21st Century Living

Creating the next chapter of your life.

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Do you seek new direction in your life?

Are you in the process of recreating yourself?

Well I’ve learned that it’s easier to know which direction you should go if you’re already in motion.

Painting Pasaulio sutvėrimas IV (Creation of t...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The world may have been created in a week, or zillions of weeks; either way, a lot of energy went into that creation and the world-in-process was not a stagnant one.

Trial and error.  I constantly look for ways to improve myself and increase my effect upon the community around me.  If I’m not contributing to a cause – regardless of how big or small – I figure, “Why bother?”  But if I wait around for some sort of change to occur, I’m going about it in the wrong way and believe me, I’ve experienced enough trial and error to write a book on the subject.  The trial and error approach works, however, if a person becomes well-informed and doesn’t take financial or personal risks that they can’t afford.  After all, sometimes we need to discover what doesn’t work for us in order to find out what does work for us.

Living or playing to your strengths.  My Baby Boomer direction was greatly influenced by Marcus Buckingham, one of the world’s authorities on employee productivity.  (By the way, his DVD series Trombone Player Wanted, is worth looking into.)  He suggests that to make your greatest contribution, it’s best to play to your strengths most of the time.  I have taken to heart Mr. Buckingham’s strong caution against veering off ones strengths path.  After all, when I’m creating a new me, why would I choose to do the lame-o, same-o with all its inherent dissatisfaction?  That’s like doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  That sure hasn’t worked for me.  In addition to playing to my strengths, I also play to my passions.  As a Baby Boomer creating my life’s next chapter, it makes sense to deliberately avoid activities that drag me down and weaken me and run to those activities for which I am most impassioned and inspired.

Find your niche and go for it.  I know what I like to do and what I’m good at so I try to consciously remain open to opportunities that directly relate to those strengths.   I thoroughly enjoy working with an older population of adults but I know what part of that experience I’m able to do, and what I’m not able to do.  For example, I know my limits on “clinical atmosphere” so any involvement with older adults excludes my participation in a nursing home or hospital environment.  But throw me in the midst of adults living in assisted living or dementia residential settings and I will make new friends of everyone with whom I come in contact.  Add to that my enjoyment and effectiveness as a public speaker, I look for every opportunity in which to use those abilities.  As a Certified Long-Term Care (LTC) Ombudsman, I have the privilege of meeting with and advocating for residents in LTC settings.  Additionally, I provide resident rights presentations at those facilities and at non-facility venues such as senior centers and city forums.  It’s the best of both worlds for me – interaction with my target audience and feeding my passion for public speaking.

hallway with doors to monks' cells at the form...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recognizing an open door when you see one.  On a recent Oprah’s Next Chapter episode, Oprah Winfrey interviewed Lady Gaga and at one point asked the singer how she came up with new song or album ideas.  This is the gist of what Lady Gaga said: she imagines herself in a hallway, there are doors all along the hallway but she knows there’s another door coming up further down the hallway that is more appropriate but it’s not readily visible.  Through trial and error she eventually finds the correct door/song inspiration.  How does she know that’s the door through which she is to walk?  When the door finally opens, the light floods in, she is able to block out all distracting noises, and her wishes and thoughts rise to the surface as a basis for her next song/album creation.  I’ve opened some wrong doors in my life as a result of incorrectly thinking that just because a door opens, that means I’m supposed to walk through it.  Again, trial and error comes into play and discernment takes a front row seat.

Not every door that opens is going to be the correct one.  When I’m in exploratory mode, I have to be very careful not to walk through the first door of opportunity that comes my way – regardless of how enticing.  When I make this mistake,  I quickly discover that I’ve committed myself to the wrong project and have had to withdraw myself shortly thereafter.  I didn’t look before I leaped – not a safe, or advisable practice to be sure.   It’s worth me taking the time to weigh my options; write a list of Pros and Cons; ask trusted individuals for their input; and then make an informed decision.  If it’s right for me, it’ll wait for me.  If this new opportunity allows me to play to my strengths and my passions, everyone benefits and there are few, if any, casualties along the way.

What does the next chapter of your life look like?  How are you going about writing that chapter?  I’d love to hear from you because I’m pretty sure I have quite a few more chapters of my own to write.

