Efficient Heartbreak

John & I are blessed that – up until two years ago – none of our older friends seemed to be burdened with lives that were sad, empty echoes of earlier years.  Both our fathers died in their early 60s, yet both our mothers lived full & vibrant lives up to their last breath.

The older people we knew & know through our community may walk a bit slower, may not be up for a set of tennis or playing Twister with their grandkids, but for the most part they remain sharp & interesting & engaged in life.

Up until the summer of 2015, the closest we came to a neglected oldster in our life was a client who was a maiden auntie; she grew up spending ALL summer at the family shore house & was sad when every year seemed to find her nieces & nephews arranging shorter & shorter visits to a place that was, to her, paradise.  But they DID still get her down!

We only knew best practice – or darn near close to – families.  Until Rochelle.  Her life went into a tailspin around this time, two years back – due to remarkably lousy decisions by children who were well-intentioned yet seemed to believe, even before her diagnosis of early stage dementia, that being in her early 80s precluded her from having any weight in determining her path forward.

Months before her diagnosis, before the decision (made by her children with only cursory attention to her feelings) to move to her oldest son’s house, Rochelle had planned to take a granddaughter on a graduation trip to England.  The two had delighted sharing tales of Mrs. Tiggywinkle, Benjamin Bunny & Peter Rabbit; as adults, they share a passion for Jane Austen.  The trip moved forward, with the addition of another, older grandchild to lend a hand.  For Rochelle, the dementia diagnosis changed the journey from a special time with grandchildren to  a glorious last hurrah.

It was a great success!  While the older grandchild visited friends in London, the two gals took a luxury coach tour of the Lake District, keeping eyes peeled for squirrels, rabbits & porcupines.  It was as grand a tour as our friend had hoped.

Back home, things were happening in her absence.  Her oldest had promised that he’d get started on cleaning out the house while she was away.  It wasn’t so much cleaNing as it was cleaRing.

When she arrived back to her lovely home on four wooded acres, tired but blissed, she practically floated in the door, where she was greeted joyfully by her devoted Shih Tzu.  She walked through her kitchen – she was home!  Walked through the dining room – home! Walked into the music room – and the first thing she spotted was the wall opposite the door, the one that housed her extensive prized vinyl collection – empty.

Her treasured record & CD collection – gone.  Video tape & DVD collection – gone.  Most of her books – gone.   Disappeared  in the name of efficiency (“so so much easier doing it without Mom around to slow things down“).

It is hard to imagine that things could possibly go downhill from there, but they did.  I haven’t the heart to write about it now – envision things going from bad to unbelievably worse.

How comforting it would be to say that the family learned,  but they seem almost invested in not seeing how their actions contributed to their mother’s sharp decline.  Not seeing they could have done anything differently,  they continue along their grief-strewn way, oblivious of the devastation left in their wake.

As far as John & I can see, the ONLY constructive thing that has come out of what feels like a never-ending heartbreak is that we’ve experienced the worst practices situation that had always eluded us.  Where Rochelle had been one of our sustaining clients, we were dropped by the family when we spoke out as advocates;  she’s now a cherished friend visited visit once a week, whisked (with sweet pooch) out for a drive & lunch, then back for a classic video.

John & I are currently between clients (translate – little income at the moment), but we consider what’s spent on lunch & movies to be priceless if it gives a friend options choices FREEDOM – she chooses when to eat, what to order & which video to watch. Her joy at those simple pleasures is a priceless reminder to us of the many things we take for granted that she treasures as rare & empowering.

If I had three wishes, one of them would be to sit her children down & get them to understand that what they did in the name of efficiency caused deep damage.  From the moment she saw that entire wall of empty shelves, Rochelle knew she no longer had control over her own life.  In an instant, she gave up.

In the place of the woman who had readily shared her desires & hopes, Rochelle became someone who agreed with whatever was suggested, however ill-conceived or wrong headed.  She stopped caring about anything other than her dog & she only has her from nine in the morning until five in the afternoon.

Her apathy was brought home when we reconnected this past winter, having heard she was now in a senior residence.  Her physical therapist confided. “In all the months I’ve worked with Rochelle,  she’s never shown any motivation to improve.

