Dear Older (Love, Old)

sonata - Version 2This is the first in a series of letters between me and my friend, author Margaret Roach, on the challenges (and joys!) of aging. I’m Old (just 55) and she’s Older (facing 60 this year). Who knows where it’s going, but since the subject keeps coming up, and we’re both writers…well, you get the idea. Listen in.  

Dear Old(er),

Yesterday afternoon, I spritzed on a bit of Sonata, and then I drove downtown to the lawyer’s office and signed my last will and testament.

I can tell you, seeing those words next to my own name at the top of the page was pretty strange – about as stark a reminder as I’ve had that, yes, the day will come when I won’t be here.

It’s funny how I can get so caught up in the minutiae of  my everyday life – the emails that need answers, the dishes in the sink, the bills on the desk, my annoyance at someone I can’t change or at something beyond my control – that I lose sight of the big things.

Such as the fact that although time and space are infinite, I am not.  No matter how I spend it, my own time will run out. There aren’t too many absolute truths in life, but this is one: nothing lasts, not even me.

Which is why I got up this morning and helped myself to another generous spray of Sonata, the nicest perfume I’ve ever owned (handcrafted at a tiny perfumery in Maine using all natural ingredients) and the only one I’ve ever loved.

The perfume was a Christmas gift from my dad.  Five years ago.  As you can see from the photo, the bottle is still full.  Yep. In five years, I’ve allowed myself to use my favorite perfume exactly twice.  Both occasions were formal weddings, so I felt they justified a bit of extravagance:  dressy necklace, expensive perfume.

My husband is all about “getting things done” and I’m pretty good at tackling essential stuff myself.  But the two of us have had “get a will” on our marital to-do list for years, one of those multi-step tasks that neither of us ever quite got a grip on.

Finally (inspired by you, my dear, after that scolding you gave me over dinner the last time I came to visit), I said, “Ok, I’ll do it.”

I found a lawyer in town, we filled out a questionnaire, added up the assets, had a meeting, considered who we’d like to appoint to say “pull the plug” if we’re both near death or incapacitated, read various drafts of all the bits and pieces, and signed pages of documents.

Getting this project wrapped up was a good way to begin the new year. There’s some relief in knowing if we go down in a plane crash we won’t leave a mess behind. And it pleases me to think we’ll have something to pass on to our boys. But the whole process has started me thinking.

In a funny way, confronting the inescapable truth of my own future death makes me see how silly and pointless it is hold on to anything.  The old cliché is true: you can’t take it with you.

So why, I wonder, would I keep a bottle of perfume I love on my dresser for half a decade, rather than allow myself the simple pleasure of wearing it?

(I’m remembering my grandmother here, who kept her lampshades wrapped in the plastic they arrived in, and her couch swathed in plastic, too, and her candles wrapped and unused in their candlesticks  — where they remained, never lit, until the day she had to leave her house and most of her possessions and move into a nursing home.)

Well, I’ve just had a little tour of my own house, taking stock.

And if I don’t change my ways, I could follow in my grandmother’s footsteps. There are a couple of bottles of good wine in the pantry (gifts — too expensive to drink).  There’s the china espresso cup my mom gave me –lovely and delicate; too fragile to use.  There are $5o worth of L.L. Bean coupons about to expire on my desk, and a credit for some ancient, long-forgotten return at Pottery Barn.  Every time I think of using them, I convince myself I should save them, for something I might need someday.

I have a seven-year-old gift certificate for a pedicure at a spa that may or may not be in business anymore, and a two-year-old gift certificate for a facial at another (too busy to use them; and I don’t need a pedicure or a facial.) In my closet:  the jeans I rarely wear, though they fit perfectly, because they are too nice for everyday. Sweaters I take out of storage each fall and put back in boxes in the spring – because they’re too dressy for around the house.  Bras and underpants too pretty for an ordinary weekday. (So, each morning I pull on the old frayed ones instead.) Earrings and necklaces and shoes for “going out,” which I hardly ever do.

