Archives for category: Aging, Boomer, Caregiver, Retirement, Seniors, Spirituality

By Sandra J. Cohen and Roger Cormier

The eloquent and charismatic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen inspired millions of Americans via radio, television and books throughout the mid-20th century. Countless people tuned into his weekly TV show, “Life Is Worth Living,” to hear his views, to experience the warmth and passion in his piercing eyes and to reflect on the meaning and purpose of their lives. Each of us has been influenced by inspirational figures and our life’s experience, but how do we determine whether at the end of our own life it has been worth living?

The answer to that question comes more easily for some than others. For many it changes as life changes them. Dreams can lead to disillusionment and pain, and despair can lead to hope and fulfillment. Whether we believe in an eternal hereafter or life that ends at the grave, what do we want to have in our hearts and have given to the world when our time comes? How clear and satisfying is our answer to this ultimate personal and individual question at this time in our lives?

At one level, how things are going for us and how we are feeling can influence our goals in life. Urgent matters and demanding personal and work obligations may leave us little time to get in touch with our deepest and ultimate goals. On the other hand, how often we have heard the advice “Live each day as if it were your last” or “You know not the day nor the hour.”

We want to balance our activities with our values. If we cannot afford the time to go on a spiritual retreat to review our life and clarify our goals, we can make some time today or very soon to focus on these needs. Even in the midst of busy days, we can make this happen. For example, we can reflect on how we feel about our life and what we most deeply want while we’re driving or walking somewhere, without the sounds of music or cell phone chatter.

As important as this is, there is a time for every purpose under heaven, to quote the Old Testament and a song by Pete Seeger. Two songs on Tony Bennett’s album, “Duets,” remind us to balance the deep and purposeful with the light and even frivolous. “If I Ruled the World” reminds us that we really want our life to count and “Are You Havin’ Any Fun?” encourages us to live in the moment and welcome the joys thereof.

At this point in your life’s journey, how would you assess the way it has gone so far? Your main values may be family and friends; career and calling; development of your talents and interests; contributing to community, social justice and the environment; living according to certain religious beliefs; kicking around and doing no harm; writing a book you feel the world needs; exploring the physical world and foreign cultures through travel; or only you know what else.

Are you happy with your goals? Do you want to make changes? Are you pleased to realize that overall you are satisfied and at peace? Or do you want to make it as much “our way” as “my way” going forward? If you ruled the world (your own or the outer one), how would you rule it? Are you havin’ any fun, son (or daughter)?

Life is about giving, receiving and coping. We are not all-powerful, but we can determine our hopes and attitude and give the world our all. As they say, today is the first day of the rest of our lives. How will our life be worth living?

 

By Sandra J. Cohen and Roger Cormier

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement,” Rachel Carson once wrote. “It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.”

It is true that as we move into adulthood, we face challenges, assume responsibilities, suffer disappointments, and find our waking hours filled with adult tasks. Some claim that grown-ups who retain some childlike behaviors should grow up, yet they often marvel at, enjoy, maybe even envy those who live in the moment and approach life with playful abandon.

Ironically, many think today’s children are forced to grow up too soon because they are placed in so many structured activities and exposed to more of the adult world than they probably should be. On the other hand, people from adolescence through advanced ages don’t feel they can give themselves permission, in playwright Tom Stoppard’s words, to “carry your childhood with you.”

Like so many of life’s paradoxes, we can convert this seeming either-or into a both-and approach that enriches our lives at any chronological age or state of development.

Sure, we may be busy, responsible and engaged in career, family and community, but we don’t have to let worries and fears keep us from enjoying activities associated with being a kid. Consider some of the ways we can be childlike today. On her website, http://www.tinybuddha.com, Lori Deschene offers these suggestions:

LEARN: Fill out your own permission slip to go to the aquarium, a museum or a nearby tourist attraction. If something looks interesting, take a break and go!

PLAY: Be silly. Look for funny things in your day and let yourself laugh about them.

CONNECT: Make a spontaneous play date. Invite people over right now, for no reason but to have fun.

CREATE: Assume you’d be really good at something — piano, rock climbing, organizing a club — and then find out, instead of assuming the opposite.

BE: Relax and do nothing. Don’t try to fill that empty pocket of time. You’ve been productive enough. Kick back, cut loose and let yourself waste a little time.

IMAGINE: Visualize a tomorrow with endless possibilities.

