Walking On Air

Day 2 of the IAGG World Congress & it has already eclipsed my highest hopes for substance inspiration growth.

This is the first time the quadrennial event has featured the Age Stage & its presentations are being praised for for surpassing mere entertainment – the specialists researchers clinicians seem happily startled by how much the performances & presentations enrich deepen  expand their conference experience & have them considering how to incorporate aspects into their work & patient care.

It is a pity John Isn’t here.  He’d process the presentations & programs in his distinctive, “I (me) never would have thought of that” style that leaves me gazing at him in rapt wonder.

The two cats at my Airbnb are charmers, one boldly greeting me on arrival, the other finally letting me stroke his fur at breakfast.  My bed is a huge 4-poster that requires I hoist myself up with a mighty heave or use the wooden stool next to the bed.  Full kitchen privileges, a sun room that overlooks the San Francisco hills that’s all mine (and the cats) & the R14 whisks me to the Moscone Center (event site), practically door to door.

Not doing much about hitting SF’s restaurant scene;  is it gasrronomic sacrilege that Mel’s Original has been my local over the past three days?

Mim trained me at an early age to take full advantage of deluxe hotels, so I settle into On of the Marriott’s super comfy couches when I have some free time.

The wonderful thing about taking the bus instead of BART s being able to SEE everything.  $42 for a 7-day pass, I get to seethe city, plus way less wear & tear on my poor mega-walked feet.

Back to the Moscone – more later!

Bushed!

VERY full morning & afternoon.  Started in the most delightfully unexpected way – having breakfast around the corner from the Moscone Center (home of the event), was eating & reading when I heard, “DEEV!” ring out.  It was Claire Parker, a film maker I first met around this time last year at Book Culture in NYC, where Ashton gave a talk on THIS CHAIR ROCKS;  Claire is a change agent in my life – it was Claire who clued me into last year’s Positive Aging conference in DC, which sent me deeper into my truest of True North life work. Had a few words with Jo Ann Jenkins, AARP president &  the alliance-forming Ben Franklin of the elder care revolution to Ashton Applewhite’s rally-the-troops Tom Paine.  Basked in a performance by the always magical Anthony Hyatt, fiddler extraordinaire.  And I really & truly had a brief exchange with one of my top transformational “book mentors,” come off my shelves & standing before me in real life ~ ~ WENDY  LUSTBADER!!

IAGG ~ let the play begin!

Deep breath – the Inernational Association of Gerontology & Geriatrics quadrennial 21st World Congress kicked off with registration today, with the full-blown program from tomorrow through Thursday.  In San Francisco!!

Blessings on the small but mighty circle of supporters whose big & small contribution$$ got me here & for the side trip to Auburn to visit my brave cousin, Bob Ripley, who’s doing all he can to have all the time he can with family & friends.  The short trip made a BIG difference I never tightening broadening deepening family relationships at a time when they matter most.

Mega thanks to the many whose best wishes, blessings & “You go, girl”!! encouragement helped power the AWEsome forces that got me here.  Never underestimate the POWer of invisible but mighty positive energies.

Put in a lot of walking today to spots that hold great memories of trips with Scott & Mom, with just Mom, solo.  Photo shoots with Sissy, Stephie & Sissette at Aquatic Park, breakfast at the Buena Vista, drinks at The Fairmont’s Tonga Room, dinner on Tiburon.  I don’t have the spare $ to indulge, but oh I can recall the playful times & the ab fab memories that helped Mom stay power-ful to the last moment of her life in this playground.

Let the mega moments that are sure to fill the IAGG begin!!

“Listening to Love” Phila Inquirer 06/14/15

My brother, Peter, going through some of his storage boxes, came across the awesome article at Danielle Snyderman, M.D., apparently still a gerontologist working at The Hill of Whitemarsh, an “upscale retirement community” outside of Philadelphia.  Bless the bro, he clipped it out & sent it to me!

Listening to Love is about how she started interviewing couples in the community, gathering their love stories; about how the telling affects the couple, how them can proven a source of invaluable information to her, how they are a inexpressible comfort in time of final parting.

Stop reading this – hit the link & start reading Stacey Burling’s timeless article!!

 

Peace With The Past

One of the greatest treasures of the last few years has been my relationship with my oldest brother.  It took a lot of tries on my part to open a pathway to connection & effort on his part to make it work.  He is in his late 70s, I am in my  mid 60s & we are both doing our best to create a relationship that hadn’t existed before.

