Nothing’s wasted

Even the most miserable time contains a treasure, although it might simply be helping us learn how to stay strong in adversity – but there is always gold to be found in every moment.

Last week, someone made me a dream work offer, doing something I love & have a track record of innovation & success for an organization I’ve venerated for years.  It’s been over seven days & I have heard not a word from him, no follow up.  I’ve sent two e-mails, but… silence.

It’s possible the offer was meant to be an opportunity to realize that what I bring to the table is vision & energies – his words – letting others take up the ways & means to make it so.  Had never seen the dynamic that way.

Another plus from our encounter:  realizing the critical importance of connecting youngers ~  toddlers tweens thirty-somethings ~ with a clearer view of aging ever upward, that it’s a time for growing wholer, more coherent integrated authentic.  No small endeavor, but ESSENTIAL – –  folks coming out of those years with a negative expectation of growing older elderly ancient aren’t going to change their minds in their forties & fifties.

Nothing is wasted – the work offer might not turn into something substantial ~OR~ it might be that Al & I draw value from an informal collaboration, staying connected & inspired by the other.  Whatever happens, it’s over a week since we talked & far from feeling bummed, am energized & questing for ways to wake up/shake up youngers to seeing elders as growing bolder as we grow older.

You’ll learn, as you get older, that rules are made to be broken. ~ Be bold enough to live life on your terms, and never, ever apologize for it. ~ Go against the grain, refuse to conform, take the road less traveled instead of the well-beaten path. ~ Laugh in the face of adversity, and leap before you look. ~ Dance as though EVERYBODY is watching. ~ March to the beat of your own drummer. ~ And stubbornly refuse to fit in.”   – Mandy Hale –

A lovely little death

It hit me last night that I experienced as a lovely little death the loss of the angst & ripped-apart soul that were once hallmarks of my relationship with my family.  Am hoping I experience the loss of this earthly body for something else – whatever that might be – as tenderly.

Even if there might be tough moments getting there.  And may I always be open to letting others help me, may I not grumble & feel blown off if I’m sometimes alone, handling things on my own.  Because I went through those down-in-the-depths moments getting to my HERE.  No matter what might happen in my path forward – physically mentally emotionally – may I always & forever remember my experiences with John as my Own True Love & remarkably patient fellow explorer.  Whatever my situation & circumstances might be in the years ahead, will always have the full wonder of being married to a kind soul & emotionally generous man.

It was John who helped me transition from where I was – battling to keep something that was never mine in the first place – to where I am, where things happen that once felt like a sucker’s punch to my gut & are now experienced with blessed (hard won!) equanimity, accepting that I gave it my best shot & it just was not meant to be.  No finger wagging or pointing, no placing blame or feeling recrimination toward myself or others.  Just a sweet releasing, a tender allowing things to be the way they seem in this moment.  Letting things rise up, be felt, and pass through.  And respect that others are doing the same.

It was amazing last night, snugged in bed & realizing the I’ve come to a place where I more & more let go of what I clung to for decades,  shift away from regret to restoration, release my crucified sense of self & celebrate a tiny resurrection of hope & love.  A lovely little death. 



Daggers don’t cut so deep

Ahhhhh, the soothing balm of growing older, gaining more perspective, learning more lessons.  Realizing things that once plunged a dagger to the heart, sending me reeling, are now just…  interesting.

For decades, I experienced the MASSIVE pain of having sibs who just aren’t that into me.  Okay, let’s be honest – when it comes to my sibs feeling any sense of positive connection to me, there is no there there.  Never was.

When I was single & living with Mom, could never be truly on my own because they dropped by for weekend stays or even longer – a lot longer.  They could go off on their merry way, to apartments I never saw.  And back whenever they wanted.  After I married John, our home was also Mom’s & they’d swing by to see her.  Whenever it suited them.

John got used to my long bouts of depression triggered by such visits, thrown into despair by the fresh knowledge that things were not as I’d always wished & never would be.

