The Stephen Ministry throws down the guantlet

Like many Christian congregations, my birth church offers the Stephen Ministry , a program that provides one-on-one support from a congregant for people having difficulties in life.

That presents ME with a challenge!  I’ve had older friends who requested visits from the Stephen Ministry but were put off when the assigned contact wanted to delve into their problems when their problem was not having anyone to just talk to, to share info on what was happening in the broader community to which they no longer had ready access.

The guantlet thrown down by the Stephen Ministry?  To develop Anne’s Ministry, similar in that it’s a volunteer-based, peer-to-peer program BUT one focused on JOY.  That shares who’s getting married, just became grandparents, what’s happening in our three schools – elementary/high school/college.  Volunteers who could go over the Bryn Athyn POST for news of the week, who’d get to know their older friend’s interests, what sort of news they’re interested in hearing, what seems to trigger happiness.  Not to help solve problems or alleviate depression, but, through social connection of the joyful kind, to PREVENT them.

A worthy challenge – ACCEPTED!

Oldsters, the holidays & loneliness

Even youngers find the holidays strewn with emotional landmines & social booby traps.  It can be infinitely worse for oldsters elders ancients.

The older we get, the more things can trigger holiday depression.  The best way to deal with them is to look them straight in the eye.

There was no way Mom was NOT going to miss Dad intensely over the stretch from Thanksgiving through the New Year.  Instead of avoiding any mention of her O Best Beloved, we’d talk about their favorite moments together, from the 1930s Thanksgiving dinner she made completely using a fireplace rotisserie because they didn’t have a working oven to making paper ornaments for the tree when Peter was three so he could touch them to meeting Dad at the New Year’s Eve party she threw for Aunt Betty.

Thoughts bring presence & it helped Mom stay on even keel to talk about loved ones who were long gone or lived far away.  She lived with us, but some version of most of these can be done with someone living over the river & through the woods:

We made a party out of decorating the tree.  Every year, she’d tell John the stories behind the Lockhart ornaments & loved hearing from him the tales behind the Murphy decorations.  For years, we had two trees – what John described as the “museum quality” Lockhart tree in the living room, the more boisterous Murphy tree in the den – until we FINALLY, a couple years before Mom was reunited with her O Best Beloved, we combined both into the one, living room tree.

I made sure we got plenty of great catalogues for armchair shopping.  Favorites included Signals, LL Bean, Vermont Country Store, Lands End, Green Tiger Press & Current.  She’d settle down with a cuppa, a plate of cookies & shop til she dropped – all without leaving the comfort of her big cozy chair!

There was always a supply of stamps on hand for her Christmas cards, stationery for her holiday letters & plenty of working pens.  And Scotch Tape!

Another party for wrapping presents!

John & I helped Mom get out to see friends & to have them in, if need be, happily fetching them.

We reminded her to set up time on the phone with Ellen in Texas & Elsa in Florida, Peggy in Missouri & folks all over, rather than leaving it up to chance.

Because we’d kept past cards from friends & family, we could look at signatures of folks who’d been gone for years, sparking memories & smiles.  Still do!

Mom & I would talk about the little card that Dad gave her with a present on their first Christmas – So little a thing to express all the strengths that are mine through your love & affectionate understanding ~ Pete.  A card I found among her things that now holds a yearlong place of honor in The Retreat.

On the night of the Glencairn Sing, we’d listen to a recording of the music & talk about long-ago traditions, like all the Raymond & Mildred’s granddaughters lighting candles throughout the Great Hall, or all the years the three Lockhart Ladies (Mom Mim moi) had the fun of bringing Marguerite de Angeli, leaving at intermission & stopping off for cocktails – with Marguerite! – on the drive back to her Philadelphia Parkway abode.

We shared a holiday reading from the Christmas story every day, which often triggered more talk of memories.

There was always plenty of special treats in the house, in case friends & family stopped by.

The Lockhart collection of Christmas books was put in a place of honor, near her armchair.

