Anne Bastings – imagination over memory

One of my greatest WOW! moments last year happened at the National Center for Creative Aging Conference & Leadership Exchange, when I was seated next to ANNE BASTING, someone I’ve personally known (thanks to NCCA!) for three years, when Jennie Smith-Peers announced to an ecstatic throng that Anne had just been announced as a MacArthur Fellow, recognizing honoring nurturing her work developing TIMESLIPS.

My gosh – what were the odds that announcement could be MADE at the conference ~or~ that I’d have just been catching up with Anne on what was happening in our lives?!

Anne is amazing.  I originally met her at my 1st (and THE 1st) NCCA Conference in 2014, where she opened my eyes to the wisdom of  connecting with oldsters elders ancients through their unbounded imagination rather than the often dispiriting attempts to dredge up hard-to-recall memories.  I recall, at both the 2015 & 2016 conferences, the rush of joy that swept through me on my first glimpse of Anne.

In this month of gratitude, how wondrous to listen to Anne, to feel blessed to have even a teeny tiny connection to her, to have growing connections with the incredible spirits of NCCA, of Positive Aging, of Leading to Well-Being, of the International Association of Gerontology & Geriatrics , of the Radical Aging Movement, of Aging 2.0.

Think global, act local!  My personal goal is to share Anne’s TED Talk with the remarkable people in my little hometown who make a huge difference in the lives of the people with whom they care partner, both older friends & youngers who need a little or a lot of support.  Imagining a circle of families friends professionals tapping into limitless imagination rather than time-stamped memories.  It’s been three years already – get going, girl!

Anne Basting – a master of creating moments of joy, of transforming others into masters.  An inspiration & butt kicker.

 

Je ne regrette rien

Je ne regrette rien.

Gosh, for DECADES – since French 101 with Margaret York – I’ve looked for a reason to quote the Little Sparrow.  Finally, I do!

For the second time over the past sixteen years, John & I are running on financial fumes, with any number of interesting possibilities hanging over our head.

Looking at our money in/money out last year compared to this & wonder – should we have done things differently?

Last year, we paid off our 2015’s tax obligations & 2016’s home costs & life expenses & $$ dental work AND underwrote my taking a January memoir writing workshop at Rowe Conference Center, the Leading to Well-Being Conference in the spring, the mid-summer Positive Aging Conference -and- the early fall National Center for Creative Aging Conference.

Do I regret shelling out the serious big bucks for those moments; would it have been wiser to store up our dollars like so many nuts against a potential income freeze?

Non, non et non!

It wasn’t that we believed 2016 marked our return to Summer 2001 prosperity.  Hoped – naturally.  But we know that having an older client base makes long-term projecting impossible.

Would we have set aside the funds for any one of the four “splurges” to boost 2017’s dearth of dollars?  Non!  Our attitude was that the return made from my attending each of those was significant enough to outweigh any other consideration.  That whatever hard financial times might crop up in the future, the forever benefits of what could & did come from each far outweighed any potential dire dilemmas.

AND WE WERE RIGHT!  We could be tossed on the street come Jan 2018, kept warm by a kaboodle of cats, but what was gained by me & indirectly by John was worth even that prospect.  It could turn out that being literally show our own door could be the genesis of a great book, leading to lecture tours & our own joint TED talk.

Because each of those events, from NW Mass to D.C. (2!). to northern VA revealed a new level of me to ME ~and~ I was old enough to hear see appreciate & APPLY what I heard saw appreciated.

That last – applying what I’d learned, experienced – was worth every penny spent & way more.  Applying what’s known & ostensibly understood was/is where my family went/goes horribly awry.

Enter to learn.  Go forth to serve.”    “Courage of the deed.  Grace for the doing.

The motto of  Lower Merion High School came into my life in my late teens.  A friend introduced me to the second, Shipley’s motto, just yesterday at Be Well.

It’s a 6-minute, 2.6 mile drive between the two schools, but they are forever connected in my heart. Neither is what I saw reflected in my surviving family, but their truth is clearly shouted out & LIVED by the dearest family of my heart.