But age & length of days CAN make things better.  Today, a cousin posted Happy Siblings Day photos of herself & her two sibs.  And there was a comment from my oldest bro, thanking her for the photos, saying how proud he is of them & their parents.  Not long ago, that would have been salt in the wound of an invisibled baby sis.  He hasn’t accepted my friend request, but there he was, unexpectedly popping up in my feed.

Which gives me the opportunity to share with the world the reality that with age can come wisdom, a more full-hearted acceptance that people don’t always see eye to eye, let alone heart to heart.  It matters less that my bro doesn’t feel connected to me than the forever fact that I am connected to him.  Instead of wailing with the pain of a knife in my heart, am able to feel blessedly NEUTRAL, checking to see if he’s accepted my request & not feeling crushed that he hasn’t.  Instead of woe is me, to feel a whoosh of relief to have gotten to a point where I am neither apathetic nor open to hurt, where I am vulnerable without putting myself at stupid risk.

To everyone dealing with a cruddy relationship with people who matter, who struggle to get past the pain to the caring, who are thinking of cutting yourself off rather than face another paper cut to the heart – – hang in there!  Let yourself be vulnerable, put yourself in their lives to whatever extent you can WITHOUT putting yourself at grave emotional risk.  There is no down side.  They might middle finger your efforts, they might not.

It’s not always easy, but the day might come when you realize you’ll never be close, but you’re okay with how things are, however they are.  When you can finally see something that would have felt like a dagger to your heart, cutting close to the emotional bone, and instead of falling apart, you find yourself thinking, “That’s interesting.”


Ageism embedded in aging

My thanks to Stacey Burling for the article, Ageism That Comes From The Elderly, in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer.  Most people who’ve spent some time in a residence for the aging upward – from cozy retirement villages to full-service “senior lifestyle” communities – can testify to the distain some living there direct toward their fellow olders.  It’s not uncommon for independent living residents to harbor negative feelings about those in wheelchairs or worse – evidence of coming attractions;  I’ve heard similar opinions & prejudices expressed by people in personal care.  It’s almost like they’re dumping on themselves, or the selves they fear will be left by encroaching years.

How well I know the cliques of “mean girls” that form in even the most high brow setting.  Our dear friend, Anne, lived in an exceptionally nice continuous care community, yet was the brunt of another resident’s cruel barbs.  For some inexplicable reason, the woman – who seemed as nice as anyone, someone we never suspected of being the “mean person” Anne mentioned but refused to identify – let loose with her nastiness sitting with a large group of us, men & women, at dinner in the formal dining room.

“Anne, what time is it?” – knowing our friend’s dementia dimmed her memory of such details.  Anne looked at her in some befuddlement, gave a lovely smile, and went back to her meal.

“Anne, what day is it?”

John & I couldn’t believe our ears.  I fixed the woman, someone I’d always considered a kind woman, with my best eagle eye & said, “Please stop.  It distresses me.”

The woman turned to Anne, saying, “Does it bother you, Anne?” to which our friend immediately said no, it didn’t bother her in the least.

The *itch looked back at me in triumph, only to be met with another icy glare & my reminder, “I didn’t say it bothered Anne.  I said it bothers ME.”

Praise be & forever blessings on Mary McDonough, sitting across the table from me, two places over from Anne, who looked the woman straight in the eye as she softly but firmly said, “It bothers me, too.”

The woman never did it again.  In fact, she never sat with us again, although she would have been welcome.  We felt sorry for her – no one could be so beastly to such a sweet soul as Anne without some pretty miserable stuff in her own background. 

Maybe she was livid because our 90+ friend was beset with severe dementia, yet still found life full of joyful moments, was eagerly sought after at mealtime by that precious commodity – male residents, who loved buzzing because she was fun, which she drew to herself like bees to honey.  Anne’s feminine nature basked in their masculine & their returned the admiration – I saw 83-year old men preen in her presence!

Anne also had age-based prejudices.  Her family only succeeded in getting her to use a walker by stopping talking about the safety features & talking instead about how much more she’d be able to do, how much more mobility a walker would provide. 