In the kitchen:  the “good” glasses, which gather dust in the cupboard; the silver from Steve’s mom, neatly packed away; the tablecloth that’s too nice to put on the table, the cloth napkins that are only for company.  (I keep washing and folding the old, stained napkins.  .  .)

Do you do this, too, or is it just me?

I wonder if I save the best things because I’m afraid there won’t ever be any more of them coming my way?  Or (even more unsettling to consider): because I think my everyday life isn’t special enough — that I’m not special enough — to really deserve them.

Well, my friend, I’m ready to use them all.

So, I’m wondering: could we make a little pact, you and I — to help each other keep our saving-for-a-rainy-day tendencies in check?

Instead of  squirreling away all the best nuts for some imagined, better or needier future, how about if we agree, together, to celebrate the glorious beauty of a fully appreciated now?

Let’s make 2014 the year we light the candles, spray the perfume, wear the pretty underwear, and get the facials, okay? Let’s say “yes” to what we love, whatever it is, and clear away the stuff that holds us down or holds us back.  Let’s inhabit our own lives as generously and joyously as we can for as long as we can.

Of course, what I’m talking about here isn’t just perfume and candles.

For me, it’s also about awakening each morning with an awareness of how precious life is, how fragile, how magnificent.  It’s about remembering to turn off the computer and pick up the book of poetry I really want to read.  It’s about leaving the dishes for later and taking a walk in the snow as it falls, about easing up on the to-do list and stepping into the spaciousness of a quiet moment.  It’s about noticing what’s good in people, and cherishing that. It’s about giving myself permission to be silly or lazy or vulnerable. It’s about holding on to hope and showing love and cultivating gratitude — and letting go of so much else that I cling to for no good reason.

It’s about remembering that my true work isn’t always on the desk in front of me, or at the kitchen sink, or in my in-box.  My true work has to do with softening my heart and strengthening my faith that what is, is meant to be.  Which means accepting myself as I am (wrinkles and all) and embracing my life — right here, right now — as the lovely gift it is.

And that’s as good a reason as any to light some candles.  To smell delicious.  To toss out the old, ratty underwear.  To wear my favorite jeans.  To give thanks for our friendship. And to keep sharing what’s in our hearts.  (I knew, when you gave me that tube of fancy under-eye concealer for my birthday that you wouldn’t steer me wrong on this path through the afternoon of life. And then, when you gave me another one two weeks later, I knew I better start USING it!)

I’m so glad you’re there, my friend!  And thank goodness you’re a few steps ahead of me on this journey, lighting the way forward.

Love, K

P.S.   Speaking of “being there”: here’s a little something for you, the old “Friends” theme song as revisited by three young Irish lads.  Click on the lyric: “I”ll be there for you, ‘cuz you’re there for me, too.”  That does just about say it all!  xo

P.P.S. Readers: I’m curious! Do you use your special things, or save them?  Want to join us in making this a year of simple pleasures?

To read Margaret’s lovely response to my letter, click here. (She’s giving away two signed copies of  Magical Journey over at her site, too!)

Paperback News . . .

Pub date for Magical Journey in paperback is this Tuesday, January 21.   Because of you, and the amazing Magical Journey Team, there’s already a bit of a paperback “buzz” —  from readers, from book groups, even from Book Festivals.  My heartfelt thanks! Together, we’re giving this book a send-off!

There’s also an audio version of Magical Journey, which I recorded last November.  Weird as it is to hear my own voice, I listened to a sample of it the other day.  (Lots of memories there. But not so strange after all.) To hear it yourself, click here. 

for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. AMEN, Katrina! My husband’s aunt told me many years ago about the value of using the “good” every day, because you can’t take it with you so you might as well enjoy it while you can. At the time, I heard what she said, but never really acted on it until recently. It’s funny how such a simple act of entertaining your closest girlfriends using china and crystal can add so much to a gathering – they felt so special being treated to something so elegant. And I loved setting such a gorgeous table!

