surREAL

John & I are happily caught in surREALity  ~  facing down financial challenges that would daunt our earlier selves, confident in the knowledge they’re the ONLY things weighing us down.  Every other aspect of our lives gives us wings to soar over a tangled landscape, discovering new vistas & overgrown paths;  beckoning others to find the ancient, too-often forgotten awareness that ALL of our life is designed for wholeness & joy.

Quite the turn around from earlier this week, when I was uncharacteristically bummed.  Our newest client decided that, at 90+, she wasn’t up to the rehab we whisked her to & from. What stung, more than feeling the loss of income we NEED, was the loss of connecting with a remarkably active older woman.

We’ve lined up three clients since May; each one has said good bye (in addition to our most recent opting out of rehab, one family decided that enrichment, not covered under Medicare, was too $ while another went with a service offering more care options).

The Universe is sending a message – move on, this option’s been shut down.

I’m used to the Universe’s modus operandi of introducing me to new experiences, new lessons by throwing my life into an uproar.  If it means tossing me out of a job – teaching, public relations, marketing support – so be it.

Learned long ago that the Universe focuses on the end, not a fleeting moment.  The third time it happened, being tossed out of comfort no longer fazed me.  That time, the shock lasted a scant hour before it hit me that something BIG was in store, so best to get with the unknown program.

That’s how it feels now.  Yes, there are moments it feels scary.  Face it – most people under value what we offer; a shocking number flat-out dismiss the importance – at all ages – of spontaneous play, of experiencing joy.

We understand.  The average person caught up in the speed & stress of the age can feel dubious, even daunted, by the idea that playfulness is as essential to a healthy life as vitamins & other nutrients.  What was true when we were kids, when play came as naturally as breathing, is still true today – a sense of unfettered, open playfulness is  essential to our well-being.  Way too many adults have gotten so used to the base note of stress underscoring modern life & don’t realize how dangerous a lack of regular FUN is to their  health well-being prosperity

Our society focuses on work, on production, on racking up tangible results that can be measured calculated quantified.  Aka, the opposite of play, which requires a sense of the unfettered, the freely done & freely received.

Someone has to stand for getting more play into everyone’s lives, to infect our older friends with glee & laughter & a light heart.  The Universe tapped us.

My reality is that every time I find work that provides personal satisfaction, a decent income & serves others, the Universe ultimately yanks me out, tosses me into a void awaiting structure.  “Okay, you learned the lessons this work can provide – onto the next,” it seems to say.

The first time, I went from a teacher to a balloon seller to a editor/public relations maven.  The second, the shift was from public relations & advertising to account executive.  The third lead me to elder care.

None of them were places I would ever have predicted, ESPECIALLY the last.  All of them provided essential lessons that will serve me – us – well in being eldercare (r)evolutionaries, set on disrupting the current woeful culture society uses to straitjacket too many oldsters elders ancients.  I didn’t set out to do this work.  If I’d had my original druthers, I be winding down a wonderful life as a junior high teacher.

The Universe has other plans.

While that sounds whackily New Ageish to a lot of people,  experience taught me long ago that there is reason to what could appear calamity.  Surreal?  Yes.  As in phantasmagorical.

Phantasmagorical – “changing or shifting, as a scene made up of many elements.”  Yes, that sums up how my life has turned out.  “As something in a dream or created by the imagination” – that works, too.  I’ve come to have complete faith in the unforeseen, the out of left field.

When it comes to stuff – to school tax & ancient cars, cat food & weekly groceries – we admit to being in a temporarily dicey place.  When it comes to everything else, all is awesome, beyond the beyond.  In ways other than the material, the here & now, the temporal, we push pursue put the REAL in surreality!

Dying is a wild night & a new road*

While many shy away from discussing dying & death, my mother was at ease with the topic & downright enthusiastic about the prospect of leaving this life for what’s next.   Her faith held no fears about what’s next, plus she was fed up with being a widow, was eager to be – as she was certain she would – reunited with her O! Best Beloved.

Our 1997 ramble to & from DisneyWorld was highlighted on the drive down by Mom’s awakening to the possibility there was more to herself than she’d imagined, while the drive back included long discussions about what she wanted as she drew close to death.

Because Mom had already signed up with the Humanity Gifts Registry, I knew the only thing I had to do with her body was to give them a call, then decide later what to do with her ashes.  HGR would – and did – do the rest.

On the drive up through the center of Florida, through the Smokies, along the Blue Ridge, we talked about how she hoped to approach her dying, which minister she’d like to do her memorial service, the songs, the party – she always loved that Gerry Timlin talked about the fine wake they had back in Co. Kerry after his dad died & she wanted a rouser of a party, too.