With Mom, Peter & Mim, what mattered most was what you PLANNED to do, not what you completed.  As Mim explained it more than once to me & (sadly) lived, to keep the image of what could be accomplished at its greatest, leave it forever inviolate in your imagination, unsullied with the grunge work that would turn it into reality but forever less than imagining.

It speaks volumes, at least to me, that my keenest memory of the most awesome friends any human could have is of Dave stripping & refinishing a bureau for his unborn 1st child’s bedroom.  Stronger even than “Mom” Z teaching me how to play Yahtzee or Mark trying to say Chubby Bunny through a mouth stuffed with golden-toasted extra large marshmallows.  It gave the young dad-to-be such pleasure to be taking each step toward completion – small wonder it’s seared into my heart, personifying as it does courage for the deed, grace for the doing.

It took one Omega workshop, three Leading to Well-Being Conferences, two NCCA Conferences, one Rowe workshop, one Positive Aging Conference & the 2017 International Association of Gerontology & Geriatrics (IAGG) World Congress to get me to the point where it’s possible to realize that my CORE problem, the thing I didn’t see in my life even when Dad was alive was the basic understanding that end of any process is COMPLETING it.  If I was to go back in time & share that interesting factoid with my elementary & high school teachers, they’d look struck with a Eureka! moment, smack their desks & exclaim, ‘THAT explains her!

Regrets for shelling out the event, transportation, lodging meal costs, from $$ for the first two NCCA conferences (stayed with friends outside DC) to the $$$$$$ IAGG in SF?  Encore – non.  We could lose our place, but it pales in comparison to finally finding mine, after a 40+ year search.  We could be car-less by 12/01/17 if Gibbs doesn’t pass 11/17 inspection (don’t count him out – he has 1444,000 miles on his odometer & packing tape sealing cracks on the front passenger window, but he is stout-hearted & true),  but if are, will consider it an exercise in character building.

If we lost everything – which we hope won’t happen, but could – it would be nothing compared to all we’ve gained from investing in my conference/workshop bops.

Omega 2014* ? $$$.

NCCA Conference 2015** & 2016*** ?  $$$$.

2017 IAGG World Congress* ?  $$$$$$$.

The cost of finally feeling grounded in a sense of BEing wholly human, a mega step toward seeing feeling experiencing the divine in all?  PRICELESS.

Is that truly worth financial fumes?  Oui!

 

*Underwritten by friends      **Costs split between friends & myself          ***WE underwrote

 

Organized? Me?

In the month since my return home from IAGG, John & I have found our home church, are regular participants in a weekly mutual support group, participated in a full moon drum circle, started a meditation practice, take dinner every other week to a young friend & her two strapping sons & go out on a walk every night before bedtime.

John might very well wonder who absconded with his wife, although he seems happy enough with the changes.  The front room is finally cleared, the front lawn (my responsibility, with the rotary mower) is being shorn, we’ve shifted from nominally to healthy vegetarian meals, am up every day at 5:15 a.m., do my morning rituals then am out the door by 5:40 a.m. to get the heart rate going with a brisk walk around the block before settling in for journaling then at least an hour of writing.

Have even blocked out an editorial calendar for this blog.  GASP!  At the moment, it’s shaping up as follows:    Sunday – Mindwalker1910 guest post  ~    Monday – writing prompt  ~   Tuesday – book discussion   ~   Wednesday – guest post  ~    Thursday –  share a website    ~   Friday  – share a TED talk  ~   Saturday – introduce one of my heart mentors

What I shared with a friend from IAGG as we grabbed one final grab at the very tag end of the IAGG World Congress has turned out to be utterly completely FABULOUSLY spot on  – – unlike every other workshop & conference I’ve attended since 2014, I did not feel changed, transformed at the end of this one.  I felt whole, completed, at one with who I am.

Organized?  Me?  NOT the inspired winger I always saw myself as being?

