Let’s create a HAPPINESS BOMB!

Maybe we should develop a Crayola bomb as our next secret weapon. 

A happiness weapon. 

A beauty bomb. 

And every time a crisis developed, we would launch one. 

It would explode high in the air – explode softly – and send thousands, millions, of little parachutes into the air. 

Floating down to earth – boxes of Crayolas. 

And we wouldn’t go cheap, either – not little boxes of eight.  Boxes of sixty-four, with the sharpener built right in.  With silver and gold and copper, magenta and peach and lime, amber and umber and all the rest. 

And people would smile and get a little funny look on their faces and cover the world with imagination. 

from the wondrous Robert Fulghum

Gene D. Cohen – forever in my heart

Will never forget the moment at my first (the first) National Center for Creative Aging Leadership Conference & Exchange when it hit me like a lightning bolt that the NCCA is the child of the great Gene D. Cohen, MD – a man I never met & who changed my life for all time.

There is not date inscribed in my copy of Creative Awakenings ~ awakening human potential in the second half of life  to clue me into when I first came across it ~ my guess is it was well after its 2000 publication date, probably several years after Mom’s 2001 death.  I remember buying it, then not reading it for several more years, so my best guess at when I actually settled down for a read would be around 2007 – ten years ago, seven years before that first NCCA Conference, two years before Gene’s death in 2009, at a mere 65 years old.

I have even less memory of what drew me to that first NCCA Conference.  There wasn’t any buzz on it; the group was an enthusiastic circle of creatives who believed what I had come to see over two years, at that point, of working with Anne Davis Hyatt as our client – – that the arts are the key to full-throttle life experience, straight across the age spectrum & health condition.  Through many years with Anne, John & I saw real-time the impact creativity can have on squashing the heartache of dementia.  It was that new -found, present-moment awareness that lead practically penniless me to an auditorium at the Arena Stage in D.C., looking at a program that featured not a single name I knew.

When I heard one of the earliest speakers prepare to introduce Wendy Miller, no bells started ringing, no lights of recognition started flashing.  Was still, incredibly, clueless as she was described her as the wife of the late Gene Cohen.  But then Wendy started talking, opening up the umbrella in her hand with its under-canopy of clouds & sky, started sharing the work she had done with her husband, the amazing strides he’d made in a too short life & it hit me – SHAZAM!  Everything fell into glorious place – literally, it was like little threads  had been brushing past my face & magically coalesced into a beautiful shawl draped across my stunned shoulders.

Gene Cohen, first in Creative Awakenings & then The Mature Mind, expressed what I had observed over a lifetime of casual & intimate connection with the incredible oldsters elders ancients in my little hometown, particularly with my mother & her WOW! circle of friends.  It made NO sense to me that surveys typically used “65+” to cover all the ages from getting-their-first-Social Security check to centenarians, because I could see, right before me, what differences are found in the years between oldster & ancient.

Not kidding – when I realized who Wendy Miller was, that many of the strangers around me were no strangers to the work of Gene Cohen, I started to cry tears of discovery & joy.  After a lifetime of searching, I had found my tribe.

Gene Cohen looked like a larger-than-life pixie & brought a pixie’s joy of play & dusting of magic to his work as a geriatric psychiatrist.  He famously teamed up with George Burns to produce Public Service Announcements on aging!

His outlook on what my mother described as “tripping the old-ometer” upward was upbeat & optimistic – a radical departure from the too-common prognosis of aging as constant decline & deterioration devoid of any up side.   He was an early researcher into brain function in the elderly, a neglected area of study since young whippersnapper scientists assumed there wasn’t anything of interest to know about aging.

Even before baby boomers were old enough to make studies into aging financially viable, Gene was beating the drums that our brains are ravaged by diseases associated with age, not aging itself, and therefore many can be treated; that our brains are more flexible, that they are more attuned to creativity & blossom through the arts in ways few scientists or people who hold the purse strings to funding suspected.  He showed that the neurons that engage us in creative endeavors are not profoundly affected by the ravages of Alzheimer’s – they follow a different track & can be accessed when others are shut down.