Terrible damage was done in the name of efficiency.  More damage is being done because of supposedly adult children who seem to care less about their mother’s well being & more about assuring themselves they know exactly what to do in a situation they’ve never face before that has brought countless others to their knees.

Maybe that’s it.  Maybe they are afraid of feeling vulnerable, about admitting they don’t know, that they need to reach to an astonishingly wide range of others to get a handle on the one they claim to love so much.

That might not feel efficient to them, but of how much more effective it would be!

I love NextAvenue.org – but…

I love nextavenue.org  BUT gotta say that its articleIf you want growth & happiness after 60, stretch your limits” makes it sound like it literally IS a  s t r e t c h  for people to be inherently happy, as a natural state of being, 5 years BEFORE we’re eligible for Medicare.

Count me in with those who agree with Linda Carstensen‘s study-based hypothesis,  “Older people are happier,” captured on her TEDxWomen2011 talk.

Is that because, as a playfulness coach, I’m predisposed to think of happiness as our intended default?  Will digging deeper into Ginny McReynolds article reveal aha insights that sings true?

Stay tuned!

 

“Magical Realism” & Aging Upward

What a great term – “magic realism,” a phrase used to described the critically & commercially successful author Isabel Allende’s writing.   It also describes what I believe about aging upward, what I saw my mother, other adults around me live every day.  Magical realism.

In fiction, magical realism is not escapist – it is engagement.   It takes us outside of the everyday experience to experience every day’s reality & our personal deeper truth.  It escorts us from where we are situated in the world to see our place in it.  Where science fiction  & fantasy often interweave the serious with escapism, magical realism is always serious, always striving to convey different experiences, perceptions, views that actually do exist, or existed at some point.  It is different from what we or our culture experiences as reality, so we can’t lump it under realism.

In the same way that Isabel uses magical realism in her writing, she brings it into her talk on living passionately, given at TED2014.  She shares stories about people who are living in our country, our world who experience LIFE in different ways, as a different reality.  The woman whose red patterned shoes announce on her feet the free spirited activist in her heart.  Sophia Loren looking the way she does at the age she is due to … spaghetti.  The old woman who saves young girls from parents selling them into slavery.  Different worlds, different experiences, different perspectives than what’s outside my door, yet they ARE real inside my head.  Magical realism.

In her stories, Isabel may interject a ghost, not to create a frisson of fear but to manifest a reality I believe but  been spooked into hiding or silence;  to show  a reality beyond anything I could experience, yet can feel through another’s eyes.

Isabel weaves just such a tale at TED, making the audience – and viewers – see her exotic world through our own eyes.  She takes the kid of twenty-five by the hand to show what being seventy-one can be, reminds the 90-year old of the richness of aging upward.

For too many years, the magical realism spun around aging was a horror story, burdened with limitation loss liability.  Isabel invites us into her life, to feel its passion, to experience it (including erotic fantasies) as if it is our own.  Then to weave our tale of magical realism, welcoming others to enter the story & help us celebrate the years!

 

Ashton, Paine & Common Sense

The first thing I did this morning was listen to Ashton Applewhite’s recently posted TED talk.  The message – ageism kills spirit as readily as isolation kills the body – is all-important, yet it is the messenger who leaves my jaw dropped with amazement.

When I started working as a corporate speech writer, the goal was to make every word count, to have every one convey the message I wanted to send.  Ashton uses every word to CONNECT.  Oh, to have such a gift!

It is no mere jest to compare Ashton to Thomas Paine.  Washington’s leadership would not mean zilch, ditto Franklin’s diplomacy & Jefferson’s brilliant words IF the everyday colonists hadn’t been won to the cause, not just in the fresh exuberance of the early days, but in the deep slog of Valley Forge.

Like Paine, Ashton connects with her audience by sharing a common sense message we already know in our hearts.  Paine rallied the troops by touching a deep personal aha that we could not be Americans as long as we were under British rule; Ashton rallies us by laying out the fact that we cannot be full humans, at any age, if we hold that only the slimmest sliver of time represents our best self.

