Don’t send flowers – send ME!

Have you ever been hospitalized, for even just a couple days?  Even an overnight stay can make 24 hours feel like a week!  Having a friend, friendly acquaintance or even a complete stranger stop by for a visit can seem a godsend.

Sadly, a variety of factors have reduced the number of visitors that stop by to see a family member or friend who’s in the hospital – fewer families live near each other, friends scatter to different parts of the country, many are tied down by work hours & family obligations, to name a few.

A lot of people hesitate to make hospital visits because they’re not sure what to say, maybe they rub each other the wrong way, while some folks won’t step foot into a hospital unless they’re wheeled in from an ambulance.

I am blessed to come from a community stocked with friends & pleasant acquaintances who regularly swing by area hospitals for visits; my church’s pastoral staff has terrific hospital out-reach.  With Holy Redeemer Hospital a 15-minute drive from the heart of my little hometown & other friends hospitalized at the same time, my hubster & my mother got visits from community folk who popped in because they were visiting someone else.

Hospital visits are old hat for me, with both Mom & John having major hospital stays.  Mom’s were age-related, while John was hospitalized for life-threatening pneumonia & twice for treatment of  Zenker’s Diverticulum.   Praise be, unlike a lot of people who have  conflicting responsibilities, I could be at the hospital whenever I wasn’t at work. A  brother in the area wasn’t able to get by to see Mom as often as he would have liked – and she didn’t expect him to;  like most Greatest Generation women, she looked to her available daughter -me – for care & emotional support, not her son.

Having visitors stop brings more than social benefits.  Studies show that people in nursing situations who receive visitors typically also receive better care from the staff.  As true in hospitals as it is in nursing homes.  Visitors help staff get to know patients better, they are able to alert staff that their friend or relation would like something, they are someone patients can talk to about how they are feeling.

Not to discount the social aspects of a friendly visit!  Mom could get through the nastiest of tests or boring hours knowing that someone would be visiting in the afternoon or evening.  John’s face lit up when I’d walk through the door but it was a boost to his energy to see Jeremy or someone else from the pastoral staff, to get a visit from someone there to visit another patient.

Visitors matter.  Studies indicate that the level of care received from hospital staff rises with a patient’s number of visitors.  And having regular visitors lifts the patient’s spirit, even feel pampered.  A visitor can help the staff get to know the patient as a person someone who focused on THEM & their likes.  The benefits of having visitors go on & on.  Which is why I say that friends & family shouldn’t send a loved one flowers or balloons during a – – they should send me, The Friendship Doula!

I am NOT a patient advocate, although I do suggest & can recommend some excellent ones.  My gifts & graces have a softer focus.  Thanks to Mom & John & countless friends &  who’ve been hospitalized, I am an old hand at setting up music players with their favorite pieces, facilitating facetime visits with far-away & home-bound loved ones, cheering up their rooms with photos or colorful pictures.  (Gotta give a shout-out to Holy Redeemer’s soft-hued rooms.)  With regular visits from me & mine (John), all of the advantages listed in the previous chapter can be checked off.  And once discharged, am happy to swing by for friend-to-friend visits.

The Friendship Doula – “family friend” hospital visiting services.   Don’t send flowers – send me!



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.

“Wellderly” – new one on me

Seems I’m behind the times – until  a few ago, had never heard the term “wellderly.”  AKA “old people who are in good health.”

Per the World Health Organization (WHO), many developed countries hold 65 to be the augur of elderly, while the United Nations (UN) tags it five years younger – 60!  ARE they old, or simply 60+ years in age?


Back in Spring 2016, Eric Topol, MD, a geneticist at Scripps Health, published The Wellderly Study that looked at people 85+ years old whose lives had been free of chronic disease (except arthritis, “which is ubiquitous in folks 70+”).

In a collaboration between Scripps Research Institute & Scripps Health, Dr. Topol & his team collected 1,400+ genetic samples from “wellderlies,” data that is now available as a DNA data set to other scientists.

Known as the Scripps Wellderly Genome Resource, it offers priceless info for comparing wellderlies to their disease-prone peers.  Its long-term goal is to uncover the mechanisms that protect these healthy 85+ year olds, that let their systems apparently flick away the deterioration that besets most their age.

Radical concept, from medicine’s pov –  focus on the healthy instead of the physically and/or mentally diseased & deteriorated.   It’s not wasted on me that these studies are happening as my Boomer generation grows greyer & greyer, with no stomach for having the longer lives that improved medicine & medical technology offers if they are devoid of good mental & physical health.