By the end of the drive, I was thoroughly versed in what Mom wanted as she neared the end of her life, what she wanted done in the way of medical care, where her documents were located, and what she hoped we’d do in way of a life celebration.  All of this while she was still fit enough to brave the Magic Kingdom & walk the encircled nations of EPCOT.

Alas, a recent study in the UK shows that almost 1/3 of Brits haven’t talked about their own end-of-life issues with family or care support.  I doubt folks here in the USA are similarly reluctant to discuss what far too many consider a morbid rather than natural topic.

Dying & death were frequently part of the cocktail hour Mom enjoyed every Friday with some very senior members of her friendship circle – “Grandma” Rose, Viola Ridgeway, Cornelia Stroh were all significantly older than Mom – always broached with light hearts & even a hint of merriment. They seemed more curious than anything.   They showed no fear of death &, praise be, exited before the current era of prolonged dying.

Would that more of today’s oldsters elders ancients discussed their end of life over whiskey sours & canapes.  Sadly, per the Age UK and the Malnutrition Task Force study:

  • Most people could talk generally about death and dying within their own peer group but not their own family
  • Younger people did not feel comfortable to speak to their older friends and relatives and closed down conversations very quickly
  • Older people found it difficult to talk to professionals and family and easier to peers about wanting to stop treatment and let nature take its course
  • Older people found that their grown up children do not want grandparents to discuss dying and death with their grandchildren – even when they have a positive relationship and may take on a fair amount of childcare responsibilities
  • All age groups felt that they had no idea of what may physically happen when people approach the end of life

Ah hem…  They might want to rethink that third bullet.  Health care professionals are NOT comfortable with stopping treatment & would consider a natural death against their Hippocratic Oath.   As for the first – all I could see were Mom’s wonderful circle of older ladies toasting each other, the church & life – and talking about the end as naturally as discussing a recipe.   The fourth bullet was disconcerting – and worth a long discussion – while the 2nd is too vague to be of value.  How much younger are we talking about?  It’s my experience that those who are in their twenties & younger often seem more at ease talking with their grandparents than those over thirty & even more so over forty.   As for the last bullet – naturally all age groups have “no idea of what may physically happen when people approach the end of life” because it’s NOT a cookie cutter experience, one size does not fit most.

Digging down into the data, the survey of 2000+ found that, in discussing dying & death with others:

  • 50% said they would be worried about upsetting the other person
  • 30% said they would be worried it would offend the other person
  • 25% would simply not know how to bring up the subject
  • 22% said it would make them feel too upset
  • 20% don’t think they would be able to find the right time and place to have the conversation
  • 19% said it isn’t something they would want to think about at all

Makes sense to me.  Medical professionals have, right here in the USA, done our best to excise dying & death OUT of our normal experience.  With less & less social interaction between generations, more & more children of all ages are unlikely to see older family members get frailer, decline, move through the stages of dying.

It’s hard to have a conversation around end-of-life issues when the different generations increasingly have less & less natural contact – how many people still gather around the Sunday dinner table as an extended family?

FACT:  Death is a wild night & a new road that we will all experience & take.  It’s inescapable, a fate best faced with others by our side.  The book download on Aging UK’s website is a help, but we’re not going to find the solution to bringing up the topic if the generations aren’t connecting with each other in the first place.  Until & unless we do, the distance between the ages is only going to get worse, we’ll be clueless about what each other thinks about living, let alone dying & death.

Let’s be more like “Grandma” Rose, Mrs. Ridgeway,  Miss Cornelia & Mom, talking over sips & nibbles about life, joy, love – AND dying & death!

 

(* by Emily Dickinson)

Anger v. Losing It

Poor John.  I was so happy & peaceful when we met, fell in love, married.  After we were hitched, he was taken unawares when some relatively trivial problem came up & I blew a gasket.  Instead of coming right back at me with disbelieving anger of his own, he looked at me aghast, then asked one question, “What is the matter?

I stopped cold in mid-rant, my jaw dropped & I said something like, “Whaaaaa?”

John looked me in the eye & repeated the question, “What is the matter?

I was totally thrown – no one had ever asked me that question before.  I launched into a heated description of what he’d said to tear my heart out.  He listened.

He listened carefully, letting me get it all out.  Then, he sat down next to me & said, “You heard me say…” and repeated back to me, exactly, that very thing.  THEN, he said, “No wonder you’re upset by what you understood.  What I MEANT by what I said was…”  and he went on to explain the message he’d hoped to convey.

John, in that one exchange, won my deepest admiration & keenest envy – – I wanted to do what he did.  Not getting sucked into an emotional maelstrom, instead listening through the upset for understanding.  John was able to get past the angry person to discover the root of my anger.  And although it was not justified by what he’d meant to convey, he could understand the furor based on how it had registered in MY brain, seeping through layers of ancient wounds.  Wow…

Twenty-eight years later, I’ve learned a lot about the difference between anger & being angry.  Anger is meant to be like a robust sneeze or, for me, a scratchy throat – a warning that things are not well, that attention has to be paid to something.  It seems to me that being angry includes some loss of control.

The Whaaaaa problem that needed to be identified was that our separate processes were woefully out of sync, a common problem with newly weds (right up there with does the Christmas tree have large twinkly colored lights with a big flashing star at the top or steady-glow tiny white lights topped with an angel made by a brother back in 4th grade).

I’d like to say that I saw the righteousness of John’s approach & never ever fell into the pit of lash-out anger again.  The old triggers of invisibility  & disconnection still do the occasional back flip into my processing, sidelining a response to make way for a reaction.  But John stays steady, still looking for what’s up at the heart of my distress.

It was John who taught me about the value of anger, that emotions are supposed to wake us up to what’s happening, positive or negative, constructive or unproductive.

It was a message I was ready to hear.

My own family has a long history of avoiding confrontation at all costs.  The tendency from Mom’s side of the family was to tolerate pervasive conflict rather than face difficult reality.  Which always seemed weird to me, even as a kid, because disagreements are a natural part of life.  And having a disagreement, having to bring up tough topics in order to get past them, are essential tools for growth, both personally & within relationship.

I am forever grateful for having a sister-in-law who didn’t hesitate to share what she saw as off-kilter & did so without getty angry.  She was heated but calm telling Mom, “For someone who talks all the time about communication, you do darn little of it.”  Of course, we all thought it hysterically funny, but Pam was absolutely on target – Mom did NOT walk her talk.  Small wonder.  Experience taught her the “wisdom” of laying low – – stand up & get mowed down.

By hanging out with John, seeing how much better his life functioned than ours, Mom & I learned the  importance of feeling expressing sharing healthy anger at appropriate times, in appropriate ways.  Some things we discovered included…

>   If you feel just cause to be unhappy with someone,  look for a way to share it while the issue is active, fresh.    Sidestepping issues can lead to disastrous results.  Mom was an epic side stepper, although I doubt she topped the family member who, back in 1973, wrote to Mom about how awful I had been to her, that one reason she was happy to have moved away was that I could no hurt her.  The kicker is that in the same paragraph, she acknowledged never talking to me about any of it – –  but i was okay with her if Mom did.  That never-shared anger, which she felt was justified, finally spewed out at a terrible time, in a terrible way  – – 24 years later.  How differently things might have gone if she’d shared with me how I made her feel, all those years ago.  

Be as honest as possible;  leave doors open rather than using the “truth” to slam them shut.  Since 2010, I’d tried to make contact with my sister & oldest brother through One Book, One Family.  It ultimately reconnected me with Mim, no response from Peter.  A couple years later, I decided to take another stab.  John & I took over food from one of his favorite Chinese places.  When I left it at the Front Desk of his domicile, the woman asked me, “Don’t you want to give it to him yourself?”   I paused, then replied, “I don’t know how my brother feels about me NOW, but at one time I was like fingers on a chalkboard to him.  His feelings might have changed, but I do not have the energy to risk they haven’t.”  I was open, honest.  And when we got home, there was a flashing light on the answering machine & a lovely message from Peter. 

>   Put improving communication – “What is the matter?” –  over pinning blame.    Brene Brown says she & her husband use the “story” line to help defuse testy situations.  If she feels there is a problem, she’ll tell him, “The story I am telling myself about this is…”  which acknowledges that a) it is a story, not necessarily the truth & b) she recognizes & respects he has his story, too.  Their goal is to put finding common ground over blaming & shaming.

Resist the urge to retaliate.   Speaks for itself.   I learned very early, from John, that retaliation & relationship are incompatible.

Respect anger, honoring  it as a tool to greater understanding.    This was a particularly tough row for Mom to hoe – to her, all anger was from hell.  She was used to people who were angry at her being abusive.  It took her many years to accept that people can express anger without wanting to dominate, without others losing control.

BOTTOM LINE:  Approriate anger, where we’re focused on the situation rather than the person, is fleeting, felt, expressed, learned from & moved past.  It supports healthy relationships.  ~  Abusive anger is rooted in our ego, cares squat about relationship, seeks to fix blame & attach shame, never to gain better understanding & deeper compassion.  ~  Healthy anger is released;  harmful anger lingers festers grows.

We are never too old to step past losing our anger with long-time triggers.  Mim was 66 years old when we got past ancient gunk to create an new relationship.  Peter was in his mid 70s!  With both sibs, there would be times when flashes of the old arrrgggghhhh anger would flash, but we’d set it aside & move past it.  I’ve seen more older people be able to set aside ancient sources of losing it, choosing relationship, than I’ve seen entrenched in a need for blame shame retaliation.  Not a mere hope – actual experience!