“It is never too late to have a happy childhood,” writes novelist Tom Robbins. What childlike quality in you is ready and eager to enjoy today?

Roger-Sandy

By Sandra J. Cohen and Roger Cormier

One day we saw an older man finishing a walk around a local reservoir with friends. From a distance only the words “I survived” stood out on the back of his T-shirt. We assumed it referred to his completion of a challenging run or walk. But it also occasioned some reflection on what it means to survive.

As we get older, we look back and recognize that we have survived in many ways. We remain physically alive thanks to a combination of genes, circumstances, luck and care. We have withstood and even grown through physical, emotional and financial losses. Our identity and roles in career, family and community have changed. Dreams have shattered and loved ones have been lost, and here we are finishing another walk or run around the reservoir of life.

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Why do those T-shirts always proclaim survival? We can just as well wear the message “I thrive.” Think about it. At any point in our lives, we both survive and thrive in different ways. Retirees struggle with the loss of their work identity, but they pursue new interests, activities and relationships. Elderly people lose some mobility, but apply themselves to new expressions and experiences such as watercolor painting or travel.

We don’t tend to advertise on T-shirts, however, when our lives take a nose dive from the pain and disorientation of such events as losing a loved one, feeling betrayed by someone we trusted, or sustaining a big financial loss or a serious medical event or illness. We go inward, do our grieving, accept support and understanding from people close to us, and emerge to test the waters in a vulnerable yet hopeful way.

The reservoir in this story can remind us that beneath our surviving is always a reserve, a source that calls forth untapped spiritual potential to thrive and move forward. Some seniors live in the past. Others fear the future. Many thrive in the now with gratitude, hope and commitment to themselves and others.

On a different, glorious, sunny day, we experienced a park with water cascading from every direction into crystal-clear lakes with fish visibly swimming everywhere. It reminded us that if we are stuck at the surviving end of life’s continuum, we can experience moments of surprise, wonder and awe that can inspire us to extend ourselves and thrive in ways we might dare to imagine.

The man at the reservoir met and celebrated his challenge. What waters will each of us allow to carry us to our next stage of living, learning, loving and laughing?

Roger-Sandy

By Sandra Cohen and Roger Cormier

Older people often are widowed after decades of a life together. Although each widow’s or widower’s grieving is unique, many, at first, find their life and emotions in shatters. If they seek guidance and support, they are advised that grieving eases up only after the hard work of experiencing painful feelings, letting go of the past and re-engaging in life.

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However, each grieving person’s path is different. Their emotional makeup and the nature of their lost relationship combine with consolations, discoveries and sometimes unexpected opportunities. To a newly widowed person, life may feel only sad and scary. After some grieving and connecting, it may start to feel more hopeful. Some invest more in previous interests and involvements like hobbies or volunteering. Others meet someone who becomes their new life partner.

When we are close to someone who suffers the loss of his or her spouse, it is important to impose no general judgments about their feelings, behaviors and decisions. One person may be reconciled to their loss because their partner is no longer suffering after a long, painful illness. Another may fall apart and become angry and bitter because the death cheated them and their spouse of long anticipated plans for retirement.

Occasionally a recently widowed person is attracted to and forms a deep, loving relationship with someone not terribly long after losing his or her spouse. Some of the family and friends might feel such an action was too soon in consideration of the deceased partner’s memory. Others might recognize that the newly widowed person never had a deep, close relationship with the late partner. The new pair deserves a chance to become a happy match.

Some widowed people, very engaging and enjoyable in the eyes of those who know them, always had close friends and much involvement with their family. Although they continue to share and spend time with people close to them, they also continue to miss their spouse every day for years. They could not imagine meeting and wanting to partner with anyone else compared to what they had with their spouse.

Because of our mortality, it is paramount to live every day as fully and lovingly as possible with our partners. It also is important that our life include more than just our partner’s closeness and companionship. Each person and couple work toward their unique, healthy, happy balance. When one of them is left behind by death, the bereaved person needs to work toward a new balance with understanding and support from the other people in her or his life.

 

Roger-Sandy

By Sandra Cohen & Roger Cormier

We overheard a woman telling a friend she had literally taken a leap of faith off a platform. The friend commented that it also took faith to mount that platform because it was shaky. The literal leap may have been a bungee jump or a ride along a cable above a jungle canopy. However, we found ourselves thinking about figurative leaps of faith that may or may not be physical or visible.

