Michelle Seitzer – guest post

Posting this AFTER midnight, so isn’t technically Wednesday, but we JUST got back from an AWEsome trip up to NYC for a Radical Age Movement reception & meeting.

Delighted to showcase Michelle Seitzer, a brilliant fun engaging coach consultant connector thoroughly versed in all things elder care!

Coming Back From Loss:  Elder Care Tips & Tools

I don’t have grandparents anymore.

This summer, my last living grandparent—my maternal grandmother—passed away after suffering a second stroke (and had likely suffered several mini ones before it), the damage from which her brain could not recover, though her body, at nearly 92, probably could have. She was just that resilient.

I had just returned from a surreal two-week adventure in Norway, my grandmother’s homeland, where I met family members I’d never met before but with whom I instantly bonded, saw the most amazing natural sights, connected with the land and my heritage, was filled to overflowing with the kind of memories I hope will last a lifetime. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the right words, or enough of them, to describe the depth of emotion I experienced on that trip. Some of what I experienced probably can’t be put into words. It was life-changing. But we got the call about her stroke while we were there, and we wrestled with cutting the trip short, unsure of how much time she had on this earth. I was especially concerned about not getting a chance to say goodbye, since both grandparents who preceded her in death had left this earth unexpectedly. I didn’t get to say goodbye to them. I wanted to say goodbye to Grandma.

I got a chance. Several chances over two painfully long weeks, during which she fluctuated between extreme alertness and deep, seemingly peaceful sleep, but not able to communicate in words. Every time I left her bedside, I thought it was the last goodbye. I never wanted to leave her bedside because of it. But I also wanted her to feel she could let go when she was ready; I didn’t want to interfere with that. It was an indescribably sacred, scary, and soul-stretching time. I’m still processing those two weeks.

With my daughter back to school and my teacher spouse back to school as well, I have the solitude I need to sort through all these hard feelings and experiences—and to make a fresh start in my work. Fall always feels more like New Year’s for me. I thrive in this season. And I look forward to sharing many new projects in the coming weeks. Stay tuned, and thank you for following my caregiving work so far!

Here are this month’s tips and tools, with extras:

  • TIP 1: RECOGNIZE THE CAREGIVING ICEBERG. For many caregivers, there’s a lot more going on under the surface—in our heads and in our hearts—which makes answering “surface” questions especially difficult. Sometimes we don’t want to answer truthfully because we’ll fall apart. Sometimes we’re OK with falling apart, but just not at the moment. Sometimes the person asking the question doesn’t really want to hear the iceberg answer. Wherever you’re at, and whatever side you’re on (the question giver/receiver), remember the potential iceberg below. And do your best to address it graciously.
  • TOOL 2: Kalendar Kards: In a future blog post on my site, I’ll write more about this helpful reality orientation tool for dementia caregivers. In the meantime, explore their website to see if this system could be helpful for a loved one with cognitive impairment.
  • TOOL 3: Caregiver Smile Summit: Imagine being able to listen to 52 caregiving experts (I’m one of them!) share on a range of topics without buying a plane ticket, booking a hotel, or setting up respite care. And you can watch the sessions over and over. That’s what the $79 all-access option of the Caregiver Smile Summit offers. Register here.
    • TOOL 4: 2nd Annual National Caregiving Conference: I attended this fantastic in-person conference in Chicago last year and was thrilled to have served on two panels during it. While I won’t be able to attend this year, I strongly encourage current and former caregivers to consider participating. There are virtual attendance options too, if travel proves difficult. Learn more here. 

    “Caregiving isn’t a cakewalk: it is tough and it is grimy.” Read my latest Voices post, which tells the story of Rachel Hiles, who cares for her grandmother.

Honoring

It’s actually happening – I’ve started writing my first book!  That Your Days May Be Long – nurturing a 5th Commandment meme & mindset for our modern world.

The question of what it means to honor our parents has blustered around in my brain since my tweens, maybe earlier.  (I was precocious in an un-cute way ~ it freaked my 7th Grade teacher that my favorite book was MacBeth, which she considered way too … something for a kid.)

The message I heard even before grade school was that, per the 5th Commandment, I had to do what Mom & Dad said.  That just didn’t set well with me.

It continued to not set right as I grew older & read in articles or even heard from friends terrible stories about parents being harmful to their children.  There is no rider to the 5th Commandment stating, “Unless they have behaved atrociously toward you.”  How could someone who was emotionally, physically or sexually abused by a parent ever honor him her them?