Not quite.  Organized – yes!  And  still inspired.

Am found of a quote from Harvey, where a character shares with new friends, “‘Elwood,’ my grandmother would say – she always called me Elwood, ‘Elwood,’ she’d say, ‘In this life, you can be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’  For years, I was smart; I recommend pleasant.”

For years, I’ve tweaked that to say it IS possible to be BOTH smart & pleasant.  Likewise, am here to attest, on this day of our Lord August the twenty-ninth, two thousand & seventeen, it IS possible to be BOTH organized & inspired.

Just watch!

 

 

Becoming REAL (rough draft)

The following is the first draft of our talk next month to the Jenkintown Kiwanis.  It is very much a work in progress!

Becoming REAL

Everything I know about the essential nature of aging upward I learned from Margery Williams’ classic, The Velveteen Rabbit.  And from my mother, Katharine Reynolds Lockhart, aka The Velveteen Grammie, who quoted from the children’s classic to describe her own experience with growing older:

 “Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘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 those who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” 

In 2000, a year before she died, Mom wrote to an online circle of friends,  “I can 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.”

17 years after Mom shared that, John & I find ourselves in the vanguard of eldercare evolutionaries, dedicated to helping oldsters elders ancients live as expansively as possible.  We think about my mom, about John’s, about his grandparents & the older friends who seemed to surround me as I grew up & the two of us want what they experienced for the many, not the few.

Back when Mom wrote that, we would have roared at the thought we’d be speaking about the promise of becoming REAL.  In those days, John was busy with his railroad art commissions, while I was on a career high having been named in 2000 a major financial services company’s Employee of the Year.

Then, in autumn 2001, without warning, life went off the rails; our plans were tossed as the Universe took control, shaking us but ultimately leading to a wondrous path we’d never imagined.

Turned out the artist & businessperson had been eldercare evolutionaries in training over all the years that came before, preparing us to be right where we are now, as we are right now – awake & aware of the opportunities as well as challenges of aging upward in America.

Mom caught how many youngers feel about getting up there in years:

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, going 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 rocker? 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.”  And 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. 

Thanks, Mom, for summing up our mission, right there in your last line –  to do what we can to help every person experience full lives right up to their last breath, to be the broadest deepest widest expression of themselves possible in any given moment.

That sounds wonderful upbeat ideal – yet with too many oldsters elders ancients, getting them there can be an wrenching ordeal.  Chalk it up to physics – a body at rest wants to stay at rest.

In June, an 85-year old fellow in a senior residence – a family friend, not a client – slipped in the shower.  He caught himself before falling, but bruised his back muscles when he slammed against the shower wall.  He didn’t break anything, but the muscles were bruised badly enough to require a week’s bed rest.  Which is all it took for atrophy to affect his legs & fear to enter his heart.  Week after week, he resisted the staff’s offers to help him do his rehab exercises & he balked at us taking him out for our weekly meander.

After two months of admittedly yum take-out lunches (thick seafood sandwiches from Feast & Fancy) teamed with double-feature in-room film fests (heavy on Fred Astaire & Audrey Hepburn), John & I said ENOUGH.  That Wednesday, we put our foot down & hauled his wheel chair out, taking him OUT.

It was a challenge getting him into & out of the car, but we had a delightful ramble through Ambler woodside, saying BAAAAA at the sheep grazing at Fitz Dixon’s Erdenheim, admiring our favorite steamboat gothic house in Wynmoor, topped with lunch at a favorite diner.  The next week, we went through the same drill, having to weedle & plead to get him out.  The third – still had to cajole.  Then came the fourth – as we walked into his room, he sat upright, broke out in a big smile & a cheery HELLO, swung his legs over the bed.  He was ready to roll!