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The common meaning of “leap of faith” is believing in a truth without evidence. What struck us about the leaper above is that she believed and took a risk that at the end of the bungee or cable ride her adrenaline rush would pay off in a safe and very memorable outcome.

Whatever your age and stage of life, you probably have taken leaps of faith. In fact, such leaps are what enable us to grow older rather than just get older. Whether or not your leaps were physical and dramatic, they were by definition risky because the desired outcomes were not assured. In fact, the last state could have been worse than the first.

The shaky platform referred to above struck us as much as the woman’s leap. It seems that whenever we take a leap of faith, we do so from the platforms of our lives, which always are a little shaky. Even a fairly stable life platform does not prevent our legs from shaking when we feel invited or even compelled to leap into the unknown.

As we move into 2016, it may be the right time to consider our next leap of faith. It may have to do with our work, relationships with others or with ourselves, our health, travel, encounters with nature, or a long held dream or a brand new interest.

If you have not taken a leap of faith in a while, ask yourself why. Recall the feelings and outcomes of a previous happy leap.

Choose a leap that you feel optimistic and excited about.

Gauge how much resolve you feel and how much encouragement and support you need. Get feedback and backing from someone who is familiar with the shakiness of your platform and will celebrate with you when you land.

If you feel more like a procrastinator than a risk taker, accept the side of you that may feel like postponing your leap, but affirm the side that wants to move ahead and broaden your world.

Take one leap at a time. Get familiar with your changed world before taking your next leap.

Whatever your age and current attitude and outlook, as you entertain a possible leap of faith, remember the exhortation: Do what you have to do, with what you have, in the time you have, in the place you are.

Happy leap and happy landing!

Roger-SandyBy Sandra J. Cohen and Roger Cormier

What if during these challenging economic times you could travel anywhere you wanted for about half the normal cost? Countless seniors and baby boomers are doing just that thanks to home or hospitality exchanges.

They do so by using websites such as Homeexchange.com, Intervac Home Exchange and Global Home Exchange, which usually charge a modest fee to list homes. Even before listing your home, you can scan the sites to get a feel for it. Once you’ve listed your home, you can contact — or be contacted by — potential exchange partners to trade homes for a mutually agreed-upon period of time.

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Home swaps also often include such amenities as the use of a car or computer, or access to an area health club or community pool. Because you’re not in a hotel room, you can further save money by eating some meals “at home.”

A hospitality exchange (not offered by all companies) is similar, except homeowners host each other in their homes at designated times.

What if you don’t own a home? Explore partnering with relatives or friends willing to list and exchange their homes. Most exchange homes have two or more bedrooms, and people often team up for such travel.

How can you trust total strangers to stay in your home? More than 250,000 people a year make successful exchanges. The logic and experience is that if someone turns over their home to you, they will treat your home the way they expect you to treat theirs. Many people have done exchanges regularly over the years and report no significant problems.

Exchanges usually are made well in advance of planned travel. Before you propose or accept a particular exchange, you can research and select what appear to be your best options. Prospective exchange partners usually share practical information about everything from public transportation to local shopping to what to do and see nearby. In the process, they get to know and feel comfortable with each other. In non-simultaneous exchanges, you might meet the local partner who may be staying at a second property during your visit. In either case, exchangers often become friendly and sometimes even treat each other as family.

Locations that rank high as places people want to visit have a competitive advantage. Exchangers feature local and nearby attractions in their listings. When you reach your destination, you’ll hardly have time to pinch yourself to make sure you are really there and haven’t broken your bank. You will be too busy settling in, exploring and enjoying what once had been only a dream.

Roger-Sandy

By Sandra J. Cohen and Roger Cormier

In the words of Desmond Tutu, “Without forgiveness, there is no future.” Why and how do we forgive and free ourselves of pain from our past?

Studies have found that people who forgive are happier and healthier. Yet forgiving can be one of the most gnawing and difficult challenges in our lives. A Gallup poll found that while 94 percent of respondents feel it is important to forgive, 84 percent said they need help to do so.

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It’s easy for most of us to forgive someone who accidentally bumps into us on a crowded bus. It is hard to imagine forgiving someone who has abused, betrayed or left someone bereft of support during vulnerable times. The amount of damage, pain, humiliation and feeling of indignation and powerlessness that such behavior causes naturally adds to the innate difficulty of practicing forgiveness.

Here are some quotes that offer some helpful insight into the process.