Several years ago, an answer came that checks all my boxes – to honor is to respect as human beings.  To see them – even the foulest – as doing the best they could.  If they are totally messed up in the head, and sadly many are, it doesn’t excuse or brush off or ignore what they did, it just acknowledges not knowing THEIR story, how they got to be such a hideously messed up person & abominable parent.

Our reality is that we don’t know & not knowing gives us the teensy sliver of space needed to see the possibility of something we don’t begin to understand & to stop looking for answers that might not even exist in a form we can fathom.

And that goes for people who idolize their parents, who put one or both on pedestals.  Hey, they are human!   Don’t try to duplicate their lives – realize that the greatest tribute we can give them is to be fully our self & if they aren’t okay with that, then they aren’t all that ab fab parents in the first place.

Not that ab fab parents don’t exist – I’ve been honored to know quite a few, where adult kids love to come for extended visits & they get along with each other & nurture one another’s dreams.  Such parents & their families are blessings in my life, but they are the first to say that all is not as smooth as it looks from the outside.  The BEST parents I know are the ones who let themselves be vulnerable.

Am shaking my head in disbelief at three sets of parents I know who were terrific, encouraging their children to be true to themselves, who gave their kids the basic life skills to do well on their own & the deep roots that let them know they always held an essential place within the family.  And they each had a child who lashed out at them BECAUSE they did so well: one felt betrayed by parents who had disagreements & arguments, but never spoke in anger, which “caused” her first marriage to fail because she never learned how to FIGHT; one blamed his parents for his drug addiction because they never gave him anything to safely rebel against;  the third slammed her father for being an emotionally generous person because she measured every guy against him & found them wanting.  Definitely children who don’t respect their parents’ humanity!

When we see our parents as humans, when we respect that they have back stories & challenges that we don’t know, when we understand that some of our parental issues are rooted in things that we saw through the eyes of a child or adolescent, teen or clueless adult – when we get that our perception is intrinsically flawed, that we look at them through an inherently broken lens, we can come to realize that our perception of the rest of our family & of OUR SELF is similarly flawed.

I don’t think that the commandment to honor our father & our mother that our days may be long,  aka prosper, means having to obey or love or even like them.  We might not be able to tolerate being in their presence or feel repulsed at the thought of providing hands-on support to a parent who was so not there for us, but we are called to see them as human.  We might think that our father & mother are the best people on the face of the earth & that they have the sort of relationship with themselves & others that makes it a lock they will be together forever, in this life & beyond.  Or they might fall in-between.  Whichever – we are commanded to neither damn nor glorify them, but to accept them as PEOPLE.

Here’s the divinely wondrous thing – when we are truly able to see our parents as fully human, in spite of their flaws or fabulous traits, we are freed to see our siblings in the same way, freed to see others who might had done us dirt in the same way,  freed ultimately to see ourselves in the same honoring light that respects our humanity without discounting our history (another post in itself!).

When we can honor everyone’s humanity, we’re freed to acknowledge in our mind heart soul that there are stories we do not know, inner thoughts hidden from view, intentions we can’t perceive let alone judge – even when they are ours.  When we can do that, when we can start out to honor our parents’ frailties & strengths in equal measure & spread that same god-sent dynamic to everyone around us & the soul within us, then the commandment is fulfilled & our days will be long – we will prosper & thrive – on the land, the life the Lord our God has given us.

Correction… NOT!

A friend corrected something in yesterday’s Crazy Transparent post – “You give the impression you’ve never worked with people with serious age-related problems, but Anne Hyatt was a client  & she was dealing with advanced dementia in her final years.”

Yes, that is true.  Over her final years, Anne could not remember the date or day from moment to moment.   But it rarely brought her down & never held her back.  No one was readier for the next moment of joy than Anne Davis Hyatt.  Things that might have walloped others, she just took in stride.

We’d be out on a drive, heading to or from dinner at Pineville Tavern or The Landing, maybe up to Centre Bridge Inn to hear Barbara Trent’s jazz stylings or down to Square on Square for the All Star (Jazz) Trio & Anne would be enthralled by a gorgeous sunset.  She’d stretch out her hands as if to encompass the glory & say, in total wonder – “I don’t remember what they’re called (the trees, clouds, sun), but isn’t it BEAUTIFUL!  I’ve never seen such a beautiful sight!

