YES! quote du jour

 

For all that has been – thanks.  For all that will be, YES!

I discovered Dag Hammarskjold as a fairly solitary 8th grader in a small school.  My 7th grade teacher fretted because of my love of MacBeth, which she considered WAY too depressing for someone so young – she didn’t get that the mayhem & murders (although the tears always started on reading MacDuff say, “What, all my pretty chickens and their dam At one fell swoop?“) swept past me, that I lost myself in the play of words & interplay of personalities.

Everyone else was a character to me – MacDuff, whose humanity I sensed & whose pain I felt, was real.  It was natural that I’d be drawn to the great Swede, appreciating even back then, several years after his tragic death, the complexity of Hammarskjold’s character, the contradictions he made work for his humanitarian ends.

From what I’ve read & what I learned from my mother, also an admirer, Hammarskjold was a very private man pursuing a very public purpose.  He was proud of his Swedish heritage, yet acted as a citizen of the world rather than any one country, witnessed by his service as the second Secretary General of the United Nations.  His family were nobles since 1610, yet he was every inch a man of the people.  He had had the gift of connecting with others, yet let few people into his full confidence.  He was a master diplomat & statesman, yet his focus was always on the outcome, never manueverings & machinations.  He held out the hand of caring support, yet was careful to step when people needed to learn from their struggles.  He was a man of peace, but died violently, many suspected due to forces who did not want him interfering in Rhodesian (now Zambia.

As an 8th grader, I fell in love with his posthumously published book, Markings (Vägmärken).  I came across it again about ten years ago, in the library of a client who insisted that I take it.  Reading through it – selections from his dairy, starting in 1925, when he was twenty, ending a month before his death.   The source material was discovered in his New York apartment, along with a letter to one of his UN colleagues & a fellow Swede, saying they were the only “true” portrait of him, giving permission for them to be gathered into a book, “if you find them worth publishing”

When I share favorite quotes, which I hope to do regularly,  most will NOT come with a long backstory, but I doubt I would be doing the work I am, doing my best to make the lives of all ages as expansive as possible, without Dag Hammarskjold.  His life is an inspiration, his writing is in my soul.

That Your Days May Be Long

Guess it was about five years ago that I first got a hankering to write a book on something that comes as naturally to me as breathing – making the 5th Commandment an integral part of my adult life.   But it didn’t occur to me until John & I worked with Anne Davis Hyatt, after she lost her O Best Beloved, Kent.  She’d make blue days stormy grey by fretting over being a burden on her children, on taking up their time when “they have their own lives to live.”  For weeks, I was stumped on how to turn her downward spiral back up.  Then it happened.

Anne was a devout Christian, knew her Bible – the Ten Commandments were etched on her heart.  We were out on a ramble when she started in on being a sorry imposition on her children.  I heard myself reply, “So, you don’t care if your children have remarkable lives?”  That got her attention!   She swung around to look at me as she indignantly spouted, “I want the BEST for my family!

I had my opening – the rest flowed out, all improv, a spontaneous AH HA coming on the spur of the moment.

“Well, the 5th Commandment teaches us that when children honor – care about & for – their parents, they  are gifted with “long days,” which I think means contented, happy, feeling prosperous.  By giving them the opportunity to be there for you, you give them the opportunity for having special lives.

It was clear that Anne was trying to come up with something to refute my statement.  She couldn’t.  That was the commandment.  It clearly states that children who honor their parents are bestowed blessings for their “right spirit” connection.  She was stumped.  “I never thought of it that way. ”

I’d like to say that Anne never again beat herself up for being a drag on her family, but I can note that she bowed to my reasoning whenever it came up & in time did stop saying it.  Not because I countered with something she already believed, but because it was true. For me, it wasn’t that something she believed had a deeper meaning than she’d realized, but that, until that moment with Anne, meandering along the back country roads she loved, neither had I!

Honor v. Obey  ~ The 5th Commandment,  the bedrock of Judeo-Christian faiths & reflected in many other faiths & cultures around the globe, teaches us to “Honor your father & your mother, that your days may be long upon the land with the Lord your God gives you.”  Sadly,  it’s too often paired with Paul’s millenia-later edict to the Ephesians, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right”  –  “obey” conveys a significantly sterner message than “honor”;  the first is rooted in a compelled will, the second flows from the heart.

My life was significantly blessed from my earliest awareness with a respect for Mom & Dad – as my parents, but also as people.  Maybe it was because of knowing so much at such a young age about their histories – Mom was a great storyteller & often shared tales about her childhood sibs parents & what she’d learned about Dad’s.