We never heard Anne moan about her wrinkles, always delighted in her ritual of a dab of facial powder & lipstick before heading out, a quick touch-up in the car – – her lipstick was Anne’s security blanket.   Mom was much the same way – she not only didn’t weep & wail over wrinkles & a drooping neckline, when I’d help her dress or towel her down after a shower, she’d take pride in being such a “saggy baggy elephant.”

Mom, who was pleasant looking but not a “looker,” was grateful being saved from the horror of aging that seems the norm for acclaimed beauties.  Mom had friends who would rather stay in their homes than be seen as something less than fabulous, which always seemed sad, because an older person gains a different sort of beauty.   She had male friends, worshipped athletes back in the day, who winced at using a cane walker wheelchair. 

Ageism & ableism, the two curses of growing older without a sense that there’s a reason behind growing older.  Instead of seeing our upper years as a time for growing wholer, people can lash out, like the curdled woman did with Anne.  Anne appeared to let it roll off her, but we knew it hurt because she’d talk in hushed, dark tones about it, but she didn’t let the bully keep her shut away in her room, which many in a continuous care community feel is their only option.

The article – sorry, it’s apparently not archived yet so I couldn’t find a link – is a spur to help youngers, from toddlers up, to gain realize understand accept that aging ever upward has great value, to the person & others, to individuals & the greater community.  

Seems it is self-serving for people to have a better view of aging – it’s reported that studies show people who have negative attitudes in their early adulthood are more likely to suffer heart attacks, strokes & have dementia-related cognitive problems in their early elderhood (60s).  Epidemiology professor, Becca Levy, found that people who see growing “old” as negative die 7.5 years earlier than those who see its positives. 

Is that because people with a better attitude toward aging take better care of themselves as they age ever upward?  Is it because the poison of dreading older age might speed up problems associated with it?   Possibly.  The reasons behind the negative impact of negative attitudes aren’t clear, but the outcomes are.

If I needed someone to light a fire under me to figure out how to reach youngers with the message that getting older means the opportunity to grow wholer, that people need to hold onto the connection we seem to have instinctively as little children with the aged & elderly, Stacey Burling’s article is it.  Much more to share, but must be off! 



Zooming awareness that WISDOM ROCKS!

Waking youngers up to the gifts tucked into aging ever upward, which are not just a nifty bonus to aging, but the #1, Big Kahuna reason for aging – period.  That, as a national culture, too many have woefully forgotten that fact.  That modernization increasingly pushes us away from this glorious reality, but that anyone who has seen MOANA knows in their heart to be true.  Toddlers know it, teens know it – it’s only when we get to our “too-cool”  mid-upper teens that too many begin to forget, to distance & dismiss.

Youngers seem clueless that there IS  a reason for aging – one which has been strained in this increasingly cynical cyber era, these disdainful digital days. Olders elders ancients need to be more available, which might mean a cooperative effort, collaboration between generations & within communities.

Cooperation, collaboration, community – three buzz words of the 3rd Age; a time that  has always been used for stepping back, reassessing, seeing the bigger picture.  When we have fewer immediate distractions, more time to contemplate, and when many of us have the greatest incentive to think more deeply – grandchildren.

Our nation is increasingly unaware of the value of wisdom & the importance of our elders.  It is hard to find anyone under 60 who sees the gifts of aging as a blessing, who embrace the challenges as opportunities, who feel in their hearts that – in many essential ways – the best awaits us.  If we have the clear sight & the liberating knowledge that our life was no created to wind down as we age ever upward; if we accept & truly understand that we not created to just grow older, but to grow wholer.

My thanks for the possibility of working with a group that’s already rocked my world. No matter what happens on that front, my life shifted changed expanded.  I am a woman with a new purpose – to help youngers rediscover in their hearts the full awareness that WISDOM ROCKS!

Marc Agronin – a rare bird, indeed

An 04/30/11 New York Times article on Dr. Marc Agronin tags him as a “rare bird.”  I agree 100%, but not because he one of only seventeen geriatric psychologists in Florida.  What makes him even rarer to me is that he apparently treats elderly patients without treating them like they are elderly.