That is a woman dealing with dementia, not brought low by it.  Although, in her last year, Anne often forgot the names of those dearest to her,  she but never failed to connect, heart to heart if not name to name.  And she always smiled when we mentioned her daughter, LISA.   Anne LIVED with dementia, she was not devastated by it.

Did John & I have a hand in helping Anne keep her emotional balance after her practical memory was knocked off base?  It would be nice to think so.   But I stand by the statement in my earlier post, because it was always a pleasure, never a task.

Am grateful for the opportunity to post, in lieu of a correction, this celebration of a great soul & a big life.

Times Three – writing prompt

Thank you to LiveYourDream.org for this week’s writing prompt:

Think about three times in your life when you felt a significant amount of joy, peace or accomplishment.

Do these experiences have any elements in common?

What might that say about you as a person?

 

If you journal, I hope you find this a useful prompt.   Or just use them as interesting questions to mull over throughout the week.

If you don’t, I strongly suggest starting.  My mother inadvertently stumbled into what amounted to journaling at 90, over her last 18 months, after I’d been trying for years to get her started.  She did, albeit in her own time, in her own way – to my surprise, online!

Journaling packs power at any age, as much for our personal development as for recording events thoughts memories.  From key-locked diaries to Moleskine to one-of-a-kind leather journals, from very young people pouring out their dreams to the very old doing the very same thing, following a daily writing practice reaches across the life spectrum.  As soon as you can write, you can journal!  And people who struggle with writing can turn to audio, even video journaling.

Although my professional life requires writing voluminously every day, on my blog & laying down my book, my FIRST writing every day is in my journal – by hand, at least three pages, stream-of-consciousness rather than carefully crafted.  It gets my head in the day’s game, is a consistent starting point, an immediate & very personal accomplishment.  In ways that surprise me, it often feels like a form of meditation – grounding, promoting a sense of peace & connection with the universe.  It’s become something bigger than just writing, yet more intimate too.

 

From Grandtimes.com:   The reasons we journal are as varied as the different types of journals piled high on bookstore shelves today. Journaling brings self-knowledge. Writing down your thoughts, venting your emotions about a problem or situation in your life, or just recording scribbles, poetry, inspiring quotations, and dreams brings you closer to who you are. It is a window into what is important to you.

You may have a particular intention for your journal. You may want to leave a legacy for your children or heal from a divorce. You may be working through an illness, or you may need to release emotions in a healthy way. You may be developing material for a novel or otherwise nurturing your creativity.

But you don’t need to have a specific reason. A journal can be a companion, a best friend, a way to tap into your intuition, or a place to dump your emotions so they don’t land on friends and loved ones. Your journal can be a way to clean out the junk in your head so you can focus on what is really important to you.

Ultimately, writing in a journal is an act of self-love. Your journal is a safe place to get to know yourself and discover who you are. It can bring clarity in a confusing world that bombards us with messages and images of who we should be, what we should want. A journal allows us to paint a picture of what we want our lives to be, and helps us love ourselves enough to create it. Your writings, musings, and doodles are a way to talk to your soul.

Crazy Transparent

 

Truth is I’ve never been big on playing things safe.  Over the years, I’ve taken what others considered foolish risks speaking truth to power.  I was raised to stand for what I believe is right, just as I was taught to listen to dissent.  We are here to make a big difference, not to just make it big.  And reality is that I benefited tangibly  from standing up instead of sitting down, much to the shocked amazement of family friends co-workers.

My blessing is that I’ve known people who have reached great heights, who make mega bucks & live BIG lives ~AND~ touch people in remarkable ways, make a profound difference to those around them & the world.

And people who appear to have small lives who make out-sized differences to those in their hearts & in their care.

And then there is me.

I made it what people would consider big in the corporate world.  Never came remotely close to corner office status, but I made my mark & garnered my share of accolades.  Successes that can be traced to opening my BIG mouth instead of playing it safe, in being whackadoodle innovative in the face of old-school stone walling, in unconsciously ruffling feathers instead of strategically soothing egos.

This came alive for me reading p. 78 of  THE AGELESS WAY ~ “Truth-telling isn’t just about speaking out on big issues.  It’s about embodying our truth, big and small.  It starts with being honest with ourselves, with who we really are, inside and out.  and then stepping into that truth…  ~  Every day is your moment of truth.”