I wish we could say we’ve never run into heartbreaking situations.  One of the worst was the mother who refused to do anything with us because IF she enjoyed herself, it would lighten the burden of guilt she laid on her physician daughter for not spending every spare moment with her widowed parent.  The wonderful gentleman we had to drop because the daughter insisted we do housework & walk the HUGE German Shepherd because “you work for me.”  Or the mother whose children wouldn’t listen to concerns that she seemed a bit more depressed each time we saw her –  they were so full of themselves, they brushed away the books we suggested, refused to talk to their parent’s senior residence’s counselor & boasted to everyone about the book they’d write on how eldercare should be done – you don’t want to know the end of that story.

We’ve known some sad situations, but they’ve been rare.  People bring us on board BECAUSE we’ve been around the eldering block before, want our perspective.  They want us to be open & honest with them about what we see, offer opinions & suggestions if asked, but that the final decision is either theirs or their parent’s.

One older woman particularly stands out.  Her family brought us on because of her growing depression after their father’s stroke, just after they’d sold their house & just before they’d moved into Rydal Park.

Outside of our Moms, Anne Davis Hyatt & her family remain the high water mark of our eldering experience.  Her situation should have been particularly bleak.  She moved into a single-person unit instead of into the spacious apartment they’d picked out TOGETHER

Anne was alone, without her husband, without any friends, with six children who’d never been involved in her care, who loved her but were more like their engineer Dad than their super social Mom – oh, and she’d recently been diagnosed with early stage dementia.

But her six kids swung into action, laser focused on how could they serve as their father’s earthly hands, on what they could do to help their mother feel as fully herself as possible.  They researched care options, ran financial diagnostics & kept in close touch through phone conferences. Their findings suggested that pouring money into enrichment could lengthen her time in Independent Care, be less expensive than Personal Care – –  AND she’d be happy.

John & I were brought on right off the bat, within months of Kent’s passing, one of three different care partners, each with a different approach & particular strength. We got Anne OUT, Tamar accompanied her to art classes & Bible study, played the piano for her & read aloud, got her over to Bryn Athyn on Sundays for church & throughout the week to visit classmates friends family.  The third person, arranged by Rydal Park, escorted her to concerts & movies in the auditorium.  Her daughter, Lisa, visited her every Saturday morning & had her to lunch every week after church;  her sons alternated taking Mom out to Sunday supper.

The Hyatts used Rydal Park as one of several tools in their kit.  By including the personal family community in their mother’s weekly mix, they made the most of each & did their Dad proud – they were, indeed, his hands in this life, making sure his beloved wife was in a setting that allowed her to be her best self.

In her last year, even when Anne could not remember the day or date from moment to moment, she was ALWAYS ready for the next moment of joy.  She didn’t remember our names, but her face always beamed when we came around the corner because she knew she was about to have FUN.

The Hyatt children gambled that if they invested in enrichment activities – services not covered under Medicare or LTC – it would extend her stay in Independent Care, delay the onset of further dementia and reduce the amount of expensive, not necessarily all that personal personalized care.  This past January, John & I had a rollicking Saturday supper with Anne & several of Rydal Park buddies, six of us crowded & crowing around a table for four.  She had Sunday lunch with Lisa, supper with Hugh or Justin.  She chummed around with Tamar on Monday, had her quiet Tuesday (what we dubbed her “sabbath”) & should have had Wednesday dinner with us except she took a fall that morning moving the few feet between her bed & bathroom.  She was admitted to Abington Hospital, was in good spirits but declining on Thursday & on Friday, after the family was gathered, she was gone.  What a way to go!

We’ve been blessed to work with some remarkable families.  Anne’s children, who suddenly found themselves responsible for their mother’s well-being & saw their care as an extension of their Dad.  The niece who made sure her maiden auntie was getting at least somewhat balanced meals (left on her own, she would have stuck to chicken croquettes & mashed potatoes, no veggies, no water).  The clan matriarch who, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, is blissfully ensconced at the family summer home on a New England pond, each week bringing a fresh influx of this child or that, with his or her family in tow, with the last weekend the crowning glory, with as many children as possible descending to pack up the house for the season – Mary would tell & retell those stories straight through the coldest, bleakest winter day & we’d all feel the summer sun on our faces, the lapping of the water on our feet.