    In a different framework, Joanne, my girlfriend’s sister, lost her battle with ovarian cancer on Dec. 22. She was 56. Right up until the end she was telling her family to do simple things for her that would add to the joy of Christmas season – nothing elaborate, just her own little touches to the decorations or the menu. At the end of the day, it was those touches that helped the family get through the holiday – they felt that in her own way, Joanne had made Christmas for them.

    So I say YES, let’s use the good stuff whenever we can this year, and smile at the simple beauty it brings us.

  2. I came to the same conclusion during the past year when we moved from the home we’d lived in for all of our married lives (37 years!) into a condo. There were SO many things I’d never used because they were “too good” – the wedding china, the Waterford crystal vase – so many things I couldn’t bring with me because there wasn’t room in the new place.

    Now, every week when I do my grocery shopping, I buy a mixed bouquet of flowers, arrange them in that Waterford crystal vase, and place on the coffee table right in the middle of my living room. Every time I walk by them, I smile. So even if that vase gets broken tomorrow, I’ve had a years worth of smiles from it 🙂

    • My mother saved a special coffee set as it was ‘too good’ to use. One day two of the fragile cups fell from the cupboard and smashed. How sad, no special memories attached as it was always ‘saved’. You are smart to enjoy your beautiful vase 🙂 I am off to buy myself a bunch of flowers and put them in my favorite vase!

  3. Can’t wait to read this series of letters. I am definitely guilty of “saving” things, but I think I’ll go around and get some of those things out and use them!

  4. This is great, Katrina. And yes, I, too, am guilty of saving “the good stuff.” My mother-in-law, who died this past July, taught me a great deal about not waiting. My husband and I often joked that she lacked impulse control, but the result of a life well-used. When we cleaned out her house a few months back, for example, we found tons of jars of very expensive face creams — but all of them mostly used up! When in doubt she always splurged, and you know what? Now that her life is over, I can see that none of it was a waste. In honor of Cecilia Thomas, I’d love to join you in making 2014 a year of simple pleasures.

  5. Boy… can I relate! I’ve got so many things tucked away here and there …. waiting for the appropriate ‘special occasion’ to use. Its embarrassing that some of these things have been saved beyond their lifespan or their appropriate use in my lifetime. I do think it is a bit because I don’t think my own normal days are special enough to use these things. But, heck…. like you say it is a new year and a great opportunity to step off on a new foot and begin to enjoy what I have while I’m here. Thanks for the wake-up call!!! 😉

  6. We hear all of our lives that ” life is short”. We even repeat it but don’t begin to fully understand those three words until hitting this side of fifty. Look forward to reading more!

  7. Your words filled me with hope today, and I have been lacking.
    Beautiful and wise.

  8. I recommend 70 as the beginning of age. Late 80 and older is different from 60.

  9. After a few years of intense new motherhood which meant not having time for a haircut, not wanting to buy nice clothes until I lost weight, not wanting to spend money on babysitting to go out with my husband, and so on, I had an awakening. I decided that little luxuries were the best thing I could do for myself – buy myself a cute pair of earrings, a new nail polish, fresh candles. Eat on the wedding china once in a while, drink cheap wine out of our crystal goblets. It began a way of life for me of being aware of this moment, being grateful for all that I do have, and celebrating the life I currently live instead waiting to live the perfected life of my dreams.
    Your letter reaffirms my desire to live in the present and I am excited to read more in this series!

  10. Way to go Katrina! We eat (dine) by candlelight every night at home in front of the roaring fire in our fireplace and by golly, we’re 59 and 64 and if we can’t do what we want by now, what good is it? We are all special and should treat ourselves like the queens and kings we are. Keep on keepin’ on!