How he would have loved the video of the old man who had seriously declined to a virtually non-responsive state who LIT UP on hearing music – even when the headphones were taken off, he remained responsive & connected, talking where he had been mute.  Gene would have grooved out over the story of Edward Hardy, a 93-year old jazz pianist with dementia who seemed to have given up, whose life changed due to a young activities director, also a musician, who reconnected Edward with music – and life.

There is so much I could write about Gene. It’s an honor to feature him in one of my first blog postings, since I am writing this & doing all that’s before me because of all he wrote & did.  You can expect many more blog postings ahead spotlighting this remarkable man who had every grace except that of years.

I do want to recall the most special moment from last year’s 2016 NCCA Leadership Conference & Exchange.  That first year found us in an auditorium-in-the-round at the Arena Stage; by 2015, the number of participants saw us moving to a considerably LARGER auditorium;  last year sent us to the Newseum!  I think it was the second morning of the conference that found me arriving late, having rushed so much I’d skipped breakfast at my delightful Airbnb.  What joy to discover the breakfast buffet spread was still available.  I’d picked up my bagel & fresh fruit, was pouring my cup of coffee, when I was joined by a lovely woman wearing an shawl that looked like it was spun of the sky.  Her ID showcased not her name, but the front cover of a book – Sky Above Clouds.  We talked about Gene, I shared how he was the one who woke me up to life’s calling.  Several minutes went by before it hit me ~ SHAZAM! ~ that she was Wendy Miller!  And she was talking to ME!

The short conversation & that 2nd awakened moment are with me still.  They will be with me when I head to the International Association of Gerontology & Geriatrics World Congress in less than two weeks.  They are with me always & forever.

“DRINK ME!”

In the children’s (okay, all ages) classic, Alice in Wonderland, the heroine finds a bottle labeled “DRINK ME,”  decides it’s probably not poisonous, drinks every drop (it tastes of a blend of cherry tart, custard, pineapple, roast turkey, toffee, with overtones of hot buttered toast) all mixed up) – – and shrinks to 10″,  just the right height for that moment in time.

Found myself thinking about DRINK ME this afternoon, visiting an older friend at her senior residence.  I stopped in the open, spacious dining room to ask for a clear plastic glass so I could grab some cold water for her.  “Oh, you don’t need that, honey,” a helpful aide informed me,  “They leave a glass of water in her room at the start of every shift.”

Indeed, they do.  In fact, John & I were still there when they took out the large glass that was there  when we arrived & left a fresh one.  (We’d finished TOP HAT over lunch & were about 1/3 into AMERICAN IN PARIS.)

If we had not been there, encouraging him to drink is water, I’m pretty sure the old glass would have been almost full when it was tossed, just as I’m pretty sure the current one will just have a few swigs out of it, if any.

The water is served in a lidded Styrofoam glass, with straw.  The problem is that nothing about the white glass does anything to entice anyone to want to drink, let alone all.  This is no small matter,  as we lose our thirst mechanism – the natural desire for liquids that helps keep our bodies hydrated – as we age upward.

Dehydration is particularly nasty for oldsters elders ancients; an older friend of mine almost died twice from dehydration-related pneumonia, a client developed psychotic symptoms due to it & my own mother was SURE that she was being tossed out of our house, all due to dangerously low electrolytes, all thanks to dehydration.

Here’s a suggestion – any facility institution residence that works with oldsters elders ancients should have glasses that say, in big bold letters on both sides, “DRINK ME!”  If they leave bottles of water, stick DRINK ME labels on both sides.  Go a precious step futher – when aides take a cup or bottle away, have the record if resident finished less than 1/4. less than 1/2, less than 3/4, all.