There isn’t a category for what the two of us do.  We call ourselves playfulness coaches working with all ages, all stages.  Eldercare evolutionaries working to radically change our nation’s current woeful culture around the elderly.

We reach to a future we can’t put into words.

This past July, I went to the 6-day International Association of Gerontology & Geriatrics 21st quadrennial World Congress in San Francisco.  I went not really knowing my why or what I expected to bring away.  It never occurred to me that I might add value to the momentous gathering of 6000+ specialists from around the world.

What I discovered is that what John & I bring, right where we are, who we are, was deeply valued by the men & women I met.  I met authors & thought leaders I’ve admired for years & was blown away when they told me how moved they were by my insights & perceptions.  It seems they’re so caught up in their specialities, they appreciate getting the view from the trenches.

John & I will always make time for a client or two, will always be there for our friends, whether an oldster elder ancient or their family, but we’ve cut back in order to reach forward.  I recently got Cyber Access for the Technically Timid off the ground;  CATT spins socializing into social networking, offering a friendly human interface to provide the tech timid with hands-free Internet access – just as I did for Mom many years ago.  Have laptop, will travel. And we’re working on a book – That Your Days May Be Long, nurturing a 5th Commandment meme & mindset for our modern world.

John & I look forward to developing new tools for families friends care partners to include in their own kits, to helping them become playfulness coaches.  John & I took unexpected paths to this work & we love it.  We get to touch people’s lives, to nurture a new norm where oldsters elders ancients look around as they trip the “old-o-meter” into their 70s 80s 90s beyond, finding their hair has been loved off, their eyes dropping out, loose in the joints & shabbier to look at – and it doesn’t matter because they’re still truly madly deeply themselves within each moment, each situation, on track to becoming REAL.

Doesn’t get any better than that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goosebumps – NCCA

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NCCA – the National Center for Creative Aging.  I have no memory of how the NCCA first came into my life, how I came up with the cockamamie idea that it made sense for me – at that time virtually penniless – to go to the first NCCA Conference & Leadership Exchange in D.C., but the monies were raised for the conference & transportation costs, lodgings (with friends, outside D.C., in what turned out to be challenging to access Herndon VA) was arranged, and down I went.

Will never forget sitting in the intimate, circle-in-the-round auditorium in  the Arena Stage performance space, of having it hit me for the first time that the NCCA was based 4-square on the work of Gene Cohen, a man whose book, The Creative Age, drop kicked me into seeing the WHY for the vibrant oldsters elders ancients all around me in our little hometown.

Had I researched the conference at all online, it would have been OBVIOUS,  but I apparently went down, flying blind.

So, why did I go, if I didn’t even take a moment to check out the conference schedule? I arrived with a vague idea of where the main event would take place, virtually no understanding of where the pre-conference workshop I’d signed up for was happening, basically no knowledge of what was happening.  Mind you, I got my first smart phone (yes, in 2014) immediately before it so I’d have Internet access;  alas, I hadn’t a clue how to use it, had to keep asking smartly dressed young people bustling along the sidewalks for their aid with Mapquest.

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Long walks – those I remember.  Not having a clue of the shortest route from one spot to the next.  Hadn’t thought to get familiar with the area, to actually map out where event locations, to look over the schedule.

Had never been to a conference before.  The first time I saw the program was looking at the registration materials, the day AFTER the wonderful pre-conference workshop.

My most vivid memory of the entire conference was hearing Wendy Miller introduced, realizing she was Gene’s widow, having it HIT me right between the eyes – – DUH!  ‘Creative Aging: Exploring Potential in the Second Half of Life’ screamed Gene Cohen & yet I’d missed it!!

What made me think about goosebumps I’ll forever remember?  Dipping back into the wondrous book given to all conference attendees – Creativity Matters: The Arts & Aging Toolkit.

Confession time –  Gene’s book, The Creative Age, no longer sits next to The Mature Mind on my bookshelf – lent it to someone who never returned it.  That fate will NEVER happen to Creativity Matters,  because it will NEVER leave my possession!