People look at me in disbelief when I say that, but it is true.  It was true with all of my surviving siblings, who tended to non-verbal (yes, even Mike – being cheery doesn’t equate to necessarily being readily forthcoming), all of whom graduated from high school before President Kennedy’s assassination (Peter graduated in ’56!) while I got my diploma less than a year after Woodstock.

Our current relationship is very special to me.  He sends us clippings & keeps us up-to-date on his adored three granddaughters; we take him out for rambles & to his favorite spots for breakfast or lunch.

There is A LOT of heartbreaking history between the two of us, but we choose to leave it where it belongs – in the distant past.

It would be nice if everyone could make peace with people as they grow older.  Our outings with Peter have been a godsend to me, in so many ways.  The greatest blessing is simply being able to speak our truth to each other, without judgement.

Peter’s experience with our parents is wildly different from mine – he’s the first, while I’m the baby.  Our birth order, gender & age difference aren’t the only things that conspired against any relationship – we’re rooted in two different generations,  we have different ideas of what constitutes success, different ideas about class & the importance of social position, different religious beliefs & political leanings.

Perhaps our greatest difference is that Peter seems to see our parents in a radically different light than I do – over forty years since Dad died & sixteen since Mom slipped from us, he still rails at their parental inadequacies.  Will never forget Peter sharing one of the oft-told tales of Dad not being the father he needed.  Had heard it many times – from mother’s side as well as from Peter’s little boy memory.  This time, I was able to respond differently than I would have years ago.  Having an active relationship with Peter made that possible.

Peter’s jaw just about dropped when I looked him straight in the eye &, far from defending our parents, laid out the truth – “Dad & Mom had a remarkable partnership, were deeply in love & utterly devoted ~and~ they were terrible parents.”

It felt GREAT being able to say that, even if he didn’t seem interested in what came next. Mom & Dad were gosh awful parents because they’d never seen good parenting.  There was no Benjamin Spock, no magazines devoted to every stage of parenting, no row upon row of baby books.  In the 1930s, it was assumed a mother knew how to parent & could teach the dad.

Reality… Mom’s father died when she was 19, succumbing to a congenital heart condition that had left him an invalid for several years.  Mom adored her father, a man who loved to play with his children, who enjoyed good times with friends, parties, good music.  When he died, not only did his light leave Mom’s life, so did the happy times.  Her totally self-absorbed mother moved Mom & Aunt Betty, who was just 18, into their grandfather’s strict Methodist household.  Mom had no template for a normal family – the one she had formed, working for a family as nanny & dear companion to the children, was destroyed when the couple unexpectedly divorced.

Dad didn’t fare any better.  He was an only child – his mother was rh neg back when that couldn’t be treated;  all her subsequent children died at birth or soon after.  When Dad was in his early teens, his mother was again pregnant – and carrying the grief of knowing her husband had a mistress.  The New Year’s Eve before her death, she & Dad waited up for “Gar” to be home to see the new year in, as he’d promised;  to the end of his life, Dad remembered his mother’s tears.  The baby died soon after birth, as did my grandmother days later.  Dad’s father subsequently married his mistress.  When Dad was given his choice of where to go for prep school, he narrowed his choices to Haverford or Harrisburg Academy, choosing the later because there would be no expectation of him coming home over weekends.

When Mom & Dad found each other, a whole new reality became possible for each of them.  Dad did what he thought a truly good father should – he loved our mother, was faithful & true to her.  Mom was the image of what she believed was a good mother – keeping house, being supportive of her husband & her children’s #1 cheerleader.  In one way, they were not typical at all of their era.  Looped-out crazy about each other, they were open about being eager lovers to the end; in a stab at lightness in a dark time, Mom said the grave stone should say, “They did it till he died.”

Recalling when, within four months, their youngest son was killed & the lumber yard where Dad was a company officer burned down, leaving him without an income, Mom said she & Dad were lucky – “Tragedy can draw a couple together or tear them apart;  we were blessed to be the former.”  But what brought them together did terrible damage to the family, who only once discussed the impact of Ian’s death on each & all of us – in a meeting in the late 1990s, forty years later, and that was commenting on the fact the Ian was brought up but never the tragedy, never its aftermath.

