If she could see me now

In the midst of corresponding with a woman who’s an awesome force for aging expansively,  was moved to share the link to Mom’s The Velveteen Grammie article.  Gave me pause, skimming over it before sending it off.

Reminded anew of the strange but true reality that my here & now life is what Mom always saw for me.  Not the specifics, but very much the general “helping people” thing.

When I was unceremoniously & totally unexpectedly given the boot from the corporate world that I’d aced, it took me all of thirty minutes to realize that MOM was behind the shove out the door.  Literally – was driving home in tears, waiting to be scooped up in the waiting arms of my loving husband, when I came to a stop at a traffic light in Willow Grove, half way between BISYS Financial Services & home, and IT hit me with full force:   Mom had NEVER seen me in the corporate world.

Now that Mom was fully in spirit, seems she had more clout.  Yanked me out of my comfy cushy job & thrust me into the truly great unknown.  She knew the truth of what Jen Sincero writes in You Are A Badass At Making Money – – “Taking huge scary steps into the unknown is the best way to scare my BS to the surface.  It is like a 2-for-1 deal ~ ~ I make progress AND I unearth my shit.”

Not that Mom would ever use such language, but the underlying message – yeah, that was totally what I got, sitting there in my car, waiting for the light to change.  I had been thrown into the Great Unknown AND everything would be fine.  Just keep moving forward.

If she could see me now, Mom would be totally UNsurprised, just all, “Yes, that’s what I always saw.”  Mom – – thanks for the push & the belief.

Not so casual casualties of a looming direct care crisis

My drive home from a yum early birthday (tomorrow, but the weather forecast is nasty) breakfast turned out to be even meatier than my meal – intriguing listen on The Takeaway, a build on Paula Span’s 02/02/18 NY Times article, If Immigrants Are Pushed Out, Who Will Care For The Elderly.

Strange  – both the article & the radiocast  focus almost exclusively on how the crackdown affects the elderly,  yet Todd Zwillich‘s guest, Stephen Campbell, off-handedly mentions that HALF of direct care is provided to people under 65, aka the NOT elderly.

How weird that – in this situation – youngers seem a huge yet forgotten demographic.

It’s true that Boomers  increasing trip into young old age. They will need considerable support – in time.  Down the road.  BUT the worries of how immigration crackdowns & reduced legal arrivals will affect available direct care support hits youngers RIGHT NOW, whether they face disabilities as long term as cancer or as short as knee replacement.

And let us never forget the men & women returning from wars abroad, needing more & longer care than in previous engagements.

Am still stunned at hearing Stephen Campbell say, “Well, currently, according to the most recent estimates, about half the people who require long-term care are under the age of 65, but as time goes on & Baby Boomers continue to age into older adulthood, that population of older adults will require care.”

Please, excuse me while I take a moment or two to scream out in frustration:  “AAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!!

Am shocked appalled horrified to hear younger people – half the population currently receiving long-term direct care – so casually brushed aside.  Especially the seeming endless stream of young men & women returning from Iraq & Afghanistan facing a LIFETIME of care for physical & mental wounds, needing home health care.  And let us not forget the countless young lives mangled in the current opioid epidemic, which has claimed 64,000+ lives due to overdoses & left millions addicted; the recovering survivors need medical & psychological services  ~and~ often direct care support.

The impact of the immigration crackdown & reduction of  new arrivals will take its toll across all ages, from the child diagnosed with Down Syndrome to the high school athlete suffering a life-changing injury, from the NFL player entering his forties with  chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)  to the 52-year old suburban dad fighting to overcome addiction.

This blog is called All Ages, All Stages because John & I do all we can to help people across the age spectrum, from itty bitties to ancients, live as expansively as possible.  The frustration we feel when older people are invisibled pales compared to my bottomless outrage at how a drop in direct care support will affect babies – tweens – teens – young adults – middle agers.  I want to howl at the moon & shriek with outrage.

My guess is that youngers are ignored because their dilemma cuts a little too close to home.  It’s easy to think of the elderly as needing home health care support;  to think of  thirty-somethings needing their daily needs met by others cuts t0o close to the bone.

Let me repeat again, NOT so casually – “According to the most recent estimates, about half the people who require long-term care are under the age of 65.”   And HOW does the link address describe the article?   “trump-immigration-policy-hurts-eldercare-home-aides.”

NO – every age of American, every demographic & every race color & creed are the not-so-casual casualties of short-sighted leaders taking wrong-headed actions, collateral damage in “making America great again.”