Alan Paton: “When a deep injury is done us, we never recover until we forgive.” Regardless whether forgiveness benefits the person being forgiven, and without respect to an offender’s remorse or changed behavior, the forgiver can find healing, release and a freer present and future.

Lewis B. Smedes: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Another factor that makes it hard to get off the starting block toward forgiveness is the previous degree of intimacy, trust and perceived loyalty in a relationship.

William Blake: “It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.” Violation of such bonds can level us and leave us feeling painfully vulnerable for a long time. But forgiveness is not necessarily synonymous with toleration. If the person shows remorse or attempt at improved behavior, it may be time to forgive the other person and then terminate the relationship.

Forgiveness can release both the offender and the offended to grow in mutual respect and caring. Close, longtime spouses, family or friends often reach the point where a gentle, forgiving reminder is enough to abort or prevent yet another annoying or hurtful behavior.

It is just as healthy and freeing — and sometimes harder — to forgive ourselves, when needed, than to forgive someone else. Chances are that something in our mind, heart, soul, behavior hungers for such a tender look from our forgiving selves. Maybe today we are ready to gaze upon ourselves and/or someone else with such tender forgiveness.

Resources: http://www.theforgivenessproject.com (inspiring stories of forgiveness) and “Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness” by Dr. Fred Luskin (available in hardback, paperback and as an e-book).

Roger-SandySandy Cohen and Roger Cormier

As we get older, we realize we have less time on this earth. We think about how we want to spend our remaining and unknown amount of time. Many of us decide to make adventure travel a top priority because we want to experience other parts and cultures of our country and world. Then the question is where, how, when and with whom. Aside from budget limits and other time commitments, the choices are abundant.

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A longstanding service called Road Scholar (www.roadscholar.org), originally known as Elder Hostel, continues to offer seniors many travel and learning experiences in the U.S. and abroad. Road Scholar, which markets to adults, not just senior adults, is currently featuring such adventures as a the Wild Beauty of Kenya, a Spiritual and Cultural Journey Through India, and the Natural and Man-Made Marvels of Panama and Costa Rica.

Overseas Adventure Travel (www.oattravel.com) caters to seniors in general and has special bookings for single seniors. They offer land adventures to countries and regions such as Israel, Africa, Peru, Vietnam and India and small ship adventures to regions accessed by rivers and seas like the Nile, Yangtze, Aegean, Adriatic and Antarctic.

Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com), of guidebook and television fame, offers “back door” trips in Europe from Scandinavia to Turkey. Not necessarily billed as adventure travel, they nonetheless include sites and experiences off the beaten and comfortable path. Although many tour members are retired, they include Baby Boomers, young adults and families with children of college or high school age.

We often wonder why seniors would want to journey to exotic and even wild places with only seniors. The same question can be raised about why older people choose to live in seniors-only communities or spend their non-family leisure time with people exclusively in their age range. At one level, one can understand that some people want to be among people whom they perceive to have much in common with them. It’s  great to have choices.

However, when it comes to adventurous, exploring travel, our own most memorable mates include a couple in their 80’s eating up the wonder and wildness of an African safari with people decades younger than themselves. They were in the thick of the action from beginning to end. They did not just observe but communicated with Masai villagers and their children.

It is great fun to learn how other people of varying tenures on earth respond to the sights and sounds of wild animals and fiery sunsets in nature reserves. We know other older people who go on tours or set up their own travel adventures irrespective of the age range of fellow travelers or completely on their own.

However you select your broadening travel experiences and mates, your underlying motivation probably is the satisfaction you experience and the memories you treasure. It often leads to enriched understanding and feelings of solidarity with people met on tour, wondrous natural settings and people of different cultures. Some are inspired to get involved in movements for environmental justice and world peace, sometimes to the point of volunteering in the Peace Corps or other humanitarian programs.

One occasionally is fortunate enough to make friends with an adventure travel mate or two. Those relationships spring from a common spirit and build upon a treasured experience. Such a blessing is precious whether you have 50 or only 10 more years on earth.

Roger-Sandy

 By Sandy Cohen, B.A., R.N. and Roger Cormier, M.A., M.Th.

 Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) can look forward to a long and vibrant retirement. However, as the saying goes, “There are two ways to look at everything.” Boomers expect to live long without serious limitation on their activities. While it’s true their life expectancy is rosy, the prospects of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other disabling conditions associated with advanced age threaten the good life they foresee.