Backstory  ~  Maybe it was because the two of them experienced such multi-layered personal tragedies in their teens, after idyllic childhoods, that my protective emotions toward my parents were stirred early in life.  As a child, I saw them as my parents – protectors, teachers, task masters.  In my teens, I saw them as a devoted couple who loved each other, their children, our church, community, schools, nation.   In my late teens & early twenties, I started to get an inkling that they had very different expectations for me than they had for my eight years older sister – I noticed it, but it didn’t fully register.  That didn’t happen until after my father was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor & died – at 63 – when I was barely into my twenties.  That was when I first fully experienced honoring my father by being there for my mother.  Not that I had any choice in the beginning of her long widowhood – was in my junior year of college, living at home & close enough to walk to classes.

Between the time Dad died & Mom was reunited with her O Best Beloved, 28 years later, the longest Mom & I lived apart were the months between when I married John (I was 37) & when she, on the advice of John’s accountant, moved in with us.  (“If you get along with your mother-in-law so well, why are you helping pay her rent instead of her helping pay your mortgage?“)  Just a shade over nine months after our wedding, Mom moved into the room between my writing studio & John’s art studio, the very room she was in as she slipped from this life forward, thirteen years later.

John – an only – had a similar relationship with his parents.  His father also died in his early sixties, in his sleep from a massive heart attack.  He was his feisty fabulous independent mother’s strong right arm from the day his Dad died to his mother’s death – also in her home, also of a massive heart attack – at 87 years.  We were blessed that the two moms, who had six weeks were they were the same age, clicked & that what Mom M needed from us never clashed with my mother’s needs.  Mom felt purpose-less living on her own, while Mom M loved her relatively independent life on Akron Street.  John & I had the good sense to KNOW that we were blessed by our mothers’ complementary natures that complemented rather than clashed.

Good old-fashioned common sense – it didn’t hit me until now, but maybe that is what our experience with honoring our parents came down to.  Both of us were born with a strong helping of it.  Both us saw the need our mothers had of us, saw our ability to provide genuinely caring support, could see its win-win possibilities.  Maybe being there for our parents comes down to being in tune with what needed doing & capable of getting past the gunk that might get in our way of getting it done.

Hopes, Expectations ~  To be honest, the promise of a long life doesn’t ring my chimes as much as having one that’s full, balanced, blessed with meaning & purpose.  Thanks to being there for my mother, I have that because through working with her, dealing with her, surviving her, I learned the essential qualities of honesty, altruism & detachment.

My mother & I had very different expectations of family.  Due to her experiences from her late teens through to her forties with her own  mother, Mom saw herself as the THE person responsible for keeping things on an even keel.  Since she always saw us as being two peas in a pod, so she handed her expectations of herself down to me, especially after Dad died so young.

Mom was devastated by my father’s death.  For weeks, she sat in the living room, in the big lounge chair she’d bought for him, rarely speaking, rarely moving.  When she finally worked her way out of that incapacitating grief, started to come back to us, she seemed to divide their relationship between my sister & myself.  (I lived at home because I was still in college, Mim did because she would camp out there over periods of her life up to when Mom moved into with John & me.)  Mim drew out the emotionally-connected, caring energies that had been a reciprocal part of my parents’ relationship, while she gave me the protective role Dad had always devoted to her.  And thus it stayed for 24 years, until she was 87, when she opened herself up to change in how she saw herself, her children, the family.  All of this is my long way of saying that while Mom lived with me for 28 years, none of them were easy, on either of us.  And yet we made it work. In the end, by her death at 91, both of us were different, better people for having been in the mother-daughter relationship we’d sometimes wondered if we’d survive.

 It Ain’t Easy  ~  Honoring our parents isn’t easy.  Yet it’s what we’re called to do, through our faith, through once-the-norm cultural expectations.   The commandment doesn’t say, “If you get  along with your parents,” “If your parents treat you decently,” “If everything was great & they were more your best buddies than parents.”  Nor does it mean,  I believe, putting yourself & those you love at risk.  It doesn’t mean always agreeing, never getting upset, that there’s always harmony.  I camethisclose to a nervous breakdown, while she was often left her looking & feeling like a deer caught in the headlights.  There was serious friction between us to the last days of her remarkable life.

Full Disclosure  ~  In the interest of full disclosure, we did not accomplish this feat on our own.  Mom, whose love of reading grew even stronger as her energies dwindled, discovered Stephen Covey, Nathaniel Brandon, Marianne Williamson, John Bradshaw & many others in her late eighties.  We listened together & discussed their audio tapes, read their books.

Perhaps the greatest thing we did was read – separately – Ram Dass‘ well-thumbed,  Still Here,  with his beautiful observation that in situations involving the dependency of one & the needed support of others, that the roles of server & served dissolve into simply mutual service when if how the partnered care is approached with a right spirit on both sides.  We practically leapt with joy, sharing that passage, which so completely captured what both of us had experienced for three years.  And it harks back to the promise of the 5th Commandment, because is there any better life than one marked with true service, with meaning & purpose?