  11. This is fantastic, Katrina. Enjoy that perfume and feel good using what you’ve been saving for – whenever. My experience around this is thanking people in my life for friendship, now, because I don’t know when/if there will be another chance. I received such a gift when a college friend whom I hadn’t spoken with in decades contacted me on Facebook. And whatever else may happen, what he gave me then matters now and I couldn’t miss the chance to say thank you. Gretchen Rubin uses the words “spend out” to describe a similar theme, and it reminds me movingly of other examples:

    Thank you for sharing your energizing and generous letter.

  12. This is so me!!! I often buy an item of clothing that I absolutely adore – and then admire it only as it hangs in the closet. And I buy new running shoes but can’t bear to part with the old ones hurting my feet. I am proud to say we use my husbands grandfather’s nice Scottish stone wear at every meal even though we are down to two teacups and a few chipped plates. The children have broken them all. My mother thinks it’s a shame but I thought it was better for us to remember Grandpa everyday rather than forget about him in the basement. And I really need to write a will. Thanks for this beautiful post!

  13. Great subject… I am 67 and starting to feel like time is running out, my dearest
    Friend just turned 60 and found out she had cancer in October and she died
    In December. Life is so fragile and we don’t get do overs. I have decided I
    Am going to hired a cleaning lady, I hate housework but love a clean house
    I used to think cleaning ladies were only for the rich and lazy but my thinking has changed, now I will have more time for more important things!!

  14. Katherine Stevenson says:

    How fabulous Katrina. Thank you! I love both you and Margaret and follow your blogs faithfully. Have all the books you have both written. I am 63 and welcome the chance to undertake 2014 as you are. Going to not keep special things anymore, either use them or give them away.

    As a registered nurse, I know too well, how quickly things can change in terms of living or not. Congratulations for getting your will done. It is so hard on survivors when we do not take this responsibility.

  15. Wonderful letter and I look forward to more. For about 2 years I have had ‘get our affairs in order’ – now I will DO IT. Tomorrow (today is Sunday) I will pick up the phone and make two appointments I have been putting off. Thank you for the ‘kick in the pants’!
    As far as things being too good to use, I got past that about 3 years ago – there are no “things” in my house that are too good for ME to use. Life is Good.

  16. Wow, the idea of our “true work” : so succinct and memorable, to get myself back on track when I am worried about a looming deadline or task, and being
    miserable to everyone around me.

  17. Robyn Pollock says:

    thank you, thank you!!!!!!! I just made a facial appointment that I’ve been delaying because of “not right now”….”there’s other things more important”…..shouldn’t spend the money….etc etc. thank you for reminding me…we need to take care of ourselves and not wait for permission…..

  18. Oh, Katrina,

    How right you are. Perfume does not improve with age and waiting is a waste. I learned early on when my father died at 57 and thank God he did not wait until he retired to buy his little lake house in NH. He had 15 summers, and we rebuilt three years ago and are enjoying every single minute there. This year, finally at 67 with a year old granddaughter in MA, I decided it was time to spend more time in NH. So come May, I will spend 5 months there. Oh, yeah, I am 66 and I still feel so NOT 66 that I forget to give my Medicare as my secondary insurance. And my husband and I are still working full time! One thing I now struggle with is too much of everything, so I am giving away things now that I want my girls to have and enjoy while they are young…I tell them dont buy me anything I can’t use up or experience, and we too, are seeing a lawyer this month, long overdue. Our last will the girls have guardians, and they are 38 and 41! I saw a sign once in a little senior citizen cafe in Austin: “Life is short, eat dessert first!”. And contrary to the Egyptian belief, I remember a German friend once told me, ” The last shirt has no pockets.” Thanks for a great post and this reminder!

  19. I am getting better about using things. I used to save all the things you mentioned under the assumption that I would eventually have time to use them another day and that my ratty old stuff was good enough for the moment. I am pledging to step more into the moments of enjoying and using my stuff and giving away what I know I will never use. Cheers!