That was then…  Peter knows these stories, grew up with them as I did, but they didn’t seem to humanize our parents to him.  The difference NOW is that when he lights into Dad about the awful treatment he feels he received at our father’s hands, I can speak up. Not from an impassioned desire to “set the record straight” as I might have at one time. Peter’s experiences are his experiences.  If I want him to respect mine, I have to first respect his.  When he talks about how our parents never said, “I love you,” it’s an opportunity to point out, without trying to score points, that they came from a time where parents showed their love in actions.  I understand that Peter remembers Dad as stern & I remind myself that as father/son they had a different relationship than daddy/daughter.

It is such a blessing that Peter & I made peace, that we have a here & now relationship.  I feel sorry for all the people who don’t get a chance to hear their siblings’ stories as an adult, to hopefully bring to the connection a willingness to hear & the courage to share without any agenda, other than putting out your truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storytelling & Memory

“Old age crept up on me today.”  That was Mom’s description of turning down my offer to trek over to our beloved Chestnut Hill for sauteed soft shell crab.  As Mom put it, “Am still saying it to myself – I turned down soft shell crab.”

Mom’s posting is 17+ years old, but her storytelling still makes me smile.  How she loved language & playing with words!  For her, it was as natural as breathing.  Those who knew Mom, could picture her through her writings;  those who didn’t, wished they could meet her, soak her in.

Much as she was a lifelong devotee of soft shells, they lost their premier position the moment she had her first bite of Oysters Kilpatrick,  at The American Club in Sydney.   I’ve never tasted them, but Mom practically lifted right out of her shoes talking about her beloved bivalves.

Her description of tucking into a soft shell crab has me pondering a supper time run over to 8142 Germantown Avenue, it’s that tantalizing ~ ~ “Have you ever sunk your teeth into a soft shell crab?  One bite, and I think I’ve died and gone to heaven.  Lightly floured, delicately sauteed is culinary bliss.”

And then there is her personal “Best of Soft Shells” – “I have an honor roll of places I have dined delectably on soft shells – the Crab Claw in St. Michael’s, Maryland;  the Robert Morris Inn in Oxford, MD;  Monique’s, an Alsatian restaurant in New Hope, PA.  The best I ever sampled was at Louisa’s in Cape May, NJ.  Under the Blue Moon in Chestnut Hill was our traditional haunt for many years, until the owners had the audacity to retire (many frequent diners went into mourning);  now we go to Roller’s for our annual gastronomical pilgrimage.   Wherever I am, if soft shell crab is on the menu, I am doing just fine.”

Reading that again, for the first time in several years, got me thinking about Mom & how she was a natural storyteller, got me pondering if storytelling affects our memory skills.

Turns out that Mom’s form of spinning a yarn has a name – autobiographical memory (AM). Alas, I was only able to access abstracts of indepth articles (which might have been way over my head), but my brain lit up reading them.

What I was able to scope out from the abstract of Susan Bluck’s Autobiographical Memory – Exploring its functions in everyday life,  is that it pulls together or touches psychological, social and/or cultural historic context.  It appears to foster social relationships, engage emotional states, reflect & feed back how we perceive the world & our own inner landscape, nurtures other cognitive abilities.  It’s believed that the functions of autobiographical memory sort themselves out into three core areas of functioning – self, social, directive.  (I have no idea what that means!)  Personally, I love that accuracy is no big deal in autobiographical memory, that “levels & types of accuracy need not always be regarded as memory ‘failures’ but are sometimes integral to a self-memory system that serves a variety of meaningful ends of human activity.”  Praise be!

Here’s the kicker, at least for me – sharing our stories with interested listeners positively impacts OUR  memory function!  The abstract for Monisha Pasupathi, Lisa M.. Stallworth & Kyle Murdoch’s How what we tell becomes what we know: Listener effects on speakers’ long‐term memory for events discusses how sharing memories of our past with attentive others could be considered “rehearsing one’s memory,” that a single recollection could have a positive long-term impact – if it is told to an interested listener.  Or, to use their more learned phrasing, “Variations in the social context of recollection affect how we tell others about events, such variations can also come to influence long‐term memory.”

Interesting thing about this study – the positive impact did not seem to be tied to sharing it with simply other people, but depended on telling INTERESTED listeners.  “Attentive listeners facilitate long‐term memory, whereas situations with distracted listeners are difficult to distinguish from the situations with no listener and with no recounting at all.”

Turns out that Mom’s love of telling tales plucked from her life might not have had as powerful impact on her memory – which was excellent to the last – as much as having people like myself, my sibs, her loved ones, friends & pleasant acquaintances lapping up every word.  Something to ponder.