Mazel Tov!  ~  My thanks to Anne, for sparking my awareness of the forever relevance power importance of the 5th Commandment – if she hadn’t been feeling so low about herself & set me pondering how to jostle her out of it, maybe the full impact of a commandment I’ve heard all my life but had never given much thought wouldn’t have hit me.  Now, to get my head together, my writing processes honed & at the ready,  and onward to writing That Your Days May Be Long, nurturing a 5th commandment meme & mindset for the modern world.

May there be a blessing!

Gypsy!

 

It takes the heart & soul of a gypsy to live the sort of life the Universe staked out for John & myself.  Praise be, he’s an artist, so a semblance of that unanchored existence was already part of our dynamic.

If we provided high-end maintenance support, folks would be clamoring for services.  Alas, neither of us are experienced helping older people navigate daily tasks, provide other forms of in-home care.  We rarely interacted with elderly people.  Although our mothers lived to ripe old ages & both saw their bodies decay, their minds & spirits were sharp & their engagement with life keen to the last.  They were old, never elderly.

People often quip, “We want to have you work with us when we get old!” – but wouldn’t think to have us scoot Great-Aunt Molly on a drive or take dear Dad out for a minor league ball game.  At least one woman in our little hometown says she’d NEVER hire us to squire her around because we have too much fun, should do it for free.

Our client list is always fluid & not just because a client has departed us for Higher Realms.  Over the space of four weeks, we lost two sustaining clients.  In one case, the family didn’t consider it worth the out-of-pocket expense.  In the other, the older friend’s family stepped up to the plate – an optimum outcome, just not for us.

One thing we discovered since starting older2elder (just being older doesn’t make someone an elder) is that if people value what we provide, they think we undercharge.  If they don’t, they’d balk at anything.

Luckily, 25+ years in corporate America stands me in good stead in developing work that matters, that people value & give value.  I am not frustrated that some folks think I flagrantly over charge.  It’s of “soft” value, can’t be quantified.  My corporate bosses could grasp a dire problem, but typically balked at doing something that would prevent it in the first place.  Adult children aren’t all that different. 

The same sort of thing that 25+ years ago made insurers balk at paying for at-home care, so people were kept in the hospital significantly longer than need be in order for it to be covered.  Now, covering it is standard practice.   Some day, Medicare will recognize the value of social support as well as maintenance care, but not at this moment.  And youngers tend to balk at anything not covered.  Don’t mean to guilt them, but the same child who sees the need for a sponge bath doesn’t see the value of being socially engaged, if it means out-of-pocket expense.  A pity.

One younger I know, well off if not well-to-do, balked at getting a hospital bed for his mother because it wasn’t covered, purchased a walker with a flimsy shelf rather than spending the extra bucks for one with a seat.  Family members – like insurance companies – too often focus on costs rather than on outcomes.  Hopefully the son will realize, as the insurance company ultimately did, that dear old Mom being able to get up & walk with a good stride & sound sense of balance means less chance of debilitating falls, that a decent walker with sturdy seat will increase her choices of where to go – both will boost her confidence * reduce future care, costs.

We are a couple of gypsies, following the life purpose that courses through our veins.  If that means breaking out a begging bowl to get to events like the International Association of Gerontology & Geriatrics World Congress, we’ll tap into our inner monk & stand by the online highway.  (And offer up thanks it’s in the USA instead of Korea, France or Brazil!) 

We go to conferences, read books, surf the internet, seek out thought leaders because the ripple made over the past years is swelling into a wave that will sweep across the world to our shores, transforming eldercare into a full spectrum of valued services, from in-home care to a wide range of socializing that provides oldsters elders ancients with the options, choices, freedom we all crave.

Options, choice, freedom defines the care John & I provide.  Can’t do much better than that.  At least not if you’re just a couple of gypsies!

All I really need to know I learned from Robert Fulgham

Lifted straight from Robert Fulgham’s blog . It reminds me that often we are BEST able to do this when we have mucho decades under our belt.  When I read Robert Fulgham, I hope to someday come even slightly close to being so adept at putting what’s in my heart on the page…

Often, without realizing it, we fill important places in each other’s lives. It’s that way with the guy at the corner grocery, the mechanic at the local garage, the family doctor, teachers, coworkers, and neighbors. Good people who are always “there,” who can be relied upon in small, ordinary ways. People who, by example, teach us, bless us, encourage us, support us, uplift us in the daily-ness of life.

I want to be one of those.

You may be one of those, yourself. There are those who depend on you, watch you, learn from you, are inspired by you, and count on you being in their world. You may never have proof of your importance to them, but you are more important than you may think. There are those who couldn’t do without you. The rub is that you don’t always know who. We seldom make this mutual influence clear to each other. But being aware of the possibility that you are useful in this world is the doorway into assuring that will come to be true.

My way is to keep writing and sharing that. What’s yours?

 

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.