Anger is just anger. It isn’t good. It isn’t bad. It just is. What you do with it is what matters. It’s like anything else. You can use it to build or to destroy. You just have to make the choice. – Jim Butcher

A man can’t eat anger for breakfast and sleep with it at night and not suffer damage to his soul. – Garrison Keillor

Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean. – Maya Angelou

 

Let it GO!

If I could do one thing for every one of my friends of all ages, I’d get them to pick a song of the month to play as one of the first things they do each morning.  A week is too short a time, a year way too long.  We’ll see how a month works.  Am starting today through to October 9, when I’ll pick my next one.

This focus on music started this past Tuesday, when the always inspiring Rachel Rubin got all of us gathered at Be Well for “Design Your Dream Day” up on our feet & jazzing out to Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop The Feeling, an exercise that literally rocked my world.

I’d learned about the power of music through an older friend, who experienced an unimaginable heart break.  She knew that while she was in Paris with a beloved grandchild – a graduation present from his adoring Grammie – one of her sons would get the ball rolling cleaning out her house, which they were selling because she was moving into his big place.  She loved that house, set on 4 acres of meadow & woods, but bowed to her family’s wish that she no longer live alone.  When she returned, blissed out from the trip, she discovered her son had cleared more than cleaned – he’d given away most of her book collection, all of her dvds & videos, and every one of her records.  The first two were unfathomable losses (some of the least “valuable” books were among her heart’s greatest treasures), but the loss of the records – that broke her.  Her will & sense of independence were crushed; she never recovered.  Music has the power to connect & to lose all of those precious moments…  it’s two years later, she is a shadow of what she was & I am still in shock at such a callous act by a genuinely loving but dangerously oblivious child.

SO – here is my change to flip heartrending energy to constructively butt kicking!

For all of my life, the “Sousa Alarm” has been part of my morning, first through WFLN & now WRTI radio.  John loves it every bit as much as I do – he is a mega Sousa fan, a longtime devotee of the Allentown Band, which features Sousa.  Listening to something every morning is in my background, waiting to be rewoven into my warp & woof!

Imagining how listening to a beloved song first thing – before breakfast, before getting started on their daily routine – could jumpstart the day with happiness.  Doesn’t matter if they are fully independent, in assisted care or need someone to turn it on – – connecting first thing with something audible they love, that they selected, could have a seriously positive effect on them & everyone around.

How will it impact ME, starting each day with something that hooks deep into my psyche, that sets every quark in my being a-quivering?  Kicked off with Let It Go!, the song that inspired the idea.  And it’s just the start of songs in my day – Rachel inspired me to add dance to my daily schedule, using it as a way to regularly get off my duff & shake my booty to great songs like JT’s.

Stay tuned for how it all goes down!!

“Dear Mom” – guest post

A friend posted this on Facebook.  How well John & I know the feelings she describes! Took us by surprise, the first time it happened.

Am grateful that my John understands that when I’m feeling really miserable – for some reason, especially with the flu – that what I really, truly want above all else is for Mom to walk into the bedroom with a glass of ginger ale (on the warm side, no ice) or a  big mug of steaming hot Campbell’s chicken soup – the standard can, not the chunky – and crackers.

Dear Mom,
I am ending a fairly miserable day with a long stay in my bathroom. For whatever reason–either the generic “tylenol” was contaminated with gluten, or I got exposed too closely to my students’ lunch, or maybe this is a plain old intestinal virus–I am sitting here at nearly midnight clutching the empty trashcan and praying that i wont need it again.

I miss you so much! You were always such a compassionate nurse, and even when you couldn’t stop the natural progression of an ailment, you knew how to lighten its effects. Sure wish I had someone like you around.

Much love,
LJN

CARE – a fire bell in the night

Wow – – every week since returning from the IAGG WORLD CONGRESS  seems to deliver another rich offering deepening the discussion around the current calamity called aging upward in America.

Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer serves up a terrific review of CARE, an eye-opening, downright terrifying film about the nation’s – and especially our region’s -, burdgeoning home-health care worker crisis.

The Philly-produced film should awaken policy makers & fill them with enough terror to get creative & find innovative ways to head off a catastrophe on path to hit every level of our nation’s well-being.

Should, alas, does not necessarily translate to WILL.  Either to see or do.

Need, availability, cost, poverty wages, crippling government bells & whistles – put them together & we can expect our economy, social structure & health to crater over the next ten years.

May this film broaden a discussion happening among too few people & reach upward through all levels of our hide-bound & headed-for-a-cataclysmic reckoning hierarchies (too many types & levels to list).

The fire bells are ringing – 24/7/365.  Am praying  people who can make things right DO, starting with realizing that countless potential solutions are already available but are kept inaccessible because they’re not sufficiently institutionalized, bureaucratized, commoditized.

We’ve got to cut through all the jibber jabber outrageously suppressing  community- & individual-based solutions.  Or else we’re toast.

“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!