  20. I, too, am guilty of saving things up. At the beginning of the month I found a little card which says ‘don’t save things for a special occasion, everyday of your life is a special occasion’. How true that is, by saving things for a special occasion we a treating every other day as inconsequential and how false that is. I have a drawer full of delightful underwear but would be ashamed is anyone saw what I wear daily! Lovely clothes hanging in the closet while wearing somewhat shabby items. Are my husband and I too unimportant to dress for? Really? As we prepare to move from Australia to our retirement cottage and acerage in New Zealand I am carefully reviewing our possessions, choosing to keep just those we love and actually using them. My biggest hoard has been stationery! Boxes and tins of gorgeous cards and notepaper. My family and friends will be receiving snail mail this year on it.

  21. Meg Flournoy says:

    What a wonderful letter to read. All so true! This morning I was getting ready for a casual day, it was kind of gray, I put on a pink sweater and was looking for the everyday silver earrings I usually wear, but had a different thought as I looked at the pearl studs. My thought was ‘why am I saving these pearls for a special occasion? I think I will wear them today!’ So pearls it is, and I have felt special all day!

  22. Lovely post and reminder of the important things in life – the moments, not the things.

  23. Linda Rosenfeld says:

    Thank you for your wonderful insight. My father used to say that every morning he would wake up and see my mother’s face, was a good day. I just turned 60 this year
    and I intend to take my father’s and your advice. You can’t take it with you so live your life and treat yourself. Eat that yogurt out of a wine goblet. Turn breakfast into a parfait. Have a mimosa and read the morning newspaper on the porch. Have your best friend over for a pot of tea and cookies with the good china. Use those fancy things instead of leaving them in the box where no one can appreciate them. I am so
    glad I got to wear my mother’s wedding dress when I got married. To see the look on my parents’ faces when I walked down the aisle… Priceless!

  24. I’m turning 60 this year and I cannot wrap my head around this phenomenon of growing older. I still like I’m 20, thank G-d. I don’t have that ‘mature, settled, I know myself feeling I thought all people have at this age. I’m as filled with questions, struggles, angst as when I was younger. Thinking about this age and growing older gives me a certain sadness as I know no matter what people say that age is just a number, it means less time to live. And there’s so much living to do. So much learning, experiencing, growing, engaging in – I wish I had 5 lives to do all I’d love to do and see.
    The whole idea that nothing lasts, that living things can be here for such a short time like the butterfly or leaf (love the book, Freddie the Leaf by Leo Buscalia) that our time here is fleeting, is sad to me. It’s like when I see a new building replacing an old one or new owners taking over an establishment and making it into something else, always brings that pit of reflection and sadness, thinking how the tides turn and soon it’s someone else’s shot at this life, this time.
    I look forward to reading your posts reflecting on this process of time passing in our lives. Your writing is simply beautiful and expresses what I cannot. Thank you.

  25. I loved all of this: two friends writing to each other and two friends urging each other and all of us to stop saving the special things for another day. There is a dress I love and don’t wear because “there is no place to wear it.” I think I will just don it and wear it to work at my computer one day this week. A lovely post. I’m sharing it now with my friends and sisters.

  26. I love your friendship with Margaret so thank you for opening a window to it here.

    Alas, I am the opposite of you. I use everything up right away and then get sad when it is worn out or old. I wish I were more of a saver:)

    I so love this:

    For me, it’s also about awakening each morning with an awareness of how precious life is, how fragile, how magnificent. It’s about remembering to turn off the computer and pick up the book of poetry I really want to read. It’s about leaving the dishes for later and taking a walk in the snow as it falls, about easing up on the to-do list and stepping into the spaciousness of a quiet moment. It’s about noticing what’s good in people, and cherishing that. It’s about giving myself permission to be silly or lazy or vulnerable. It’s about holding on to hope and showing love and cultivating gratitude — and letting go of so much else that I cling to for no good reason.