A survey by the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago found that half of Boomers expect to make it past age 80 without serious decline in their lives. 79 percent feel they won’t suffer any serious limitations until after they reach 70. Such optimism has a basis in actuarial data. Male Boomers have median life expectancies into their eighties and female Boomers into their upper nineties. Many current retirees continue to live full, active lives with no declines in their upper decades. Undoubtedly that will be the case for a large percentage of Boomers.

But what about those who reach their seventies, eighties and nineties at great cost to their health and independence? Twenty percent of those who live through their 65-74 decade and half of those over 85 will suffer from Alzheimer’s. At best, current medicines only mitigate the debilitating and life-threatening effects of dementia, physical frailty, diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions.

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 Many Boomers are experiencing the sad decline and suffering of advanced old age among their own relatives and other people they know. They see the cost of long-term care wiping out the limited savings of people they know in just a few years. No fate is more universally dreaded than outliving one’s peers and being forced to live in an understaffed nursing home on government assistance.

Boomers can increase the likelihood that their resources and health will support a vibrant, meaningful old age. For example, they can systematically save for retirement, work part-time during retirement, and build healthy exercise, nutrition and social involvement into their pre-retirement and retirement years. But then there is the luck of the draw. For example, Boomers can engage in certain health practices that are associated with lower incidences of Alzheimer’s, but they can’t control their age, heredity, genes and gender, which are associated with the dreaded disease.

Boomers and others who anticipate a vibrant retirement and a long life are well served by role models among the current elderly retirees. These are the people who saved as much as possible, who continue to look after their health, who remain connected to family and friends, who gratefully enjoy new as well as lifelong activities during each year that is given to them, and who accept and cope with declines in their health as best they can.

Most Boomers, as well as people in other age groups, hope they will live long, healthy, happy lives and die suddenly or after only a short illness. However, people increasingly are declining over a substantial period of time before their final demise. Just as our younger years are filled with opportunity, fulfillment, risk and suffering, our older years present new, enriching experiences and difficult losses. Whatever their individual futures hold, Boomers are the first generation who know they can live for a century. As they say, that can be a mixed blessing.

Roger-Sandy

Sandy Cohen, B.A., R.N. and Roger Cormier, M.A., M.Th.

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On a Sunday morning, people were walking or running around a beautiful, sunlit reservoir in the San Francisco Bay Area. One person was heard saying to her companion, “I don’t like how I’m living. I’m not interested in anything.” Do those words fit an older person in your life?

At times in our lives, we feel depressed because we’ve suffered losses or failed to reach our goals. Or we’re succeeding on the outside but wondering “Is that all there is?!” on the inside. Or we’re fighting a battle against losses associated with aging. Some combination of physical, emotional and spiritual factors is contributing to our feeling of depression.

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Elders who have suffered losses often find themselves in this situation. They lose interest in their life, including the world outside of them. How can they gain a zest for life? How can you help them get out of a depressing rut?

The woman complaining to her companion can provide some clues. First, she wasn’t blaming herself or the outside world. She recognized that she didn’t like the way her life was going and she was concerned at her lack of interest in anything. But she literally was taking some first steps to do something about it. She could have stayed home and wallowed in self-pity, but she was out circling a potentially healing natural setting. She also was confiding in someone who cares about her.

That’s a recipe for transformation. Don’t blame yourself or others or circumstances. Let caring persons in, whether they be family, friends or people in the helping professions like a psychotherapist, pastor, senior center director or support group. For someone who is depressed, such a recipe is a lot easier to verbalize than to enact. If you know someone in such a state, how can you help?

Take a couple of simple cues from the early morning walker’s confidante. First, she was literally walking the walk of her dissatisfied companion. Spending time with a depressed older person communicates your regard for them. Second, she was listening, just listening. Don’t offer opinions or encouraging words before really letting in and acknowledging your elder’s grief. Such untimely actions can convey that you’re more interested in lightening them up for your sake than truly being with them in their pain.

When your “walking partner” shows any sign of new interest in their life, gently reinforce it. For example, if they ask about people or activities in your life, invite them to join you for a social occasion. If they should invite your opinion and you have one, share it sensitively without “shoulds.” If they seem seriously depressed with no sign of improvement, help them arrange an appointment with their primary care doctor, who may prescribe medication or make a referral to a psychiatrist or other specialist or treatment program.

Two books that offer families insight about loss, dependence and understanding in late life are “Counting on Kindness: The Dilemmas of Dependency” by Wendy Lustbader and “Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders” by Mary Pipher.