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Talk about goosebumps – that priceless book continues to astound me.  It is packed with priceless information & inspiration ~  looking at how creativity nurtures an abundant older age, at the value of incorporating the arts into our  life, of the profound advantage of senior centers & residences, adult-day care programs & long-term care facilities, of families & friends in seeking, offering participatory arts programs that go beyond the “arts & crafts” that so often seem the norm.  To REACH &, in reaching, to satisfy.

It was in 2014 – at the pre-conference workshop? – that I first heard “Like” (Elizabeth) Lokon, director & founder of Opening Minds Through Art, explain that with older people, especially ones facing the challenges of cognitive impairment, “simple is complex, complex is simple” – trying to to duplicate an actual image was a struggle, frustrating, but to create a beautiful abstract painting looked difficult but was simple.

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Which brings us to last month’s IAGG World Congress & the wondrous talk by Marilyn Raichle, who spoke about the enjoyment that her mother – who has Alzheimer’s – drew from painting.  Although the subjects were defined, the delightful images her mother created were deliciously abstract, showcasing the processing from the delineated start to what showed up on the page.

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Which takes me to feeling sad.  Sad that I never asked for one of of the beautiful paintings that Anne Davis Hyatt created over her closing eight years.  Like Marilyn’s mother, from one moment to the next Anne could not remember the day or the date, but she did paint evocative hillsides & rivers & skies capturing her wonder & love of the sense of it all.

That’s what I learned from the NCCA, why I continue to get goosebumps remembering that I haven’t the vaguest recollection of how we first connected – – it shouts from the rooftops the importance of helping people of all ages stay anchored in the glorious sense of living, that the arts, from painting to poetry & performance & beyond, open the way & present a path to doing what I aim to provide for all my own clients friends family – living as expansively, as fully themselves, as possible in any given moment, feeling the thrill of goosebumps at the joy of it all.

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!!

The Play’s The Thing

Human beings need play the way they need vitamins.  ~ lionel tiger ~

Spend the day with a typical older person living in even one of the better “senior lifestyle residences” & notice if any semblance of spontaneous, unstructured PLAY is part of his or her experience.

Too often, not much, if any.

The greatest source of playful interaction & connection is typically mealtime, where – if she’s lucky (and the vast majority of residents are women) – she’s part of a regular circle of friends sharing lunch & laughs.  Alas, such “breakfast brigades” & “lunch bunches” are far from the norm & many of the ones that meet every day focus on aches pains problems rather than providing lively & expansive back & forth.  Even the best are haunted by the specter of alteration by debilitation & death.

Typically, the more high-end a senior residence, the more choices there are for playful interaction, from year ’round swimming to fair weather golfing, dancing & bridge & the performing arts (as participant or audience). But how many of residents actually take part in those activities?  And if they want to participate, who helps makes sure they get to & from them?  Personal care in even the best facilities can fall prey to being top quality maintenance rather than continual enrichment, however well-meaning & best-intentioned its goals.

Top of the scale, Ma!   Everyone on the face of the planet needs a steady diet of laughter-lobbing play, play that gets the energies flowing, the heart pitter pattering, that deepens old ties & forges new ones.

I think of a young family who swiped my heart this past spring when I helped with the youngest while their mother finished up her degree work at a local college.  Those children –  & parents & grandparents – breathe play into everything they do, bring a sense of adventure & the unknown into all aspects of their lives.

That family sits atop the high end of my playfulness scale.  Don’t look to me to describe the sorry folks of all ages who slide down the scale to the very end.  My True North purpose is to duplicate/modify best practices, then upgrade, even transform lives.  Think Galileo, Pasteur, the Wright brothers, Robert Goddard – each was considered a crackpot or kook & look at all they accomplished, the paths they opened that others have traveled.  Boys – move over & make room for me.

When I look at that wondrous play-filled family that scampered off with my heart, I see children & parents who know their boundaries, who have chores, who place expectations on each other.  They live work play within a creative structure.  How can we create a structure where older people could value & access more play?