We’d attend the simpler, shorter children’s tableaux instead of the magnificent presentation at the cathedral.  The children’s tableaux always undid Mom with its innocence.

We watched LOTS of Christmas specials.  John & I made sure we had video tapes of her favorite holiday movies.

The house was always filled with music, either WFLN (classical music radio) or recordings.

When John & I went out without her, we’d regale her with tales of our adventures on returning home.

We always let my brothers & sister know they were welcome to spend part or all of Christmas with us.

And we let Mom know that we understood if a tender heart moment dipped into sadness.  But sorrow has been part of our family celebration since 1959, the Christmas after Ian died.  I believe that letting herself feel, respect the sorrow when it hit helped Mom avoid holiday depression.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Those are a smattering of the things that we – all of us – did to help Mom stay free of the holiday blues.  Tomorrow, will look at some of the things the Hyatts & Tamar & the two of us did to help Anne Hyatt, a widow living in a continuous care community, keep the merry in her Christmas!






Music hath powers…

Music can play a key role in transforming a holiday dinner into an unforgettable celebration.  Cue up the favorite music from the era of your guests to during the mix & mingle, before & after dinner.  Dinnertime provides an opportunity to have quiet music playing in the background.

To help work off some of that feasting, encourage great-grands to show off some of the moves they perfected back In The Day to grands teaching  the Twist – Mashed Potato – Loco-Motion to parents explaining disco to younger folks teaching the hottest moves from today’s dance scene.

In which the Universe gives me an assignment

Take Jolene Brackey’s inspiring Creating Moments of Joy books ADD Ron Culberson’s rollicking & empowering opuses, blend in a bracing number of other authors & influences, spike with Jolene’s perpetual calendar and you get a “start it now” assignment from the Universe – – put together a Comedy Relief perpetual calendar for all ages, whatever your decade.

I accept!  What an ab fab way to honor my mentors, experience, Eureka! moments while compiling a kick-butt calendar to help everyone wanting more joy in their days make life juicier.

Puts the FUN in FUNdamental!

Just right 1st conference for John!

LOUD cheers & wild applause for the Northern Virginia Caregivers Consortium’s annual conference!  We discovered this gem, held annually on the Veteran’s Day federal holiday, by sheer serendipity – John & I already look forward to 2018!

It was after July’s IAGG World Congress, when John once again welcomed me home from an eldercare-related conference,  that he put his foot down, letting me know, “I want to go to one, too!”  The words I’d been longing to hear.

Just not the time I wanted to hear them.  It’s been years since we’ve been this low on funds; the possibility of getting him to a conference THIS year seemed slim to none.  But never count out the power of the Universe to transform the seemingly impossible into the DONE.

The event that showed up went passed do-able to MUST DO.  The Universe continues to astonish!

Having come up with the idea for a Comedy Relief Kit – first aid for the funny bone, I clearly could NOT miss a Creating Moments of Joy Conference.  No how, no way  – if it had been in Fargo, I would have hitchhiked to be there.  This conference seemed a relative hop skip & jump from our suburban Philadelphia home, held in Centreville, VA, west of Alexandria.  And its keynote speaker was Jolene Brackey!  I was IN!  And the cost of the conference was $30.00 (!) a person, so it was just a tad crazier for John to come, too.

The 36 hours surpassed my greatest hopes.

The drive down was relatively sane. Well, until we hit Rt 66.  Cray-zee! Jam packed & not moving.

We high tailed it OFF the big road, looking for a promising dining spot.  We found Amphora, a Fairfax restaurant with the look & prices of a high-end diner but the food choices & service of a white tablecloth establishment.   We wish we lived close enough & had the current funds to have dinner there once a week & work our way through their distinctive menu.  We controlled ourselves & had pancakes for supper – John was happy as a dickey bird with his blueberry flapjacks while I found my Autumn Harvest stack delectable – we dipped them into a puddle of syrup rather than pouring it over them, to not detract from their utter yum.