Gotta run – gotta go out & howl at the moon.



Immigrants & the elderly

Most people I know – well educated, middle-upper income, professionals – don’t think that the raging immigration issue affects them.  They might be passionately on one side or the other of the debate, but they don’t see it hitting home.  Their home.

They are wrong.

One of the things we discussed during Tuesday’s Radical Age Movement meeting was the impact on elder care if there is a major clamp-down on undocumented workers, the backbone of not just home care & cooking in the swank conclaves of our large cities, but also the home care of dependent & elderly people in every nook & corner of our nation.

One home healthcare provider is facing their Haitian-American nursing assistants & practical nurses losing their temporary protected status in November, told they MUST return to Haiti no later than July 2019, while other staffers – dreamers – face being returned to a homeland many never knew if DACA is not restored.

It’s no surprise to anyone who’s been in a continuous care facility or nursing home that many of the workers seem to be foreign born – statistics indicate that they account for one in four “direct care” workers.  Even more are hired directly by families, paid under the table for their services.  As the ranks of the elderly swell with an influx of baby boomers (like me) & chronic disease/disabilities replacing death, the women who traditionally provided care has shrunk due to careers or seeking better pay & benefits.

That caregiving gap has – until now – been filled with immigrants, many undocumented.

In 2005, there were approximately  500,000 immigrants in direct care; by 2015, that had ballooned to over one million.  Imagine the consequences if vast numbers of them are either unable to work or afraid of attracting ICE’s attention.

Cracking down on immigration means tearing apart the safety net these workers provide for families needing affordable care for parents who are living longer, often dealing with chronic health problems, with children who work so can’t stay home with Mom or Gran or Uncle Phil.  The impact is already being felt by the disabled, elderly & their families.

The current administration as far terminated Temporary Protection Status (TPS) for Haitians, Salvadorans and Nicaraguans.  Other nationalities are expected to follow.  America is no longer considered a safe harbor by immigrants, whether legal or undocumented.

Almost 11,000 direct care workers are here from largely Muslim countries – how does the travel ban affect them,  families denied permission to join them.  And there are those DACA members facing deportation.

If the president gets his wish & we reduce the number of legal immigrants, deport all the undocumented & return DACA eligible to their homelands, then they are not the only ones who will suffer uncertain, scary fates.  You might, too.

My #1 goal for February

Not learning how to create a spiffy blog -or- find the moola to hire someone to jazz it up.  Not to brush up my computer skills & feel once again competent with basic programs that I aced back in my corporate days, when there was an IT team backing me up & a company that paid for me to take days off to hone my skills.  Not to create a home that’s warm & welcoming to humans as well as cats.

My #1 goal is to find at least three people interested in watching sessions from last week’s AWESOME Age Without Borders Global Caregivers Virtual Summit which was so utterly utterly utterly interesting insightful informative inspiring & a zillion other adjectives I haven’t time to write out.   There are so many caregivers out there – of every stripe – who would benefit so much from experiencing the wondrous array of speakers Kari Henley served up to us on silver platters;  all we have to do is watch in wonderment.

What better place to soak them in than the community room at Be Well, where we can take in the summit’s wowness while drinking one of Maia’s coffee confections & eating Gwyneth’s Lemon Almond Cake!

This year, epiphany predated Christmas

The ACTUAL Epiphany falls on January 6, celebrating the presentation of Christ to the gentiles, represented by the three “kings,” or “wise men.”  Mine happened yesterday, in our church choir hall, as I helped wrapped gifts for children in need.  Another amazing, out-of-the-blue opportunity to see feel respond to an ancient emotion-churning dynamic in a different way.

A classmate & friend of my oldest brother, someone with whom I have layers of connections going back as far as I can remember, stopped by the table where I was wrapping presents.

He has, at different times of his life, been friends with both Peter & with my older sister. He asked about Peter, then about Mim.  He was interested to hear the details of her July 2015 death.  It’s always uplifting to share the story of her passing, which was a wondrous death at the end of a life filled with struggles.

That’s a familiar scenario I’ve stepped through many time over the past 2 1/2 years.  What came next was totally unexpected.

He shared with me that Mim had written him a letter sharing the darkness in her life.  The look in his eyes, the demeanor of his body as he mentioned being touched she’d written to him, was surprisingly familiar to me.  Mim would take people into her confidence about the demons that troubled her life to gain their support, even admiration. I am not saying that she was insincere in what she wrote – am sure it was 100% correct, since my sister’s life was crushed by dark forces.  But they were also at play in such self-revealing moments.

