Cindy Martindale is the author of Graceful Last Chapters: Helping Seniors Who Need More Care as well as the owner of Martindale Copywriting. She worked for many years as a sales and marketing director in senior living communities.
Where and when do you feel most competent? Writing makes me feel competent, and it’s my best communication. It’s something I’ve known and felt from early years through higher education and, now, many years later, I feel it still. Since I’ve parted with my first career in sales and marketing and embraced my personal need to write for a living, it’s something I count on feeling every day. Most of the time that feeling of competency is front and center, right where I need it to be. But to be perfectly honest, there are days when it doesn’t happen easily . . . and I think I know why. When we ignore a gift that’s a big part of who we are, ignore it for a very long time, there’s a certain amount of trust that has to be rebuilt among the voices within us. It takes time and consistency, especially to quiet the “inner orphan,” who wails like a banshee and has a very long memory. On those days, I remind myself why I wrote my book for caregivers and seniors: it’s my offer to help, counsel, and guide them still — no longer face-to-face in my office, but available to supply the empathy, understanding, and experience they need. The reminder works every time.
With what do you struggle? I’m pretty “old-school” in my values, thought processes, and most of what comes naturally to me. And although I’m doing a reasonably good job keeping up with change and trying not to behave in an un-with-it manner (trust me, there’s an abundance of help in this area from my 30 year old son), there’s one area of my life that’s a real struggle. Social media. Make that, social media as a marketing tool to broadcast my writing and its message. So far I’ve successfully put off dealing with it, but the arrival of the new year brings new determination.
It’s true I’ve been on Facebook and LinkedIn for years, but lots of newer methods buzzing around out there are touted to be very useful, even expected of writers who want to excel. I used to think maybe it’s the “friends” part I found off-putting, or maybe it’s the breezy sharing of personal bits of information that’s uncomfortable for me. At any rate, I’ve accepted that I’ll probably never be a whiz at social media, but in the new year I have a plan: hire someone to do it for me. Inexpensively. Like I would for myself. If I could, which I can’t. If this is exorbitantly expensive or never works out in the end, — well, I’m simply not ready for the news. I like my new idea, and I’m sticking with it.
What one thing do you wish you had more time for? New Year’s Resolution #37: make time to read any book I want to read . . . for no earthly reason except I want to read it! I’ve always been a huge reader, and I still am, but I often long for lazy, long, leisurely stretches of time for reading books that are just for fun. I’d love to find some chunks of time to make that happen.
Where do you find support? I’m very lucky: my main support is close at hand. My husband and adult son are truly with me every step of the way, no matter which way I go. I’m also blessed with a group of lifelong friends and close family members who are only a phone call away despite the long distances, and we see each other as often as possible. When I was working in senior housing, I enjoyed a large group of work associates who understood the challenges of being squarely in the “sandwich generation” with overlapping needs of home, family, career, and elderly parents. They couldn’t take the pressures out of life for me, nor I for them, but knowing they “got it” helped me keep a steady hand. In general, I think when we’re open to support and can ask for help, then we usually find what we need. The ones I worry about are the people who feel they can and should do everything by themselves, because the history I have seen shows that’s pretty impossible.
If you knew then, what you know now…
. . . I’d do it all over again, just the way I did it the first time. This isn’t because I’ve had a charmed life without pockets of hard times, a broken heart here and there, or devilish disappointments from which I thought I’d surely die. I’ve had all of those, in spades, but I learned from each and every one of them. So, why not go back and apply what I learned as time moved on? This may sound entirely too pollyanna-ish for you, but I think those times of challenge, disappointment, and heartbreak made me who I am. And I’m okay with that. I used to try so hard to do things perfectly the first time around, but I now know I’m just like everybody else: imperfect, and so’s life. But I’m comfortable believing I’m on the right path, learning what I’m supposed to learn, and I don’t have to go back to tidy up the past. Return to high school, even knowing what I know now? No thanks! One time through is enough. And besides, I’ve found things that are a whole bunch more fun.
What is your dream retirement?
Today’s a really good time to make a momentary leap from reality and the weather outside my front door (sub-zero temperatures, snow, ice, bone chilling winds) to think about my dream retirement. Imagine if I opened the front door to my new home and instead found a warm, sunny, cloudless day; a yard filled with leafy trees and bright, blooming, exotic flowers; a well-worn walking trail to a beach where I can walk on the sand at water’s edge every day. Oooh, bare feet in the sand, nothing beats that. And after a good, long walk on the beach, I can return home to write some more. (That’s one of the great things about being a writer: you can work from anywhere, as long as the copy’s good and you meet your deadlines.) And how about some local catch-of-the day for dinner? I think maybe we’ll eat out tonight, sit outside on a pier, enjoy a nice glass of wine, and watch the water as the sun sets and the stars come out in mass. How’s that for a dream retirement?
Who are your heroines?
My true heroines are all women I’ve personally known and loved. Each one is a part of my family, which is not to say there aren’t many other heroines with whom I’ve brushed elbows and admired from a distance. But the luxury of time spent over the years learning to appreciate my heroines, gradually discovering their cares, concerns, talents, and struggles while weaving the pieces together, that’s what makes the difference. My personal heroines include my mother, my maternal grandmother, and my sister-in-law.