Returning to Rt 66, we counted ourselves blessed that traffic was high volume but not nuts.  Little did we know!  Around the time we were considering whether or not to have dessert, a train had hit a car on the tracks.  The most direct route to our Airbnb was completely shut down.  We had to take the back roads – discovering that in Centreville, they have a weird habit of changing without warning, from one intersection to the next.

The challenging drive was worth every minute.  Our Airbnb was a beautiful home, tucked well off the small road that led to it, lovely grounds & a great mini-suite that included a terrific bathroom & a 2nd bedroom, had we needed it.  The decor, inside & out, was right up our alley, with twirly swirly things spinning in front of the house, lots of intriguing graphics & lettered pictures inside that screamed about our host., “Laurie’s one of us!”  I still haven’t learned how to use my iPad alarm, but had luckily taken my little Pampered Chef kitchen alarm along & it totally did the job.

It was NOT easy to head out at 7:30 a.m. – the house was so welcoming & the grounds beckoned us to explore.  But (after taking a few moments to watch a squirrel scampering up a tree) we packed up the car & were off to THE CONFERENCE by 7:48 a.m., fingers crossed that the advertised “breakfast reception” before Jolene’s opening would suffice.

About twenty minutes later, we walked into a HUGE field house-sized space which housed the conference & happily spotted coffee, danish, bagels & cream cheese.

Inspired by closing speaker, Ron Culberson, I sported a headband with two pink flamingoes, facing beak to beak.  A great ice breaker!

We checked out the vendors tables lining half the room, two tables deep, getting the chance to meet some truly awesome people I look forward to writing about later.  Then we poured ourselves coffee, loaded up on nibblings & headed to a table at the front of the room.  Suffice it to say the event went WAY past my wildest expectations, a total steal for $30.

As someone involved in putting together speaker events in my Prudential HealthCare days, was impressed with how diverse the speakers were AND how naturally their topics meshed.  Jolene’s presentation on creatively interacting with people touched by dementia & Alzheimers (total WOW!) led into Ann Morrison’s outstanding talk about caregiver’s working through difficult feelings (needs to be discussed more often, whether a professional care partner, a loved one or friend) which segued into Melanie Chadwick addressing the current meds & ongoing research/trials (she thinks none too highly of what’s currently available).  Lunch (catered by Panera!) was followed by Paula Kyle getting us going with her Dancing With Parkinson’s moves, then it was back to Jolene talking out how to make bathing & mealtimes less daunting, then Ron Culberson was up to tie everything together in his inimitable style, with lots of laughter along with bits of insight about aging & life.

As I drove home last night – a glorious drive that embodied playfulness & partnership – John was all smiles with his first conference.  As we discussed what immediately came to mind in thinking about the conference, neither of us was surprised that we shared the same moment as our #1 – Jolene, who gave her presentation walking among the the sea of tables & the hundreds of attendees, asking which, if we were to swap places with our loved ones/clients, would WE prefer:   to be safe ~or~ to feel ALIVE?  To live five more years with dementia/Alzheimers ~or~ to live as we want for a few months?

Which would you?


COMEDY RELIEF ~ “Take two jokes & call me in the morning.”

Somewhere in my pile of  “to be labeled” pictures is a snapshot of my mother & John’s at Daddypop’s, sitting side-by-side in a booth, laughing.  Mom Murphy’s eyes are twinkling & Mom’s head is thrown back.  The ladies are having a blast, something both of them did throughout their long lives.  As different as they were in many ways, the two of them always made fun part of their day.

It was relatively easy for them to include a little delight in each of their days, both living in their own homes right up to the last.  For Mom M., it might be a phone chat with one of “the girls,” tending her roses outdoors & her African violets inside, or watching a favorite show on the telly.  For my mom, it might be dashing off a note to one of her cavalcade of friends & family,  (Rosamunde Pilcher was a great favorite), or working with me on one of her Mindwalker1910 blog postings.