Alas, when people think about play, they tend to limit it to children.  Back in February 2008, the NY Times Magazine’s ran a cover story on play – spinning off a presentation by Stuart Brown & Krista Tippett at the NY Public Library discussing its biological & spiritual roots.  But four months later, in a wildly popular TED talk, Stuart (I like to think of myself as friends awaiting an introduction) pointed out that the cover didn’t show a single adult at play, only children.  They’d missed the point of his work – that play is as needed in adulthood as it is when we are in our single digits, teens, twenties.  In my experience, it is as important as fresh air & good nutrition for a happy, healthy life.

Background – seventeen years ago, I expected that 2017 would find me easing out of my corporate career.  I had an exceptional run & quite a few professional accolades & honors, including 2000 Employee of the Year.  Then, in late summer/early autumn 2001, it became clear the Universe had WAY different plans for me.  But it wasn’t until I crossed paths with Anne Davis Hyatt that I got the first aha about my True North life purpose.

Kent, Anne’s best beloved, died after a stroke, in his late 80s.  She was suddenly solo.  And depressed.   Oh, and been recently diagnosed with dementia.

Anne’s family gathered together, discussed the situation, then checked out best next steps.  Their conclusion – infuse Mom with play activities, with a variety of play mates.  They brought me on for rambles & restaurant runs; Tamar to scoot Anne back to her beloved little hometown for visits with family & friends, pal up with her for weekly painting classes, play the piano & read aloud; and, always, Anne’s children were there for numerous regular weekly visits, after-church Sunday dinner & Sunday supper.

In the 7+ years Anne was our client, I don’t recall a single serious illness, nor a hospitalization.  The healthy dose of social interaction every day played out in a strong spirit housed in a declining body.  She was out & about doing things right up to the day she fell in her apartment.  This was a woman whose dementia had progressed to the point where she could not remember from moment to moment the day let alone the date, but no one – NO ONE – was more primed for the next great FUN moment.  Anne would frame the sunset with her hands, saying, “I don’t remember what they’re called (the sky, clouds, sun, trees & fields), but aren’t they BEAUTIFUL?!”  Imagine if she had been left, as the vast majority of seriously older people are, without an infusion of play into her day?

Play’s the thing!   For now, Anne – like my mother – would be considered an outlier.  Praise be, I have spent my life surrounded by older people whom others would consider similar fabuolous outliers!  My goal is to help turn that around so that the qualities that hallmarked their lives are considered the norm rather than a happy aberration.

Ten years ago, even 7+ years ago when I first started chumming around with Anne, that goal might have seemed unimaginable.  Today, it’s more & more can-do, with remarkable individuals groups organizations coalescing to turn around our current culture’s woeful attitudes around & expectations of aging upward.

It speaks volumes that next week’s International Association for Gerontology & Geriatrics (IAGG) World Congress will, for the first time (!), feature as one of its official venues, The Age Stage.  It’s HUGE, that such an august body recognizes the importance & power of creativity, a cornerstone of play, in aging upward.

The Age Stage is a physical reminder that “the play is the thing.”

Four years ago, I discovered that the National Center for Creative Aging is rooted in the findings of Gene Cohen, a “book mentor” of mine for many years who died far too young in 2009.  So much has changed since the years where Medicare allocated a laughable (not in a good way) $250 a year for mental health. Gene fought to get that increased, fought for oldsters elders ancients to be considered deserving of good mental health, whether a kid of 65 or a 95+ grey head.  Just as most people accept the various ages of life, Gene believed that older age has its own stages – reevaluation, liberation, summation & encore.

I will be thinking of those stages – and reveling at my liberation – throughout the IAGG World Congress, blessed to be who I am with the background I’ve gathered (or been gathered for me), at this age, in this era, at this time, in this place.

Next week, the IAGG will give space & time to showcase the importance of aging creatively.  Give me a little time & watch me win them over to giving play its due!