What are YOUR Lack-Of-Customer-Service Pet Peeves?

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Here are just a couple of mine.

Today I experienced the inevitable straw that broke the camel’s back regarding poor customer service that inspired me to write this article which, I warn you, will be full of complaints and negative energy.

I’ll start off with the incident that inspired the diatribe you’re about to read:

The original Piggly Wiggly Store, Memphis, Ten...
The original Piggly Wiggly Store, Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grocery check-out lines.  Purchased my weekly dose of grocery items today – a mere $225 worth.  From the start of the transaction to its bitter end, the checker didn’t utter one word.  No baggers were in sight so I started to bag my own groceries, even though there were two employees standing five feet from me at the self-checkout area with nothing to do other than to watch this Baby Boomer bag her own groceries.  (Bagging groceries by employees is still a common practice at most supermarkets in Washington State, including this one.)  The transaction ended with the checker putting a couple remaining items into a bag, handing the receipt to me, logging off his register, and walking away.  Mind you, all my grocery bags still remained on the checkstand counter, leaving me no option but to personally place them in my grocery cart.  I feel a letter to the manager forming in my brain – not the first letter I’ve written to grocery store managers.

A patient having his blood pressure taken by a...
I don't know why THIS guy is so happy! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Assembly line doctor visits.  I’m convinced that doctors are required to meet a certain patient quota per day – at least my doctor is.  The last few times I’ve visited her, she’s rushed me through the visit, even going so far as to do the following: 1) using a hand gesture to hurry me up – picture her hand going in horizontal circles in front of her while I’m trying to explain my reason for the visit; and 2) two weeks after major spine surgery this same doctor expressing her impatience by saying, “Hurry Irene, this appointment needs to end!”  Sorry to have messed up your day, doc! How callous of me for talking to you about my horrific and painful surgery experience!

A surgeon’s god-complex.  I just have to mention the aforementioned surgery experience.  A neurosurgeon operated on me a year ago to perform an anterior cervical spine disc replacement and vertebral fusion: a four hour surgery, one night in ICU, a full year of recovery.  At my two-month post-surgery appointment with this god-surgeon, I explained how difficult it had been going through such a drastic surgical experience.  His comment, and I quote, “It wasn’t that drastic of a surgery.”  Ahem.  My comment, and I quote, “It may have been the 5000th cervical spine surgery you’ve attended but it was my first!”  Imagine him minimizing my surgery, thereby dismissing my discomfort and recovery experience?!  Grrrrrr.

Before my blood pressure rises to unsafe levels – which would take a lot because my normal BP is 96/65 – I’ll stop right here to let you vent about YOUR frustrating lack-of-customer-service experiences.


Start your retirement – start your job as a family caregiver.

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You’ve worked your entire life; you’ve lined up your retirement leisure activities; you’re ready to start the first day of the rest of your life, but instead you start a new job: caregiver to your sibling, spouse, parent, or other family member.

Or perhaps you retired early to take on your caregiver job because there was no way you could do it all: continue your full-time job while moonlighting as your loved one’s caregiver.  It doesn’t work or it only works until the caregiver runs out of steam.  One way or another, your retirement years sure don’t resemble what you envisioned.

The CNN article, As baby boomers retire, a focus on caregivers, paints a frightening picture but one that is painfully accurate.  The highlighted caregiver, Felicia Hudson, said she takes comfort in the following sentiment:

Circumstances do not cause anger, nervousness, worry or depression; it is how we handle situations that allow these adverse moods.

I agree with the above sentiment to a very small degree because let’s face it, the nitty-gritty of a caregiver’s life is filled with anger-inducing depressive circumstances about which I don’t think caregivers should beat themselves up trying to handle with a happy face and a positive attitude.  It just doesn’t work that well in the long-term.  It’s a well-known fact, and one that is always talked about by the Alzheimer’s Association, that caregivers don’t take care of themselves because they don’t know how, or don’t have the support, to stop trying to do all of their life’s jobs by themselves.

“I’m obligated because my parents took great care of me, and now it’s time for me to take care of them.” 

or

“For better or worse means taking care of my spouse, even though she’s getting the better of me, and I’m getting worse and worse.”