As the running forward on her high school basketball team, Mom shot the winning points to capture the Iowa state championship in 1931. She was a college graduate and a vocal music teacher when she and dad married in 1938. She taught for a few years, then stayed home to raise my two older brothers and me; when I was four, she returned to teaching and what became a twenty-five year career, thereby making it possible for us kids to go to the colleges of our choosing. She was independent, tough, and competitive: she was determined to outlive her own mother, who died at ninety-five years old, despite the fact that Mom suffered with congestive heart failure for the last fifteen years of her life. In the end, they tied.
Mom’s father was a small town family doctor in Iowa at the turn of the century, and his wife, my Grandma, regularly traveled with him by horse and buggy as his nurse to visit patients who lived in the country. Grandma also kept the books for the practice (often collecting chickens, eggs, and pelts as payment for services), directed and accompanied the church choir, designed and made clothes for herself and her family, was an extraordinary baker, and raised two college educated children — by herself after Grandpa died when Mom was twenty years old.
My sister-in-law, after a long and difficult battle, is a seven year survivor of both leukemia and lymphoma. After full retirement as a college professor, she continues to travel the world as a Fine Art Photographer, developing her own photographs in her studio, hand coloring them in oil paint, and enlarging her audience’s reach through gallery shows and exhibitions. She and my brother have two children, and she’s one of the best moms I know.
To me, these three ladies are heroines. They’ve taken their skills and thrived, often beating great odds, but always generating admiration by using their god-given gifts to excel at what they do. They’ve enriched my life.
What is your motto? I’m a realist, and I always have been. Above all, just tell me the truth, help me see the truth, and I’ll find my way through the maze. I may not be happy, and it may even break my heart, but I’ll always come around to seeing, “It is what it is.” This became crystal clear to me when Mom was going through her final three-week hospitalization for congestive heart failure, and she had two episodes within as many weeks. After Mom was stabilized and comfortable in the intensive care unit, her doctor wanted to talk with me. From my published book, Graceful Last Chapters: Helping Seniors Who Need More Care (pg.186):
“The broad topic was hospice, but what touched me was how he shared bits of his personal life and his heartbreak in dealing with his own parents. The story had a point. Growing up in India, their dream for him was to become a doctor, and they paid for excellent schooling for him in the States so the dream, which was also his dream, could become reality. Now, many years later, their health was failing, and half a world away, he was of little help. The kind of medical facility he wanted to build where they lived couldn’t be supported by the existing infrastructure; they couldn’t come here because they could no longer make the long trip. Sometimes all of us, no matter how much we know or how hard we try, become powerless to help the ones we love most.”
What is your superpower? Empathy. Some people may think they have cooler superpowers, like flying or reading minds, but I’ve grown accustomed to the benefits of being empathetic. Though I wouldn’t exactly call myself an empath, I can certainly walk into a room and gauge the atmosphere. Working for years as a sales and marketing director in senior living communities, it came in very handy: I could always tell when real feelings weren’t being brought out into the open, and I’d find a way to gently probe for the “release” button. Everyone needs to be heard. If you ask the right questions and show how much you care, the truth almost always comes tumbling out.
Caregiving: a blessing or a burden? Caregiving is a blessing, even an honor . . . which is definitely not the same thing as saying there aren’t days that feel burdensome, or stretches of time that don’t feel overwhelmingly difficult to everybody involved. But I think there are many different paths to creating what we feel is a burden, and we may often contribute to its creation ourselves. How many times have we overscheduled a busy day, failed to prioritize, lost our sense of humor, or just flat out screwed up and made a mistake? How many times do we fall into a rigid pattern, then fail to remember we participated in it’s creation (or maybe singlehandedly suggested it) in the first place? We feel bound by its rigidity and chafe at our lack of freedom . . . but who created the pattern?
Here are a couple of examples. When Mom and Dad moved near me from their beloved retirement location in North Carolina and I became their primary caregiver, Dad passed away after a short six months. He left behind Mom, of course, who grieved deeply for her mate of over sixty years but continued living without him for another ten years. Because of her depression, precarious health, and several falls, I started calling her every night before she went to bed. She thought I needed to end the day by saying goodnight to her, but I think we both knew I also needed to check on her. I also started bringing her over to our house every Sunday afternoon (after grocery shopping for her with son Adam) for chatting, dinner, and maybe a movie; it quickly became her favorite event of the week.
So, why am I telling you this? Because I created the patterns myself! And when they became inviolate and depended upon by Mom, I considered whining and thinking about other things I could be doing. Ten years is a long time. I knew I still had a choice, though: I could either disrupt the patterns and take away a couple of things that gave Mom joy, or I could suck it up and continue doing what I planned to do from the beginning. I consciously chose the latter and mindfully changed my attitude. And when Mom passed away, what were the two things I noticed and missed most? Sundays and evening calls.
When those two bits of caregiving began to feel burdensome, I only had myself to blame. Mom was fine! — she enjoyed the heck out of the consistency. But now, after time, distance, and a lot of tears missing her, I can see that every bit of caregiving I was able to provide was a blessing to us both, and we were grateful for the time we had together.