It’s possible that I will go to my grave unable to fully put my finger on what it is in Ashton’s 11.5 minute talk that fires my appreciation of how she articulates her message.  It is true that it should be required viewing for every communications student, every speechwriter.  What fun it would be to sit down with Pete Boericke, my boss at Prudential Healthcare, to dissect what it is in her presentation that bowls me over.  Her simple message – let’s end ageism – is conveyed through simple words, through a pared down delivery.

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Jo Ann Jenkins, AARP CEO, help open the International Association of Gerontology & Geriatrics 21st (quadrennial) World Congress, in San Francisco.  Meeting & speaking with her later, I took the opportunity to tell her how, to me, she is the Benjamin Franklin of today’s revolution against ageism to Ashton Applewhite’s Thomas Paine – she has the gifts & savvy to draw major allies into the fight, while Ashton is out rallying the troops to take the fight to victory.  She thanked me – and agreed!

We are the Washington in that picture.  Each of us needs to lead our own revolution against promoting ageism in what we say, in what we accept from others.  We need to accept & take & embody leadership in living as fully & vibrantly as Ashton does.  If we don’t, it won’t matter what she did back in April, back on that fabled TED stage in Vancouver.  We – each & everyone of us, whatever our  age – need to lead the fight to be fully HUMAN at ever moment.

Then, as now, it’s about claiming the freedom to live without shackled to alien ideas & labels.

It’s not cute & coy to equate Applewhite with Paine – they are cut from the same cloth.  She, like he, lays bare what we all already know, acknowledges our plight, steels our spines & lets us know that victory can be ours by taking the fight to the enemy – the many that make a buck off pushing age as something to be battled & conquered.  She deserves the love & thanks of man & woman, as we take up Ashton’s common sense cry – “Let’s do it!” – and fight the good fight until the final battle is won.

 

Ashton’s TED Talk – Let’s end ageism

 

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Totally busting my buttons with pride over role model~ consciousness raising ~ revolutionary friend, the great Ashton Applewhite’s , TED Talk –  on the main stage, at the primo venue (Vancouver).

The crowd of movers & shakers capped her 11 1/2 minute talk with a surge, leaping to a standing ovation, roaring with approval after her “barn burner” presentation – not my words, but a description on TED’s own website. Watch for when them rallying around the shout,  “Let’s do it!”

As the always-nails-it  Harvey Austin described,  Ashton’s delivery & message in Let’s end ageism is crisp clean powerful ~ ~ spellbinding.

Ashton’s  talk should be taught in every journalism class, memorized by every speech writer.  It’s OUTSTANDING reach connects everyone to both the speaker & everyone around them.  She casually, impressively draws in each age, every demographic, every interest.
Slashing any expectation of placement on an “age spectrum,” Ashton flips the devaluing labeling of othering, instead celebrating that we are all HUMAN, a message that underpins every word in her talk.
It was just over a year ago – July 2016 – that I first told Ashton she’s the Thomas Paine of today’s revolution against revolting attitudes toward aging, informing & stirring multitudes to rush & overpower the barricades that a mass of commercial & cultural forces have set up against expansive fearless purposeful living.

EVERYTHING about Ashton is beyond epic.  Her book came out just 18 months ago – March 2016 – self-published after the publishing big wigs rejected her manuscript with the slam, “No one buys books on growing older.”  Look at her now, front & center on the most hallowed TED stage/  Then share & discuss & share some more the TED talk link because her Manifesto Against Ageism  message needs to be set ringing across our nation & around the world.

Start spreading the news!

 

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Goosebumps – NCCA

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NCCA – the National Center for Creative Aging.  I have no memory of how the NCCA first came into my life, how I came up with the cockamamie idea that it made sense for me – at that time virtually penniless – to go to the first NCCA Conference & Leadership Exchange in D.C., but the monies were raised for the conference & transportation costs, lodgings (with friends, outside D.C., in what turned out to be challenging to access Herndon VA) was arranged, and down I went.