A little extra work make such a huge difference!  Alice’s DRINK ME potion made her the right side for that moment in time.  It doesn’t take Lewis Carroll’s imagination to picture the difference having DRINK ME on the glasses & bottles we give our older loved ones, friends & care receivers, that  keeping simple records of their intake, can make in their health, welfare, happiness.

Ignition, Take Off

Yikes!  Launch Day has arrived!  Am still a total novice at WordPress, but decided to let my rocket take off, even if in very primitive shape & stage.

Am very much partnering in this endeavor – as I do in all my work with older friends – with all the awesome oldsters elders ancients whose paths I’ve been blessed to cross.  First & foremost, my mother, Katharine Reynolds Lockhart.

Friends & pleasant acquaintances would often say to me, “Well, I’d have my mother live with me, too, if we got along as well as the two of you.”

The reality is that we did NOT mesh well.  Among our many challenges, was our similar dissimilar natures:   we were ALIKE in very visible ways – love of family & friends, love of church school community, love of a good party & always ready for a celebration, BUT when it came to things that lead to peace in the home – how we defined family, what we expected from ourselves & others, how we interpreted the similar terms we used – we were poles apart.  It was difficult, challenging & I came darn close once to a breakdown, BUT WE MADE IT WORK.

My deep personal belief about families – we are created to be tribal.  Sadly, it feels like everything in our current culture works against that, leaves us separated, not receiving the support we are meant to be giving & getting across the ages.  It’s not meant to be easy – it’s meant to draw all of us closer to wisdom.

What a forever blessing that John & I were able to pair up to give both of our mothers the sort of aging upward that suited them best.  My O Best Beloved & I were as well-suited for providing care & support to our long-widowed mothers as we are for doing the same with each other.   FYI ~ you can’t plan for that sort of connection, like there is some secret sauce that will cook up the sort of connect that made it possible to pamper the Moms;  we both acknowledge it’s in Greater Hands than ours.  (My not-organized-religion hubster blew my socks off when he told me, “You didn’t plan this & I didn’t plan this, but SOMEONE planned it!!”)  Praise be, we knew at the time it was a blessing, never ever took it for granted, never forgot to say & offer up our thanks.

Since Mom is my most active, albeit in Other Realms, partner, am sharing this launch post with her.

Background:  Mom became active on the internet in the late 1990s.   She started because there was a lively discussion taking place in our church organization, with Mom agreeing with points held by very different camps.  Born at the very tag end of the Gilded Age, she was pretty daunted by computers but she really really really wanted to be part of the to & fro.  So, since the computer studio was right next door to her bedroom, Mom would haul a chair into the room, sit next to me & dictate as I transcribed.  As she would say, “It war a pleasure!” to help.  Mom was open to accessing the wonders of the internet because she’d gone through major MEGA changes since 11/97 & going online; connecting with scores of women & men of all ages who thought she was absolutely the cat’s pajamas, took her stunning evolution zooming into the stratosphere!

The following is an article Mom wrote in 2000 – at 90! – for an alumni journal.  It cobbles together a bunch of e-mails she wrote to a devoted & ever-growing dist list (her version of blogging, which was still basically unknown – she would have taken to it like a duck to water).  Enjoy!

 

THE VELVETEEN GRAMMIE

Margery Williams’  classic story, The Velveteen Rabbit+, includes an exchange  between two nursery toys, the Skin Horse and the Rabbit, who has asked the horse, “What is REAL?”  The Rabbit wants to know if it happens all at once, like being wound up, or bit by bit.  

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse.  “You become.  It takes a long time.  That’s why it doesn’t  happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.  Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your fur has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and  very shabby.  But those things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real  you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

 I relate to that passage.  I turned 90 in May.  As the years tick by and  my fixtures and fittings become unglued and the “fur” is loved off, a  stronger sense of being Real has moved forward.

 It’s said that timing is everything.  The issue of aging is no  different.  From the  mid-1960s to recently, the culture in the USA did not  give much value to older people.  The times today are a’changing as the  generation of revolutionaries who declared “Don’t trust anyone over 30!” now  find themselves eligible for AARP* membership.  I have found that the voice of wisdom is increasingly sought out by a generation that has no intention of becoming invisible or going softly into that goodnight.

