Archives for category: Elder

These days, as always, horrific natural and human made catastrophes are occurring, as close as California and as far as Myanmar. More than half a million Rohingya Muslim refugees, starving and exhausted, have been flooding into Bangladesh following waves of killings and abuse by Myanmar’s military. Closer to home, unprecedented northern California fires, that started more than a week ago, so far have killed more than 40 people (with 200 still missing), destroyed 5,700 properties, and forced 75,000 people to evacuate their homes.

Such disasters and atrocities also include recent merciless hurricanes in the U.S., terrorist mass killings in several countries, and a host of other unimaginably destructive natural disasters and taking of human lives by military/government and terrorist groups. What can we do as individuals who are busy with our own lives, but wanting to relieve and prevent human suffering and environmental destruction?

It is very challenging to face, respond to and act upon the overwhelming feelings of horror, sadness and empathy that such tragedies cause in us. Case in point: The devastating, record-breaking fires north of us in the wine country continue to dominate the news and to cause anxiety, sadness and feelings of helplessness for those of us who have not sustained any destructive loss.

However, we have been communicating with friends some of whose family and friends have lost their homes or been forced to evacuate without knowing whether they have a home to return to. Our friends have expressed deep appreciation for our concern and support.

What else can we do? We participated in a fund-raising dinner the proceeds of which were donated to a few of the nonprofits providing essential services to fire victims. What else can we do? Review and share information about disaster preparedness with friends in our area; and update our disaster prep kits and supplies in case a major earthquake or fire hits our home.

Each of us needs to explore what we can do to impact nature-caused disasters and human-caused injustices and atrocities. Offer your love, support and assistance to someone you know who suffered losses from fires in northern California. Make a contribution to an organization like Direct Relief (www.directrelief.org), the Environmental Defense Fund, Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Support a promising, fledgling organization like Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Explore needs and opportunities for volunteerism abroad.

A friend, whose home was threatened by the fire, wrote to people who had shared their concern and support: “Our meditation teacher, in her New Year’s Day talk this year, enjoined us to ‘breathe out gently the benevolent power of the heart’ in 2017. That is exactly what you are doing with your thoughts and wishes for us up here, and the results are miraculous. Speaking for everyone here, we are full of gratitude for your help.”

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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?

By Sandra Cohen and Roger Cormier

You can’t break your funny bone

He who laughs, lasts. — Anonymous

There is more than enough adversity and stress in the world and in our lives, but probably not enough laughter. Think about your most recent and other good laughs, and a smile will appear on your face. Laughter is good for us at any age or stage in life.

img_0831Studies have shown laughter can help reduce stress and pain, lower blood pressure, elevate mood, boost the immune system, improve brain functioning and protect the heart. It can connect us to others — we laugh 30 times more with others than alone — foster instant relaxation and make us feel good and be more open to others.

Author Missy Buchanan, in her book “Living With Purpose in a Worn-Out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults,” recounted how much she loved visiting her mother in a senior residence at lunchtime. A group of tablemates, all limited by multiple medical conditions and disabilities, told each other story after story and laughed their way through their meal. That caused other diners to brighten up and enjoy their meal more, too.

Laughter is good medicine and it is contagious. Think about it. Even when we’re alone, when something funny tickles us, first our face lights up and we smile; then we laugh, sometimes out loud; and occasionally we need to dry our eyes and regain our composure. Often our first thought is to share that experience by calling or e-mailing someone or passing it along in person.

Speaking of e-mail, many of us regularly receive jokes and funny stories and pictures via the Internet. We may wonder who has time to think these things up and start them on their way around town, the nation and sometimes the world. Fortunately, people do make time for humor, even in our busy and stressful world. If we would like to laugh more, how can we make that happen?

We can spend more time with people who make us laugh and who enjoy our funny lines and stories. Include more humor in our entertainment — reading, films, radio and television. Think back to funny experiences and swap them with others. Revisit the same image or story, and discover even more nuances that will tickle your ribs.

Studies show health-related benefits of laughter. Links to laughter web sites and laughter groups in North America and elsewhere: http://www.laughteryogaamerica.com/maps/; http://laughteronlineuniversity.com; http://laughteryoga.org

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 & 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!