What I saw in my friend’s eyes.  I’ve seen countless times in the past.  Never thought I’d see it again.  In the past, it would have brought on a WHOOSH of pain, at the sense of tender support that Mim raised in others hearing her genuinely heartbreaking reality.  She was a master at arousing sympathy, to infill people with a longing to reach out, make things better.  Mim, at least as she presented it to me, played that like a master violinist.

That sounds harsh.  Imagine how it felt to HEAR, directly from her.  One of the great constants with my sister was how she seemed compelled to feel openly – if only to me – derisive of people, even people she loved, admired, cared about, compelled to winningly present herself as victim, which she could do convincingly because she truly was.  Am sure that something horrifically traumatic happened to her as a little child, that her sole goal after was to never let herself be vulnerable to hurt, resulting in a life perversely obliterated by it.

Yesterday, here, right in front of me, was someone I personally admired, sharing his sense of awe at her being so open.  And I didn’t freak out inside.  I also didn’t feel numb.  It was interesting.

The friend was present decades ago when she opened up at a church camp about how her camp experience – especially the minister running it – had brought her from invisibility at the back of the room to the there-for-all-to-see front.  That statement has stayed with all who heard it – it’s been quoted to me many times over the past years.  And the church camp was truly a huge aha for Mim –  in addition to all the very real good it did, it brought home to her the power of being damaged & at the same time doused any desire on her part to try to heal.

I can say that because Mim said it to me.

As she pointed out to me many times over the following years, Why try to heal her damaged self when being just as she was made people bend to how she was?   She crowed about being the driver of organizers changing how they did things to to accommodate her, to draw her into the action.  Where was the upside in trying to make things better when being just as she was held such power?

Not long ago, it would have turned my stomach & broken my heart to to hear my friend share Mim writing to him about her darkness, to see the awed light in his eyes & feel his sense of being honored by her sharing such a deeply personal confidence.  Instead, I simply felt interested, wanted to hear more.  Experienced it new information, fresh ability to understand differently.

I believe she was honest sharing that the camp leader brought her from the back of the room to the front.  Absolutely.  I saw that Mim’s experiences at the camp opened up a world she’d closed down.  Thanks to the Laurel Camp, her world opened, expanded; she became engaged, energized, empowered in ways she never had.  She went on to get her bachelors at NYU, part of an experimental (now long established) program of night classes for non-traditional students, to get her MSW from Rutgers.  She LIVED, at least for a while.

At the same time, she always touted the fact that camp organizers changed their practices to accommodate HER as the defining reason to stay just as she was.

Both were real.

Yesterday gave me the opportunity to experience those peculiar dynamics real-time, in spite of Mim being gone 2+ years.  The Universe gave me an opportunity to not plunge into a depression, to not get past it by brushing it off.  To just let it be how it appeared.  To realize more fully & compassionately my reality of being Mim’s dumping ground, the one to whom she could denigrate, tear down & rip apart the very people she’d taken into her confidence, whose hearts were tenderized & reaching out to her.

I never expected to have the opportunity to hear anyone express so clearly to me, so so openly a classic Mim manuever – –  taking them into her confidence about the genuinely wretched pain of her life, to see that unique light that’s lit up countless eyes recounting to me their special experience of her sharing her pain.

Even if it was totally genuine on her part, I know for sure it was intentional.  Her intended outcome was to get that response.  This will sound harsh, but it was how she came across; she needed that sort of reaction the same way Voldemort needed unicorn blood – to maintain her hold on feeling alive.

Mim was clear that she knew exactly what she was doing in being so open.  As she described it, when she came across as being her most vulnerable was when she felt most in control.  Am not saying that was true.  That was what she told me.  And she told me because I couldn’t do anything.  Just hear it.

My thanks to the Universe for the unexpected opportunity to review a whacked-out dynamic I never expected to experience again.  To fully feel it not as drama or bitter dark comedy, but simply as interesting.

A reality of life that I’ve discovered over the past few years is that there are things we can’t understand because we either don’t have sufficient information, we don’t have the experience to understand what we do know,  we lack the wisdom to feel the compassion necessary for understanding.  Imagine all the things I could understand better, if only those three things always came together!

Wholeheartedly grateful for yesterday’s mega epiphany for me, a stunning AH HA.  There is no making sense of my sister.  Can’t be done.  She was & remains a puzzle wrapped in an enigma.  Other than knowing that a driving need to be considered different, not like others, outside the norm, was central to her, there is no getting to the core of who she was.

