in a country where I am sometimes functionally illiterate tolerable. I admit to using Google translate more than I should. My German writing skills would be much better if I tried to practice writing sentences in German. But when time is of the essence and I have to get a note off to a teacher, I don’t have the patience to consult grammar books or dictionaries.
The drawback can be that my dependence on translating software programs is stopping me from learning valuable language skills that could bring me closer to my community. It’s part of the modern life dilemma being dependent on the Internet. For as long as I have the computer as a tool, I will use it. Without it, this blog is not possible.
Over To You
How has Skype changed your life? Does the Internet play a role in how you do business? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions.