If you currently or once regularly attended religious services, or you’re a care partner for someone who does or did, there is no more important time to get to your church synagogue mosque meeting house than the December holidays. Studies show that having a regular religious practice, participating in services, helps stave off the depression, increased debilitation & even sudden death that can haunt the holidays.
One thing that helped keep the Lockphy Murphart Christmas celebrations merry & bright was sharing as a trio – and reaching out to other family in the area – what we wanted to do over the holidays. Whether you are living in your long-time home, have recamped to smaller digs, are in an independent living or a continuous care community, take the time to go over with your children your holiday plans hopes wishes. There is nothing worse than a parent expecting to be with children over the holidays only to find out their house is packed with guests from away ~or~ they’ll be off visiting family/friends. Unless it is the kids planning a big holiday whoop-dee-do featuring their parents, grandparents, only to find they’re going to be celebrating in Hawaii.
If you are a care partner, either a family member or an assistant, plan a special time to discuss the holiday with the older person. Instead of asking, “What do you want to do for…?”, come prepared with suggestions, options. They can open the door to what the older would like to do & might not think of on their own. Become an investigator, ferreting out what they would like to do. And don’t put your keen interest or utter ho hum (or even humbug) about the season affect your listening – pay attention to what they say, rather than what you’d expect. My mother’s expectations of the season were very different from Mom Murphy. As was their ability to get around. Mom depended on our wheels – or maybe Peter’s, if he was in touch that year – to shop, while Mom M’ lived in the city & could get herself to a variety of shopping areas. Mom was the very embodiment of Christmas Past, Mom M’ – not so much. But she had her Murphy traditions that were important to do – putting out the cozy village (now in The Retreat) atop the piano, checking with John on what to get her daughter-in-law (me!).
Mega warning – it is easy for children to have unspoken, usually unrecognized but very strong expectations of how parents or grands are meant to be over holidays. The holidays worked for the two of us because we put our focus on our mothers – what they wanted, were able to do. Mom at 89 could no more baked & decorated batch after batch of Christmas cookies than flapped her arms & flown around the kitchen, but she sure loved picking them out at Lochel’s Bakery! We scaled down traditions to what worked for her & gave us all pleasure.
With our dear friend, Anne, we’d talk about the holiday around Thanksgiving. One thing I learned was not to remind her that this or that child would be away over Christmas. Unnecessary stress. The last few years were made special in our eyes, since John & I had the fun of going over the plans as if for the first time at every meal or outing with Anne! By talking to her children, we knew what each family was planning for the holiday, so could avoid unintentionally setting up expectations for something that wasn’t going to happen. Instead of telling her, “Anne, we talked about this the other day,” we jumped right back into whatever was being discussed as if it was the first time. And we kept our ears peeled for what gave her special joy & did more of it. By last Christmas – which turned out to be our last Christmas with her – we had her likes & loves down to a science!
Here’s a smattering of what I’ve learned over the years from our parents & friends about setting up for a happy holiday:
- Make a special time to review with older loved ones or clients their hopes for the holiday season. Open the discussion by asking if they have any thoughts on the holidays. Be ready with suggestions & options as prompts.
- Where needed, discuss scaling down past traditions to make new ones that are simpler but still pack a holiday punch. Make them part of the process.
- In discussing plans, take into account their physical condition. You’re going to have a problem if you plan family holiday party in a place with a long flight of steps. (Actually happened to my mother!) If you’re layering events- like church followed by dinner – build in some down time for them to take a breather or get a rest.
- Don’t set yourself up for the depression over the holidays – too many care partners stress out over providing an idyllic holiday experience. Cut yourself a break!
- Don’t try to replicate the past – be in the present.
- KISS – keep it simple, sweetie – and everyone will have a happy holidays!
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!
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!
Not for the book he wrote nor for the movie it inspired. It was through something eles that Jim Stovall helped drape language over this second quest on which I’m embarked.
My first quest was one to find a sense of alignment, of balance & equanimity. A quest to find my own true self, buried under layers of distraction, misunderstood messages & misguidance.
When I started, at 24, my goal was to empower my inner swan to dive down down down through the depths of a pond to the very bottom, to connect with its riches & discover my basic self, then return safely to the surface (no small task, given a swan’t buoyancy). When that quest came to a close in July, the image my 65-year old self held was more of a beautiful stool made of precious wood – mahogany or cherry – painted over many times, frequently with beautiful touches, that’s been stripped down & restored to its original appearance.
By the end of this past summer, it was clear the first quest was finally over -and- that I’d struck out on a new – – but what it was, where it was meant to lead, was outside my ken.
Until reading Jim Stovall’s portion of The Art of Learning. Ray Hull co-authored & contributed wonderful chapters, but Jim’s chapters hit home. Especially Chapter Seven – Living to Learn:
“The highest utilization of learning is to apply knowledge & wisdom in our lives in productive ways.” Amen & hallelujah! The goal of learning is its application, not accumulation. Revolutionary thought!
“Productivity is the pursuit of creating more efficiency & results in all that we do…”
“If we are going to understand & apply our learning in productive ways that will make a true difference, we must master motivation, communication, and implementation.”
“All learning is valid & legitimate, but some learning is more productive given that we all have individual goals, dreams, and aspirations.”
Just because I can memorize information & repeat it doesn’t really mean that I’ve really learned it.
“In order to determine what type of learning is most productive (for us), we must understand where we are trying to go & what goals we want to reach.”
“Motivation is the key to learning, and learning is the key to staying motivated.”
“Collaboration is (a) key to success.”
“Just because something motivates me, it doesn’t mean that it motivates anyone else.”
“Assuming you understand other people without taking the time and effort to learn about them is a form of prejudice. Prejudice is a lazy exercise.”
“Be careful what we learn & who we learn it from.”
“The Internet is an amazing learning & communication tool, but we must be able to discern the validity & accuracy of what we are learning.”
“People communicate most effectively in different ways. The best communication is two-way communication – open, consistent, free-flowing.”
Jim tells the story about a resort hotel where he stayed frequently; they realized that since Jim is blind, a flashing light on his phone wouldn’t alert him to messages – so they wrote the messages out on paper & slipped them under his door. It showed while they realized he needed a solution to a basic problem, their response wasn’t a helpful answer!
Never assume that the person you’re talking to has correctly processed your intended message. “The most powerful message you can ask is, ‘What do you understand?”
“Unless we apply that which we learned in the real world, we can never make the impact that we are intended to make throughout our lives.”
“Implementing, sharing & teaching that which we have learned does not diminish us.”
“If you share information, knowledge, or wisdom with others, they will have more, and you will find yourself elevated in every way.”
“Constantly revisit the books and other learning resources that have impacted you the most. No matter how many times you have reviewed a great book, you will find hidden treasures when you read it again.”
“Memory is like a muscle. You either use it or lose it.”
“People in their 80s, 90s, or even over 100 who continue to learn stay vital, alert, and relevant.”
“Those people who stop learning and pursuing knowledge begin to waste away both mentally and physically.”
“(Anything) can be valid learning tools at the right time and in the right proportion.”
Jim Stovall co-founded the Narrative Television Network, designed for people with vision impairments with popular with sighted people, too!
Let me back up, to mention the books that came before Rabbi Cohen’s wondrous read.
Had the AMAZING experience of reading Ron Culberson’s surprising Do It Well. Make It Fun. ~ surprising, because it turned out to be the last book of what I’d assumed would be an endless quest. The messages it held wrapped up the core lessons learned along the way in beautiful boxes, beribboned with gorgeous bows. It was a remarkable, unexpected experience – feeling 41+ years for searching drawn to what I never expected: a clear ending point.
Mel Robbins‘ 5-Second Rule came next, the first post-quest books, which built on what I’ve learned from Mel’s shake & wake videos. (What will I quest for next?) Mel’s 5 4 3 2 1 technique is simple & simply life altering.
Am in the middle of James Hillman‘s excellent The Force of Character, set aside when Rabbi Cohen’s book arrived. The sub-title is what grabbed me – creating a life of legacy, not leaving one. Being one, right now.
Much of what Rabbi Cohen writes speaks straight to the heart of what drives me – helping all ages live a life of purpose meaning worth. His book contains so many nuggets that I look forward to fashioning into something wonderful to use with all ages, while giving special attention to those that speak directly to oldsters elders ancients.
We want more out of life.
We all possess a deep-rooted desire for a life of purpose.
You’re blessed with inherent gifts, and your life is trademarked. There is only one you.
The time is short; the task is abundant.
Four lines that speak directly to the reality of olders, the reality our mothers lived every day of their lives. The reality we’ve seen in our clients, in the lives of many of our older friends & pleasant acquaintances right here in my little hometown.
Sadly, it is rare in the lives of too many older people, people who need their sense of purpose restored, their feelings of personal worth renewed. Rabbi Cohen is clearly an exceptional ally in that quest, helping us understand & embrace that purpose is the ageless reason for our existence, to live fully in this day without glances back to yesterday’s regrets or projecting our energies onto tomorrow’s promises.
Stopped, totally still, reading, “Are you living out your higher purpose or allowing each day to blur into the next?” So many of the people I see at every manner of senior residences describe their days as blurring, bleeding into the next until time no longer seems to exist, just a long fuzz. John & I are over-the-moon with the strategies that Rabbi Cohen shares to help us help them rediscovering a sense of purpose, reconnect with their worth – to turn fuzz into FIZZ!
What Will They Say About You When You’re Gone is a blend of Rabbi Cohen’s personal experience & stories, insights from the famous & the utterly unknown. It’s deceptively simple, down to earth & heart inspiring. It sends its value soaring by including work pages!
This blog is called All Ages, All Stages because we – especially I – work right across the age spectrum. My clients have been as young as 18 months & as old as 95, from bright young things to olders facing dementia; we are the first to admit our work with oldsters elders ancients most grabs our hearts.
It can be daunting to be 70+, of sound mind & body – there’s an abundance of resources for those olders grappling with physical & mental challenges of aging, but precious little for those in relatively fine fettle who find themselves in a new stage of life with precious little training, leaving them to see the unknown as filled with hobgoblins rather than as a culmination, a capstone, a long final bow.
Rabbi Cohen has written a book that’s for all ages, all stages, that appeals to people of any faith, or no faith at all. Personally, John & I hope to convince our weekly spiritual growth discussion circle to use this as a basis for a six-week read ponder share. We sense our shoulders tapped by the Divine to spark conversations on what it is to be alive, at any age; what it is to have a body that does less yet is teamed with a mind that understands deeper; what it is to to know our core values & live from them – and respect that others are doing the same.
What Will They Say About You When You’re Gone? is a great start to that & to so many other conversations, with others, within community, with just our self.
Delayed, not deferred. To defer is to consciously delay something, while delay can be done unknowingly, unintentionally by someone or ~by~ circumstances ~by~ events ~by~ others.
Was my education in the mechanics of learning delayed due to a person(s) or circumstances? Who knows? Who cares? The important thing to KNOW is that I have been keenly aware for many decades of its lack in my life.
Turns out, looking back, that no one in our family knew how to learn, a realization that only just hit me. A thunderbolt of new awareness! I always thought that Mim aced it, but it strikes me that she was perhaps the worst learner of the lot of us Lockharts. Because learning isn’t just accumulating & remembering knowledge, something at which she was nimble to my seriously challenged. The heart – the whole reason for gathering knowledge in the first place – is applying what we have learned to our lives.
Without that ultimate step, we are informed but not learned.
What hilarious irony that – up to this very moment – I’ve thought of Mim as being a master learner & myself a learning flub-a-dub. Up to two minutes ago, I would described myself as a terrible learner, unable to clearly cite what I’ve read, recall who wrote or said it, in what book dvd magazine I came across it. What a crock!
My life reveals what my heart denies – I love to learn, go out of my way to gain new knowledge & fresh perspectives, then apply them to my every moment.
That is HUGE! Let there be a cacophony of bells & whistles of wondrous AH HAs, because at this moment, on this day, I get that while we can be seriously held back by what we don’t know, we are just as restrained by what we perceive to be limitations that just aren’t so. I thought myself to be inept at learning & made that falsity my truth.
Goose Bump Moment: This aha moment was brought to me by my second viewing in 24 hours of THE ULTIMATE GIFT, researching the ELIM Media Opportunity Group, which led me to reseaching The Ultimate… series & their author, Jim Stovall, which brought me to his book, The Art of Learning, which got me thinking about a sentence that opens its blurb – “The top achievers learn the most and apply what they learn; therefore, there is no skill, information, or lesson more vital than learning how to learn.”, that got me thinking about how many young people Mim taught the basics of how to learn, about what a great learner my sister was & what a wash-out I am, which made me stop in my tracks to question that assumption since it was clear that Mim was MASSIVELY challenged to apply to every moment the very things she’d supposedly learned, while I tend to apply everything that I’ve picked up from my reading watching listening experiencing.
Big goose bumpy drum roll – – I am a far different person writing this sentence than the one who tip tapped “The Art of Learning – a core life lesson delayed.”
It was a lesson delayed in spite of always longing to master the mechanics of learning. It’s why the Front Room & The Retreat, the living room & den, even the kitchen & basement have shelves loaded with books books books. Books I believed – until Jane Kerschner set me right in 2016 – that I’d read inadequately compared to how Mim would have. Mim is also at the root of my deeply entrenched belief that I stink at conversation. Oh, I can gab with the best of them. But conversation is a grace I’ve felt eluded me.
Oscar Wilde said, “Ultimately the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or in friendship, is conversation.” Because I believed myself a wash out at learning, I had zip confidence in my ability to converse with others. Every conversation started with a voice in back of my head saying, “You’ll never be as good as Mim or John or Mom at this.” DUH! Get over yourself – myself!
It’s true that I’m currently a flub-a-dub at what my sister so magnificently aced – the mechanics of learning. But Mim seemed to fail to grasp what I’ve always held lightly in my hands – the reason for learning: to live better, fully, joyfully… & to help others do the same.
One lesson that was never delayed, that I knew from the cradle – the Art of Living. And for that, this newbie learner of the mechanics of learning says a resounding THANK YOU! to a great glorious generous (& infinitely patient) Universe!