I learned a lot about life stages from my friend Jean. She developed several important developmental affirmations over years of study and collaboration with partners in parent education. The affirmations fit all stages of life from infancy to death and have been used by people all over the world. Here are a few:
- I love who you are.
- You can share your wisdom in your own way.
- You deserve the support that you need.
- You can look upon your journey through life’s stages as natural transitions.
- You are lovable just the way you are.
- You can celebrate the gifts you have received and the gifts you have given.
- You can grow your whole life through.
- You can integrate all of your life experiences and die when you are ready.
I knew Jean as a neighbor who lived in the big green house with the swing, heard she was a child psychologist and a writer of parenting books. I saw her at neighborhood parties and always enjoyed talking with her. Jean understood that I was in those busy parenting years, making it hard to carve out time away. She was at a different stage– a grandmother, working from her home office, traveling the world as a guest lecturer and doing research for her books.
She invited me to tea. How could she have time for me?
I finally took her up on it when I found myself with two kids in college, and freer afternoons. I did not share the professional and academic pursuits of her field, if anything I was her subject. Jean had achieved recognition and honors over her exceptional career (continued well into her 90’s), yet she included me in her circle of parent educators, invited me to give feedback on her latest chapter for a new book or online training course. She shared with me that she was 50 when her first book was published. (My age, when we first started meeting. )
We discovered our mutual love of ballerina flats and natural linen, amaryllis and orchids.
Time passed, and with it, new stages for me–empty nest (Jean called it the spacious nest) loss of my parents, the birth of our first grandchild. We talked about everything. She listened, sent me home with things to think about, to read. She shared research about developmental stages throughout life in a series of newsletters she published, and other resources like Gene Cohen’s book The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain. Jean believed that the aging brain had tremendous potential to make important connections, it was not about decline and diminishment. I came away full of ideas and the invitation to share my writing with her.
I had started taking classes at the Loft Literary Center and she wanted to learn to write “like that.” She knew how to write a book, but wanted to write for herself. She wrote her personal history of women’s voting rights, illustrated it and bound small books for her family. She wrote stories of her childhood on a farm near Faribault, and a guardian angel that saved the day when she and Dick had to get home.
Jean had become my mentor and friend. Insisted that each time we met, I bring something to read, aloud. I felt heard, she asked questions, she gave me feedback and encouragement. She always introduced me as “My friend, Deb Palmquist. She is a writer. “
We couldn’t see one another this last year, Jean had moved into an assisted living facility, after a second fall broke her pelvis. I visited just once before COVID restrictions were in place and brought London Fogs from Caribou. Her place was sunny and open, and she was regaining strength and energy. We wrote and called. I sent her a Valentine collage with images of our favorite things and delivered a lemon cake when I heard about her husband, Dick’s death. I brought tea and champagne on Inauguration Day, meeting briefly in the doorway of the main entrance, after Jean had her first vaccination. In her birthday card I asked her if it was okay that I call her my mentor, to which she enthusiastically replied, “YES!”
Recently, she took another fall that broke her fragile femur bone, and is receiving hospice care at home. She is ready to join Dick in the next stage. She has described it as taking “a big adventure into the great unknown.”
I am revisiting the affirmations again as Jean is undergoing her own transformational growth, living in the last stage. I have visited, to hold her hand at the bedside, in the living room where we sat on many afternoons. She knew it was me. She told me “that the world had changed so much, but so much had remained the same.” I didn’t feel the need to add anything to that. We just sat in the quiet, looking out on the familiar view. She knows so much about everything now.