For the majority of my life, making sense of Mim drove my own life.  I tried for years – all it did was waste time, energy & effort.  Realized years ago that trying to make sense of my sister was like endlessly striving to fix a broken watch that turns out to be missing a piece.  A dedicated yet futile effort.

As for Mim, she was who she was.  Whatever that was.  Know there will be people showing up in my life, probably to the end of my own days, with that unique light in their eyes, that awed quiver to their voice, sharing that “special” sense of Mim that she opened up to them.

Let it be.  And keep moving forward.

Travelin’ – holiday tip

If you, like moi, are 65+ and heading out on a long trek to visit family & friends over the holidays, pace yourself. It’s shockingly easy to think of yourself as the college student who drove down to Florida solo or the young dad who got there in two days.  Don’t push it.  Build in pauses during your driving, stretch your legs & stop early in order to ensure getting a good night’s sleep.

If you are flying, make sure you get to the airport in plenty of time.  Make sure you are aware of luggage requirements & fees BEFORE arriving at the airport.  It is not unusual for fees to be hidden, so check with friends who have recently used the same carrier for their experiences or research online.  When you book your tickets, request an expedited boarding time.  Consider investing in transport from check-in to your flight (money well spent); check ahead of time with the airlines about requesting cart transport to the departure gate or baggage claim. Also ask about any special support services it provides seniors (touch base with your credit card company, too – some provide special services).  The level of support could be more important having a great trip than the ticket price.  For example, American Airlines offers special airport assistance for seniors, from the curb to the gate – arrange it ahead of time!  Mom could depend on my help straight through to the gate, but airport security would make that a no-no these days.

Speaking of Mom, she made numerous trips in her spry 70s to Bermuda as a traveling companion with a sprightly friend in her mid-80s – – at Connie’s expense.  Connie’s family had the peace of mind that their beloved mother/grandmother was in good hands, Connie maintained her sense of independence & Mom had a ball, making many friends & seeing sights she would never have seen on her own.

A dear friend had planned a trip to Paris as a graduation present for a grandson.  Several months before they were set to go, he was diagnosed with dementia.  Instead of changing their travel plans, they added another companion – a granddaughter who knew Paris (her grandfather had taken her after graduation, too) came along specifically to lend a hand, freeing the two fellas to be footloose & fancy free.  The trip was a smash!

You’re not a kid anymore.  Build in some savvy precautions & make ensure a happy holiday.  Your luggage might end up in Portland ME instead of WA, there might be a traffic jam on I-95 or a blizzard might strand you New Jersey, but at least you can do what you can make sure your travels opt for merry over miserable.

VIRTUAL GRANDMA – Christmas Gift #14

Virtual Grandma, by Alison Hillhouse,  could be a) a great stock stuffer for “grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, overseas military parents, traveling parents, and friends” (per the front cover) who already have a computer or tablet ~OR~  b) the perfect add-on if you’re planning on giving one to any of the aforementioned folks.

As I wrote in my glowing Amazon review, Virtual Grandma is “Practically perfect in every way! Short & not-too-sweet, Virtual Grandma is small enough to not intimidate, clearly written enough to register with the most tech timid, reality-based rather than airy fairy pipe dreams. Best of all, the ideas it shares are bound to give grands the confidence to come up with new projects to share with young kinder… and their own friends. Virtual Grandma gets five stars not only for what it shares, but for the doors it opens to more, much more.

Hard to imagine a better person to present a how-to on virtually connecting than Alison, who is the mother of a young son & VP, Youth Culture & Trends, MTV.  And a marketing genius!  Her book looks just the way it should – the cover graphic of a child baking with Grandma (via tablet) is quietly outstanding;  love that the child seems to be in sock feet, which sends all sorts of comfy messages.

Confession:  Alison had me at her dedication to her son’s four grandparents, where she wished for Charlie, “Gaga’s random creativity, Big Daddy’s goofiness, Mimi’s attentiveness, and Papa’s eye for how things work.”  (Big Daddy & Gaga live in Missouri, while Papa & Mimi are in Texas – Charlie lives in the Greater NYC neck of the woods)

The ideas are inspired yet down to earth – not surprising, Gaga (Alison’s mom) was the fount of many, with others contributed by grands, aunt & uncles from all over the USA.

Imagining all the ideas getting sparked by this wondrous book – sure has me scheming & dreaming of virtual crafting & cooking workshops with beloved youngers in the UK, NC, TX, CA, LA & NSW!