When I was a young whippersnapper of 50 and 60, I did not think much about  what life would be like if I lived to be a ripe old age.  If I had, it would  have fallen short of the mark, nowhere near what my experience has been,  especially as I tripped the “old”ometer into my nineties.

 A favorite saying of mine for many moons is “Old age ain’t for sissies.”   Actually, managing to get to 90 relatively sound of heart, mind and body (or  any one or more of those three) indicates some grit.  As I inch closer toward  triple digits, being old has gotten a lot easier.  Somewhere around my late  80s, I began to see the humor and humanity more in things, to take upsets  less personally and put them more easily into perspective.

Looking back, the toughest years were when my energies were beginning to flag  and my body started slowing down.  The proprium – sense of self –  feels  threatened  as it becomes clear that an individual is far more than just the  sum of physical parts. To get to the light, we have to work through the  darkness.  Moving out of that hanging-on state to one of accepting that the  body is a temporary shelter designed to house our eternal soul could be  compared to moving out of darkness and confusion toward lightness and the  light.  Ideally, the concepts of physical being, of time and relationships,  are liberated as we get older and older.

 My own awareness shifted when I suffered a small stroke late last September.

That small stroke speeded up the process.  My mind feels strong, my spirit  feels strong.  As my body continues to head south, it no longer has the  energy  to kick up a fuss about being temporary or to even try to fake being  permanent.  My feet drag somewhat and I move a lot more slowly than I did,  but most days my spirit soars,  making itself felt more and more.

Just as little children look at their parents as really old, not-so-young  people can see their own parents as shutting down as we age, gong into some  sort of benign hibernation  It is true that nature brings us, willingly or  not, into more meditative states and slower tempos.  Am I bored to tears  sitting in the big chair in the living room or in my soothing rocking chair?   No, it is surprisingly rewarding.  The problem is that young kids – looking  through the eyes of a still preening self – feel sad and think, “How dull her  life must be.”  Too many Ancient and near-Ancient Ones fall for that line.  Truth be told, growth keeps right on going, ideally right out of the ceilings  of our cramped opinion. This old biddy believes that the Lord intends us to live fully – whatever our physical or mental condition – right up to the  moment we traipse across the threshold of our spiritual home.

 For whatever reason, growing feeble, infirm and even forgetful is part of the  Lord’s grand scheme.  As I  edge closer toward triple digits, it is easier to  let go of timebound prejudices and expectations.  Many women of my generation  anchored our identities on others,. those we took care of and nourished.  Personally, I balked at sparing time or energy to think and act for myself.  Luckily, I had taken some proactive strides toward becoming more aware well  before the stroke.

Today. my body constantly clues me in that it is merely temporary.  It is  breaking down.  That is in the order of things, however rotten it is to  experience.  I take two strong pain pills a day and I have excellent and open  doctors.  I live in a supportive household with two “youngsters” who love me.  My daughter badgered and brow beat me to think for myself rather than  constantly trying to mirror back what I thought she or others wanted me to  say or do.  She was the burr under my saddle for change, but the catalyst was  my son-in-law, who is remarkably gifted in the ways of healthy communication.

My online “family” brings unexpected and incalculable blessings, fulfilling  in this life the promise that “with thought brings presence,”  all at the click of a mouse.

It is not all “beer and skittles” – there are rough patches. The changes  that come   with old age are scary, especially changes in life roles.  I have  not enjoyed the hands-on role of wife for over 26 years.  At ninety, I cannot  even manage the role I played as a parent.  The resources just are not there.    I cannot provide massive emotional or even minor financial support.   I  cannot wash a floor or do the grocery shopping or even dust my own room. (I   can still shell hard boiled eggs and clean mushrooms!)   Changing roles and  changing identities can be rough, especially on children, no matter how old  they are.  Imagine the upset at finding that good old Mom is not what she  used to be.  That discovery could make even an adult feel like a kid lost at the department store.