That is my #1 gripe with the geriatric psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors that have crossed my path – almost all of them treat their patients as if they are old.  When I set out to find a counselor for a grannie client whose heart was tenderized by memories of  a first love killed in the early days of World War II, I sought one who would treat her as if she was whole.  I found our answer in Kim Vargas, who had little experience working with the elderly (a plus) & whose specialty was transitioning professional women into motherhood.  A specialist in transitioning – EXACTLY what I needed!  And Kim lived up to my expectations, always treating Anne like the vibrant, in-the-moment person she was, rather than some old lady suffering from dementia.

My guess is that she has a lot in common with Marc Agronin, author of the recently released, The End of Old Age ( terribly titled, but an awesome read).

Like Kim, Dr. Agronin treats the people under his care more like friends than patients.  He connects with them on the human level, about as far from a “there but for the grace of God goes God” sort of physician.

Although his first book – How We Age – came out seven years ago, I only just discovered him, thanks to a review of his current release.  Having devoured The End of Old Age, am reading his articles (from the New York Times & Wall Street Journal to Scientific American Mind).

While some people joke that continuous care communities & nursing homes are “God’s waiting room,” Dr. Agronin experiences the Miami Jewish Home, where he works, as a treasure house.  Kim loved working with Anne, with an elderly woman who could not remember the day or date from moment to moment, but who walked with a spring in her step, a ready smile & an eagerness to connect – she showed her psychologist a side of aging generally ignored in textbooks & scholarly articles.  The sort of person Dr. Agronin cherishes & celebrates in his writing.

In one of his articles, Dr. Agronin cautions that sometimes our best hope for an elder’s perpetual sadness is not to heal the pain, but simply share it.  He respects sorrow & grief, sees its place rather than trying to eradicate it, understands that elders might not be seeking medicine, treatment or therapy, but simply the attentive presence of others who are present & connected.

Perhaps the rarest thing about Dr. Agronin is his willingness, eagerness to learn from his patients.  Rare, indeed!  Instead of insisting that his elderly patients fit into his model of “old age,” he takes his cues from them.  In place of stereotype all-knowing specialist, he is open to learning, to sharing the riches he culls from his patients – the realization that he’s never heard a patient speak of being afraid of death; that while there may be acceptance or anticipation, those concerns are minor, that life is being lived;  that while youngers typically imagine the pain of aging, they rarely envision the joys it opens, the new pursuit of unexpected experiences, even when one is fragile, even when their personal space is a bed.  As he quotes from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow –  For age is opportunity no less  Than youth itself, though in another dress; And as the evening twilight fades away,  The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.

The End of Old Age is informative, inspiring & practical, with action steps for aging expansively.  It woke me up to the reality that the people I need to reach out to aren’t simply older friends, their families & caregivers – youngers of all ages need to be part of the discussion about aging.  It won’t do much good to talk to 60-somethings on up if 10 year olds are dressing up as decrepit old people to celebrate their 100th day of school (seriously!), 39 year olds get “over the hill” birthday cards & folks under fifty consider growing old to be a fate worse than death.

My heart felt thanks to Dr. Agronin for recognizing that, as a culture, we lack sufficient descriptive language around aging up into years unimagined fifty years ago & stirring up interest in creating a new lexicon so we can talk about it using positive, life affirming wording.  My thanks for his books, his sharing his experiences, his example of being open to what our olders elders ancients are feeling saying showing.

Marc Agronin is, indeed, a rare bird.  Here’s hoping he teaches us all how to soar into our 70s, 80s, 90s, 100+ celebrating a new capacity for growth & creativity, for the development of wisdom resilience joy.

In which I am introduced to “forest bathing” (link)

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”    John Muir

One of the blessings that came out of this week’s Masterpiece Living/Positive Aging Conference was being introduced by Dr. Peter Whitehouse to the Japanese practice of forest bathing ~  shinrin-yoku,  the sense of peace, calm, well-being we get simply walking in the woods.

For more about the health benefits of forest bathing, check out my posting over on Rx4Caregivers.