  27. Hi Katrina:
    As the year drew to a close, my daughter turned 21. The night before she headed back to NYC to celebrate her birthday with her friends, we toasted her with a lovely bottle of expensive champagne – a gift that had been sitting in our liquor cabinet for a couple of years.
    As I’ve been organizing my house in which we’ve lived for the past 16 years, going through the things I’ve accumulated over the past 55 years of my life, I keep coming across things I’ve saved for special occasions, wondering if I can ever downsize this accumulation to the point were we could fit the essentials into a condo. 2014 will be a year of simplifying but also making use of all those wonderful perfumes I bought in Paris in my 20’s, lovely gifts still unused, and finding a home for the things I might never use that someone else can enjoy.
    Loved your letter. It really tapped into many of the things I’ve been thinking about. Thanks as always for sharing your thoughts and insights.

  28. …. easing up on the to-do list and stepping into the spaciousness of a quiet moment….Especially in mid-January: when a lack of planning drives me to search for the “most popular to-do lists” …

    Yes, Katrina…I too can relate: inheriting my (one) grandmother’s cutlery set – each knife sheathed in a papery-thin protective layer; but I was blessed with another grandmother – one who believed in using and portraying and living the beautiful every day.

    Your thoughts reflect daily reminders I have for myself – which road to take on life’s (ending, never-ending?) journey…

  29. Katrina Kenison says:

    Many of you have asked me where to purchase the Sonata perfume. You can click on the word “Sonata” in the first line of the blog above (hyperlinked right to the perfume!). Or visit the 2 Note Perfumery website:

    All the scents and products are handcrafted botanicals. (Someday, I’m going to treat myself to a face cream!)

    And about those boys: I know only that they met at school and began singing together about a year and a half ago. I’ve listened to this song now over a dozen times, and it still moves me. Those voices!!

    FYI: Since writing this post I’ve booked the facial!

  30. I, like many others, used to save things that I hated to “use and lose”, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to realize that I deserve these things that I loved enough to bring into my home in the first place. The items that I still save though are my antique china and crystal. It still seems crazy to bring these out for everyday use but your encouragement makes me think of pulling a couple of pieces out and enjoying them maybe once a week or so. Thanks so much for the gentle encouragement!

  31. When my Mom died 5 years ago, we found a dresser drawer FULL of body creams and moisturizers. The poor woman had horribly dry skin, but instead of using all those creams, she stashed them away. Most of them had spoiled, smelling very bad as the oils had turned. It makes me sad to remember this, but it’s also a reminder to me, as is your letter, to use the Good Stuff Now.

  32. My aunt passed away in October, so I have recently had the experience of going thru and dispersing a lifetime’s accumulation of possessions. She kept her treasures in the corner cupboard so that they’d be “safe”. And, in December, I went to the lawyer to update my will. So yes, this writing speaks to me!
    I’ve been considering retirement, and although “time” is not a tangible, I’ve been feeling like I give my most creative, productive time away to the job, and I’m ready to claim that for myself, and use it every day! I deserve that.

  33. Wonderful writing of good, positive thoughts and actions. I’m appreciative to Ms. Roach for introducing me to your writing and this exchange in particular. It’s tempting to write my own story, but instead I’ll thank you for sharing your reflections.

  34. Here I am 3 years older than Margaret and 8 years older than Katrina, and I still save all the good stuff. I enjoyed both letters and am determined to wear my trendy jeans (and the silk underpants that could go underneath) more often. And well, there are many other things to use and use up around here. Thanks for the nudge!

  35. I use and enjoy it all…I grew up with a father who denied himself so much just to save a dime…even enough heat in the house! So when I became an adult, I decided I was going to be comfortable and happy, to feel special NOW. It even bothers me to focus too much on saving for retirement for example (although I dutifully do what is required…and quickly get on my way) .I prefer to live and have experiences NOW. I have no idea if I will even be here in 20 years, or 10. Life happens today…let’s soak it up:)

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