Whoever is ME is changing so fast it is hard to keep up at times.  It feels  like more is bubbling up to the surface than ever before – well, since I fell  in love, married and became a mom for the first time.  As I write this in July, we are even thinking about putting together my very own web site, which  seems … well, I do not know what it seems, but it does.  Talk about “the times today are a’changing”  ~ I would not have dreamt that I would set foot  anywhere near a meeting of people considering the role of women within the General Church, but there I was on July 8, feeling right at home, sitting  front and center, and enjoying it immensely.

Of course, there is the fear of dependency.  In January, I was diagnosed  with acute degenerative arthritis of the right shoulder.  Nothing can be done  to alleviate the condition.  It will get progressively worse and worse.  Luckily, aside from the pain, the only effect at the moment is that I cannot  get out of bed without a helping hand.  Still, instead of being a custodial  parent, I am the one needing care.  That took me down a peg at first, but  dependency has turned out to have unique blessings.  A passage from the book  Still Here ++ expresses my experience over the past year  – “When there is  true surrender and service between people, the roles of helper and helped,  and the boundaries between those in power and those who are powerless, begin  to dissolve.”  That has been my experience with my daughter and son-in-law and with, it seems, most of the other people in my life – the old limiting  boundaries have begun to dissolve.

Lots of things I loved to do are just memories.  Instead of gearing up into  depression over what is no longer, I find it simpler to shift perspective.  Picture going to a favorite restaurant and ordering a favorite dish, only to  told it is no longer on the menu.   There are two choices – get in a funk  over what is not availabIe or grab the opportunity to check over the menu for something new.  My personal menu of possibilities seems like one of the  oversized diner menus.  There are many things that my physical condition  keep me from doing, but there are a lot of new experiences just waiting to be  given a whirl.  On the physical level, life stinks.  On almost every other  level – emotional, mental, spiritual –  the world is my oyster and every  month has an R!

 A friend urged me to write about old age and make all the younger folks  envious of us Ancients.  Growing old, even some of the sadder aspects of it,  is part of the Lord’s grand scheme.  Let go of time-bound prejudices and fears  of growing older.  Marianne Williamson says that to get to the light, a  person has to work through the darkness.    In middle and early old age, life  can seem dark and scary as we move out of the familiar into the unknown.   Work through it toward the light. 

A key lesson learned over the past few years is that even unhappy events can  bring unexpected opportunites.  Going back to Margery Williams book, if the Boy had not gotten sick, if the beloved but germ-infested Rabbit was not doomed to be burned, if he had not been able to wriggle a bit to get out the sack,  if great sadness had not caused a real tear to trickle down his shabby velvet nose, the Rabbit would  not have come at that time into the fullness of being REAL.   

You could say my eyes come close to dropping off (cataract surgery is scheduled this fall) and my physical appearance is certainly getting  shabbier.  Take heart!  This Velveteen Grammie holds the happy hope of one  day being reunited with her O! Best Beloved and – together – seeing the REAL light.

 

 +     The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams  1922

 ++   Still Here, Ram Dass   2000 

 *     American Association of Retired Persons (open to people over 50 years  old)

 

 

 

Launch Date – JULY 3!!

This blog is currently under construction, scheduled for a July 3, 2017 launch date!

As someone who’s experienced numerous moon launches, seeing the great rockets arch into the sky, heard & felt the thunder of take-off ripple from the launch pad to where I stood, gobswoggled with amazement, NOW it’s my turn to set off on a new adventure, boosted beyond ho-hum restricting gravity,  a lifetime of experience inspiration aspiration fueling my dreams.

Am I rambling with excitement?  Oh, yeah!

Until the launch, check out DreamReweaver.blogspot.com for any current mental meanderings.  Y’all can contact me directly at auntdeev@aol.com.