What makes this a challenge to do is  that we all have our own experience of truth.  I can say without a entsy teensy bit of doubt that people I hold dear to my heart do NOT share my ideas of what qualifies as truth.

There are people who care deeply about us who think that John & I are nuts to live the way we do.  We see it as living from our truth.

For those who don’t know our story, when we were married in 1989, everything in our personal & professional lives looked totally on course to FABULOUS.  I had a rewarding job working in Public Relations & Advertising at Prudential HealthCare, with a boss who cared about what we did, not just checking off each project as it was completed.  John had a booming career as a freelance commercial illustrator.

Within eight years, his client list was decimated by computers & mine fell apart when PHCS was acquired by AETNA & I became superfluous.

If you looked at our lives over the next twenty years, they could seem to be falling apart at the seems.  Not a typo.  As in well-meaning friends saying things like “it seems that two talented people like you should easily find new jobs” ~and~ “it seems like you should look harder for new work.”  They meant well, but didn’t realize – heck, we didn’t realize – that everything WAS coming together.

The work we both did in our earlier lives trained the two of to become cheerleaders for expansive living right across the age spectrum.  We are terrific at enrichment, totally suck at any sort of maintenance help because our truth is we’ve known precious few elderly people in need of “daily task” support.  Until her last five weeks, Mom handled her list of meds, Mom M. lived 100% independently, their friends were singularly capable of taking care of themselves with a modicum of assistance.

Another core truth to know about us is that we incline toward collaboration AND yet we lead fairly solitary lives.  For a very long time, that was a sadness, especially for me.  Not any more.  Because solitary is our current truth, we are able to do nutty things like drive to & from DC for an Aging2.0 cocktail hour event – no kids tried to convince us to stay home because all our children are 4-legged, furry & meow.  We can nip into Philly tomorrow to attend our first Positive Aging Lunch because no one needs us to baby watch.  We can take back-to-back trips to NYC on Wed & Thurs without anyone cluck clucking that, at 65 & 72, it is too much.

For years, it grieved my heart that we never had children.  Now, I see where it gives us the free time to do things that beckon, from attending events to writing blog posts to checking out books articles websites that others are too maxed out to read.

The only way I can make a success of what we are setting out to accomplish is to be as open transparent as possible.  Neither of us have any letters after our names, our value is rooted in our personal life stories, our experiences with remarkable older men & women who were lights unto our paths during their lives & will illuminate our uses to the end of our own days.

We look forward to returning to the financially stable lives of past years, but are currently in flux in that department.  We choose to interpret our status as being on the edge of tomorrow, as we channel Proust – “If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure is not to dream less, but to dream more, to dream all the time.”

Our truth is that we live on the edge because we seek to push it out more & more, to help make it possible for everyone – whatever their age – to live as expansively as both our mothers, as friends like Anne Hyatt &  life mentors like Otho Heilman, Viola Ridgeway, Aubrey Odhner.

We are fledglings at being organized & using time effectively, but we move forward in wiser directions every day.  I cannot overstate the boost I’ve gotten from Karen Sands’ book – 1/3 of THE AGELESS WAY is a workbook that feels written just for ME, a companion to THE GREATEST SALESMAN IN THE WORLD, the book that finally – at 63+ – got my head fully in the game.

There might be things shared here that leave you thinking, “Seriously?  They admitted that?”  John & I have no fear – not of scrounging enough together to feed both the cats AND  us, not of school taxes, not of roofs needing reshingling,  certainly for a 141,000 mile stout-hearted & true car.  We are explorers, whacking our way through the unknown, going boldly forward .

Terra incognita if ever there was one!  A place where more & more people celebrate 100th birthdays, as four living generation families – sometimes under one roof! – become less & less a rarity.

We’re moving toward a time where lifetimes are significantly lengthened but old negative images of aging upward remain deeply entrenched, in our culture & our minds.  Turning that around requires daring souls willing to speak truth to the powers-that-be  (including our own loved ones, including ourselves!),  willing to be transparent in goals & outspoken in intentions.

Our communities nation world need all of us to to be brave courageous audacious enough to pair truth-telling with equally brave courageous audacious LISTENING.  We need to embody, each in our own ways – from over-sized & outspoken to small & hushed – the iconic Apple ad…

Here’s to the crazy ones.

The misfits.
The rebels.
The troublemakers.

The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.

You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.

Because they change things.
They push the human race forward.

While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.

Because the people who are crazy enough to think
they can change the world, are the ones who do.