Find myself thinking of my mother, of John’s, of the awesome Anne Hyatt.  Of the three women, only Mom Murphy was a by-definition wellderly – she was devoid of any chronic debilitation until the instant she died of a massive heart attack.  Mom had problems with a torn rotator cuff that left her without the full use of an arm, while Anne had advanced dementia.

But I’d tag all three as wellderly.  Mom was limited in her movements, but she was sharp as tacks to the very end.  Anne couldn’t remember from one moment to the next the day & the date, but no one was more ready for the next moment of joy.  THAT’s the sort of wellderly I want to be as I age ever upward.

How do we get samples, do studies that nurture those traits?  Worth a ponder.

Those three ladies are my sort of wellderlies!

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.

Loved one with dementia? Skip SKYPE! – holiday tip

Although Skype, FaceTime & other face-to-face computer apps are WONDERFUL for many oldsters elders ancients, it’s strongly recommended NOT using them with loved ones/clients dealing with memory challenges – – EVEN if a loved one has adorable children or a new baby they want Grandma, Poppy, or Auntie Nell to see.

Instead, give your older loved one a phone call OR send an audio recording.  Oh – and don’t include the little ones.

Am not being heartless.  It is very possible for someone with dementia to connect with a familiar voice – we sound surprisingly the same through the years – – but seeing Tommy at 35 is very possibly NOT going to register as the youngster she remembers.  And to include children in a phone mix can be especially disconcerting.

Today’s ability to “virtually connect” is a blessing to many, but to people grappling with dementia – not so much.  Remember to keep the focus on what’s best for the older – what feels meaningful to someone who’s sharp as a tack can be massively confusing for those struggling to process & understand.

Phone calls – great!  Audio recording – these can be special;  they can be played at any time (no scheduling a phone call), iincludes a way to get children involved by singing, reading stories or reciting poems (you can include favorite Christmas music, too).

But skip the Skype!

Memories are rooted in feelings, not things – holiday tip

Whether you’re visiting family & friends over the holidays, having them to your place or celebrating solo, remember that memories – treasured or traumatic – take root in how we feel, not what we get or give.  If you & someone in your circle seem to trigger each other, sparking hot words & cold shoulders, get yourself in a frame of mind that is prepared to NOT rise to the heated moment, NOT create them yourself, not think that a little back & forth is somehow a tradition worth perpetuating.

People don’t remember what they give or get as much as they remember how they felt.

Sometimes, it takes giving yourself a carved-in-stone time out ~ ~ “I will maintain a sense of holiday cheer.  Practice some breathing techniques to help you maintain a genuine sense of equilibrium.  Make the gathering of people you care about & love more important than scoring points.

I am not saying it will be easy.  But it is IMPORTANT.  And if a potentially volatile situation comes up, intentionally step away.  Again, not easy – but can be done.

My sister-in-law & I are such a combination.  I like to think we both wish each other well, but I know for sure that we do not do well together, especially in a chummy space like a family Christmas party.  Imagine mixing Altoids & Classic Coke in a soda bottle – KABOOM!  If we were ever to spend a Christmas together (she lives in Australia, so it’s not likely), I’d minimize our together time, possible, realize that I might say something that’s taken in a way not intended & not let that matter & always remember that  it’s not personal as much as it’s clashing personalities.

If you are a care partner, same thing holds – what’s remembered are moments.  Focus  on creating simple moments of joy, which assumes that you’re not stressing out trying to recreate a holiday past or grappling with family angst.  An olders sense of an event – of any sort – can spiral into unhappiness if s/he is over-tired, over-stimulated.  Build in “take a breather” & even nap time.

Important – – Be prepared for the back lash that typically comes after a big holiday.  It’s as much physiological as psychological – make sure that both you & the elder get plenty of sleep, eat well, tuck in some form of daily exercise.  Good time to include breath work & a bit of laughter yoga!   Lack of sleep, several days of iffy eating & over stimulation can result in WEEKS of short fuses, illness & depression.

So – whether you’re the older or support  a loved one/friend/client, remember:  we will remember moments, not memories.  If something goes wrong with the turkey or the cat gets into the giblet gravy, if the restaurant ran out of your favorite dish or you host sat you next to someone who drives you nuts – – remember that what you say, feel, show is what will determine how people feel.  Don’t take it personally.  Keep your cool, remember that memories are rooted in feelings way more than things, & help keep the merry in Christmas, the happy in holidays.

Bonus –