Will never forget sitting in the intimate, circle-in-the-round auditorium in  the Arena Stage performance space, of having it hit me for the first time that the NCCA was based 4-square on the work of Gene Cohen, a man whose book, The Creative Age, drop kicked me into seeing the WHY for the vibrant oldsters elders ancients all around me in our little hometown.

Had I researched the conference at all online, it would have been OBVIOUS,  but I apparently went down, flying blind.

So, why did I go, if I didn’t even take a moment to check out the conference schedule? I arrived with a vague idea of where the main event would take place, virtually no understanding of where the pre-conference workshop I’d signed up for was happening, basically no knowledge of what was happening.  Mind you, I got my first smart phone (yes, in 2014) immediately before it so I’d have Internet access;  alas, I hadn’t a clue how to use it, had to keep asking smartly dressed young people bustling along the sidewalks for their aid with Mapquest.

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Long walks – those I remember.  Not having a clue of the shortest route from one spot to the next.  Hadn’t thought to get familiar with the area, to actually map out where event locations, to look over the schedule.

Had never been to a conference before.  The first time I saw the program was looking at the registration materials, the day AFTER the wonderful pre-conference workshop.

My most vivid memory of the entire conference was hearing Wendy Miller introduced, realizing she was Gene’s widow, having it HIT me right between the eyes – – DUH!  ‘Creative Aging: Exploring Potential in the Second Half of Life’ screamed Gene Cohen & yet I’d missed it!!

What made me think about goosebumps I’ll forever remember?  Dipping back into the wondrous book given to all conference attendees – Creativity Matters: The Arts & Aging Toolkit.

Confession time –  Gene’s book, The Creative Age, no longer sits next to The Mature Mind on my bookshelf – lent it to someone who never returned it.  That fate will NEVER happen to Creativity Matters,  because it will NEVER leave my possession!

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Talk about goosebumps – that priceless book continues to astound me.  It is packed with priceless information & inspiration ~  looking at how creativity nurtures an abundant older age, at the value of incorporating the arts into our  life, of the profound advantage of senior centers & residences, adult-day care programs & long-term care facilities, of families & friends in seeking, offering participatory arts programs that go beyond the “arts & crafts” that so often seem the norm.  To REACH &, in reaching, to satisfy.

It was in 2014 – at the pre-conference workshop? – that I first heard “Like” (Elizabeth) Lokon, director & founder of Opening Minds Through Art, explain that with older people, especially ones facing the challenges of cognitive impairment, “simple is complex, complex is simple” – trying to to duplicate an actual image was a struggle, frustrating, but to create a beautiful abstract painting looked difficult but was simple.

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Which brings us to last month’s IAGG World Congress & the wondrous talk by Marilyn Raichle, who spoke about the enjoyment that her mother – who has Alzheimer’s – drew from painting.  Although the subjects were defined, the delightful images her mother created were deliciously abstract, showcasing the processing from the delineated start to what showed up on the page.

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Which takes me to feeling sad.  Sad that I never asked for one of of the beautiful paintings that Anne Davis Hyatt created over her closing eight years.  Like Marilyn’s mother, from one moment to the next Anne could not remember the day or the date, but she did paint evocative hillsides & rivers & skies capturing her wonder & love of the sense of it all.

That’s what I learned from the NCCA, why I continue to get goosebumps remembering that I haven’t the vaguest recollection of how we first connected – – it shouts from the rooftops the importance of helping people of all ages stay anchored in the glorious sense of living, that the arts, from painting to poetry & performance & beyond, open the way & present a path to doing what I aim to provide for all my own clients friends family – living as expansively, as fully themselves, as possible in any given moment, feeling the thrill of goosebumps at the joy of it all.

Mom models my ideal

In  EKA,  a 03/23/00 tribute to her friend, Emilie, Mom modeled the sort of postings I welcome to this site.

Am envisioning a garden of memories & reminiscences about cherished oldsters elders ancients, ones who are gone & (even sweeter) ones like that epic Energizer Bunny, Norm Heldon, who just tipped his hat to 100.

Come on, Heldon grandkids – here’s a great chance to give another shout-out to His Awesomeness & his much missed O Best Beloved!  Let’s get my beau ideal written Garden of Love & Remembrance rolling!