 

“Don’t get all weird about getting older! Our age is merely the number of years the world has been enjoying us!!” (from a “Maxine” cartoon)

People often forward funny cartoons and stories via email to family and friends about people who are getting older – as in active senior citizens or frail elders. That is partly because it is easier to laugh about our aging than to just dread it.

We have been writing about growing older since the other side of senior citizen status. For us, probably the biggest change is that we retired five years ago and have been enjoying international living and travel with no serious health problems ever since.

Having created and run home care and geriatric care management companies, we are familiar with the impact of frail physical health and memory loss on aging individuals and their families. This perhaps is what most people fear as they move toward later life. It not only is painful and frightening to the affected senior, but it often dominates and diminishes the lives of primary family caregivers.

Another dreaded event is the loss of one’s treasured life partner. After deeply sharing life for decades, it is difficult to even imagine living without the partner. Adjusting to such a loss takes persevering courage, time, and patient support from people close to a grieving partner.

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We have always used the expression “growing” rather than “getting” older. That is because we believe it is critical to live our later lives, just as our earlier lives, with emphasis on positive activities and attitudes rather than passive fixation on what we might lose or fear. Fortunately, we have been blessed to have outstanding role models in this regard. We know many people who, in spite of diminished physical capacities and sometimes tragic loss, have continued to explore the world through travel, creative hobbies, volunteer service and dedication to their family and friends.

On the eve of Thanksgiving, a friend of ours (Tom Stella, corporate chaplain for a health care organization in Colorado) emailed “A Pledge for Grateful Living written by Benedictine brother David Steindl-Rast, OSB, in which he encourages us to overcome those aspects of life that hold us back from living not only gratefully, but generously, creatively, non-violently, and courageously. When our lives are characterized by the virtues he espouses, our living becomes a thanks giving.”

Tom concludes his Thanksgiving message by encouraging us to “live with abandon, taste all of life, savor the sweet and the sour. Bon appetite!”

Roger-Sandy

Sandra J. Cohen and Roger Cormier

As we grow older, we hope to grow wiser. One of life’s lessons, that two heads (or hearts or souls) are better than one, remains important in later life. These examples suggest the many wise ways we can grow by putting our heads together at any age:

-Life partners: Why do we tend to match up for life with someone who is so different from us? After infatuation comes the hard work of building a relationship with some-one whose personality and idiosyncrasies, and perhaps to some extent values, often conflict with our own. What a relief it is when we discover that compromising with or even adopting some of our partner’s perspective can add to the quality of our life. This can be helpful in countless ways from hanging pictures on a wall and choosing vacation destinations to handling adversity and opening ourselves to life’s simple joys and deepest mysteries.

"Just married"

“Just married”

-Family: An old saying reminds us that we can’t pick our family. We are born into it. From sibling rivalry to differences in chosen values and lifestyle, most of us are closer to some family members than others. Whether we’re best friends or have contact only at family events, we can learn from each other in matters of cuisine, culture, career, child rearing, politics, hobbies, retirement planning and more.

In families, there are ties that bind. Families often come together out of common love for an older relative to make difficult elder care decisions. Blending diverse perspectives and concerns often leads to mutual enlightenment, a truer picture of the elder’s best interests and more successful decisions.

-Friends: There is no deadline for forming and nurturing friendships. Many older adults have lifetime soul mates and continue to make friends at advanced ages. How do your friends complement your interests and needs? How often do you visit or communicate by phone, e-mail or mail? How much untapped potential is there for encouraging, advising and entertaining each other?

Friends come and go throughout our lives. Many people in their 80s and 90s have lost, in many cases outlived, most of their friends as well as families. Yet they sometimes welcome new friendships as if there were no tomorrow. As we often hear, all we really have is our present moment.

Memories by definition are from our past, and anticipation reminds us of our uncertain future. Friends can share some of our memories and aspirations, but more importantly, they can engage us today. They can help fill us up, go the extra mile or rest in the shade. They can help make us whole and receive what we have to give. The same is true for family and life partners, as well as people we work with or serve. Two sets of heads, hearts and souls are better than one.

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).