I learned from the two of them & other incredible older friends in my little hometown the importance of purpose & of play.  Sadly, as people tip upward into their sixties & well beyond, they often lose easy access to both.

Here’s something else I’ve learned over the years – it’s possible to have a sense of purpose without a sense of play, but a sense of play naturally teams (& teems!) with purpose.  Play is a purpose all by itself.  I saw that often enough with our two mothers, with Aunt Gay, with Miss Cornelia, with Mrs. Ridgeway & so many others.  They each regularly reveled in fun for fun’s sake – and each displayed a great degree of resilience, no matter what their age or physical condition.  Coincidence?  I think not!

The challenge is how to make play easily accessible, whether an older lives on his or her own, in a retirement community, a continuous care residence or elsewhere.

It seems to me that seeking a solution is typically hamstrung when we look at how possible answers can be monetarized.  I’ve let go of that consideration.

Years ago, when I worked at Prudential HealthCare, a very senior VP at PRUDENTIAL asked why I’d gone out on a limb with a project that had borne great fruit, but  initially had NOT been well received by key execs.  Why, she wondered, had I taken the risk?

Because it was a risk that needed taking & if it meant I was out of my job…  well, as I saw it, taking that risk for the sake of the company & our clients WAS the heart of my job.

It’s the same today – looking to see how a solution can be monetarized makes money as or more important than finding an answer.  Think of me as considering the lillies, believing there’s something we’re here on this little world of ours to do.  For the two of us, there’s no debating or dithering – this is it;  if it means taking a big risk for the sake of a greater good, seeking the good is the heart of our purpose.

It’s been 20+ years since that senior Prudential  VP identified me as a rebel ~ seem to have only gotten more so with the years!

SO (finally!), we’ve come up with a way to help oldsters elders ancients of every stripe & ilk, their families, care partners & facility staff find ways to tuck moments of joy into their days – a COMEDY RELIEF KIT, 1st aid for the funny bone.

Not much to share as to contents; the idea is at the most  fledgling stage – just hit me this afternoon.  As envisioned at this moment, it would NOT contain a bunch of things that might or might not meet particular tastes & interests; it WILL provide guidelines & directions for people to find their own solution.  We’ll provide the prescriptions for fun joy glee; others will come up with what works best for them, their loved ones, clients or residents.  And it’ll be available through open sourcing, eliminating cost as a barrier to access.

Doing the research will be part of the fun.  Ideally, the olders will come up with their own material, using the internet (which might requiring teaming up with computer-savvy partners), the library, 1st person resources or to-be-discovered methods.  It can be built on, revised, handed along to others to expand or winnow.  It would be organic, no two alike.

Here’s rub – the way to effectively monetarize an idea is to design a standard version, figure out the easiest way to pro duce it & find the most effective way to market it.

The way to solve a problem – like how to interject fun joy glee into sometimes bleak situations – is to find ways it can be customized to adapt to individual people & situations.  Do NOT break out the cookie cutters!

John & I will do our best to make a dent in the current dilemma, in part by creating connections to solutions that are already out there.  That puts energizing lives & sparking enthusiasm over securing income sources & expanding bank accounts.

Taking a moment to thank the Universe for my years in schools & in the corporate world – it turns out the education I received from each place I worked gave me invaluable insights no college, workshop, seminar or conference could.  My first & final jobs – both in teaching – taught me to not be surprised at forces that seem to pull you away from your primary use & suck you into the petty but powerful (educating students v. dealing with administration & parents).  My corporate experience showed me that exceptional worker is rarely (if ever) done by people strictly following what they learned through classes or manuals ~and~ that it sometimes takes being a bit of a rebel to get a tough job done.  And they all taught me the wisdom of putting what seems right over job security, even if it means taking a risk – the end result is what ultimately provides true value, not your pay check.

Just as I could have ended up out of a job back in my Pru’ days,  we realize we could end out on the street.  No risk, no reward.  At least when the goal is to whip together a ready-to-customize COMEDY  RELIEF  KIT, we’ll never be short on laughs!

(John asked to add a joke from the great Groucho, “I took a train to Chicago once, but they made me take it back.”  Done!)


LIVE LIFE LAUGHING – the naturally funny Rosalind H. Trieber

Gene Cohen & Roz Trieber – I don’t know if the two knew each other (it is possible, since both lived in the Metro D.C. area), but the world was certainly a much sadder place after they died, within two months of each other.  They surely seem kindred spirits.

Gene left us with his legacy of humor & creativity on November 12, Roz – who just entered my life – left it on December 31.  How different our lives would be if both were still with us, pioneering the use of the arts & especially laughter in working with patients, the dependent, the elderly.

Gene’s classic, The Creative Age, was my awakening to the importance of the arts & nurturing creativity in helping people remain vital purposeful connected as we age upward.  Roz’s Live Live Laughing, which I read & reread for the first time this past weekend, is a blessing on all I’ve seen first hand about the power of laughter in alleviating confusion distress unhappiness depression despondency isolation helplesness…  In my experience, a dose of laughter immediately helps reduce those spirit killers in most people.

Laughter – silly, burst-out-loud, unrestrained – turned my 89-year old mother from self-denigrating to self-loving.  Where reading failed, reasoning failed, counseling failed, laughter succeeded.  For my part, it was discovered by sheer desperation, on an unthinking whim.  Roz would have understood, would have been able to explain the WHY behind the WOW that we experienced from simple silliness.

Live Life Laughing – An innovative & imaginative approach to living a healthier, happier & more prosperous life.  Roz was a Naturally Funny Lady who helped connect me to a deeper level of silly.  Her book is way more than how to get more chortles out of life.  It’s practical, grounded, full of simple ways to get to happy.  Like sharing Maggie Bedrosian’s terrific exercise – write down the first ten words that come to mind hearing “How do you feel when you’re feeling really well?”  Great question to use with any age, as intriguing for a 30-something to ponder as a 65 year old.  Roz considers it a good treatment for emotional constipation & I see what she means – it might first be met with glib answers, but once asked it drills down into the mind & hangs around,  resurfacing & reconnecting to thoughts focused on feeling gooood.

It would be fun to put together a workshop based on Roz’s work – a first aid kit of comedy to have on hand when we need a life-restoring laugh.  As Roz says, “No benefit plan provides a greater vale than a daily dose of compassionate humor.  It provides hope, reduces tension, includes all people & creates bonds.”

As Roz points out, you don’t need to go to clown school to master laughter.  And it doesn’t matter if you are laughing on cue instead of after hearing a joke – the body feels the mechanics & kicks in on its own.

The book is easily read over an evening, perhaps sitting gingerly on a whoopie cushion (or at least with a whoopie pie in hand), noise maker at hand, Patch Adams nose securely in place.  It has a smattering of ways to tuck humor into the various parts of your life; even more, it nudges the READER into spotting ways to spike their day with laughter.

When I think about the power of a hearty guffaw, I think about a visit Mom had about three weeks before she was reunited with her O Best Beloved.  She was at a local hospital, with her doctors still anticipating a successful round of rehab followed by a return home & a fairly full recovery.  A younger friend – around my age – made the 30 minute jaunt for a visit.  Esther’s energy is impossible to convey – she loves life & embodies verve.  She & Mom talked about her trips to Florence, about her husband, about teaching & house mothering at a local boarding school (Mom’s alma mater!).  It was a joy for me, experiencing how much Mom was loving the visit – all smiles & laughter.  Then, Esther gave me a golden moment – she made a crack about something or other & Mom just put her head back & LAUGHED.  A big bold-faced no-holds-barred LAUGH.  That one moment did more to make her feel whole than all the meds she was taking.  How do we get more of those moments into medicine?

I can tell you from my experience this summer at an international conference of gerontologists & geriatricians, the interest is there, the willingness to consider “if not meds & traditional treatment, what?

The moment is open to Roz’s message in large part because of her work.  Would she were here – praise be her book is!