The problem with the above sentiments is that oftentimes the adult child or spouse start to resent the person for whom they are providing care.  It’s like going to a job you hate but being held to an unbreakable employment contract; your employer is a loved one with a life-altering or terminal illness; and you’re not getting paid.  “Taking care of a loved one in need is reward enough.”  No, it’s not.

I’m not bitter, I’m simply realistic.  Caregiving is one of the most difficult jobs any of us will hold and we can’t do it all by ourselves.  My blog article, Caregiving: The Ultimate Team Sport, encourages each person in a family caregiving situation to create a team of co-caregivers to more effectively get the job done.  And please take a look at the other articles found in that same category of Caregiving.   I hope you will find encouragement in those articles – some based on my own experience, and some from other caregivers’ shared experiences – especially when a positive attitude and a happy face just isn’t working for you.

Watching each other’s backs.

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I found myself walking with horse blinders on my head at a grocery store the other day.  I was on a mission – picking up a few items and moving on to the next errand on my list.

Huell's image on a milk bottle
Image via Wikipedia

As I passed a woman in a wheelchair, I thought I might have heard her say something but I moved on a couple steps until she repeated herself: “Excuse me, could you help me?”  I then turned around to find that she couldn’t reach the half gallon of milk that she needed because it was on a shelf 8 feet off the ground.  Unless someone helped her she would have to cross milk off her shopping list.  My 6 feet of deaf human self easily grabbed the milk off the shelf.  I only wish I had been tuned in to someone other than ME so I had responded immediately instead of being asked twice.

Was I a BAD person for not responding quicker?  No – but I sure wasn’t watching my neighbor’s back.

Seattle actor, Brian Sutherland was watching his neighbor’s back as told in the Seattle Times article, “A bad guy on the screen becomes a real-life hero.”    This 27-year old man saw a suspected purse snatcher steal a 69-year old woman’s purse and chased him down – managing to retrieve part of her purse’s contents and return them to her.  But that’s not all!  Once he returned the items to the woman he decided to go after the thief!!!  Read the linked article I’ve provided and you’ll think Brian was doing some stunts in a movie in which he might have acted: leaping over fences, darting through alleyways – he was amazing!!!

I’m not saying that the average Joe, or Jill, should attempt what he did but what I am saying is that we should have the same commitment to others as Brian has.  Brian is quoted as saying, “We need to be watching each other’s backs and standing up for each other.  There’s no good reason why somebody who’s lived to 60 or 70 should be jacked on the street in broad daylight.  Our society should just not work that way.”

I agree Brian.  And there’s no good reason why someone in a wheelchair should have to ask for help twice.  I blew it the other day because my selfishness initially made me deaf and blind to a woman who simply needed a half gallon of milk.

I’ll do better next time.

Long Term Care Insurance scares me.

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insurance, n. A thing providing protection against a possible eventuality.  Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th Edition; 2004.

Result of a serious automobile accident
Image via Wikipedia

Auto insurance, home or renters insurance, and health insurance – we understand these policies and know that more likely than not the need for the aforementioned insurance policies will rear its ugly head in the near or distant future so we pay the premium for said policies, hoping we won’t need it, but sleeping better at night because we have it.

Why is purchasing long-term care insurance such a difficult step to take for me and my husband?

  1. Unquestionably, it’s expensive;
  2. Fearfully, companies who offer this product are going out of business left and right and may leave us holding an empty bag;
  3. Definitely, it’s a real difficult type of policy to understand; but
  4. Undeniably, the financial need for it can outweigh the cost of purchasing it.
New Orleans, 1942. Doctor at Marine Hospital p...
Image via Wikipedia

My husband and I have still not made an effort to look into it further.  Here are my two reasons based on family experience – both of which tend to contradict each other:

My father’s long-term care insurance policy.  My father had a long-term care insurance policy for which he paid premiums for at least 20 years – no small amount of money to be sure.  He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 84 and died five years later.  His care needs at the retirement facility in which he had lived for 13 years didn’t meet the insurance reimbursement threshold until his final month of life.  As with most policies, the insurance holder’s care needs must meet a defined level of care before the insurance company kicks in their assisted living care reimbursement payments.  When that happens, the insurance holder no longer pays any more premiums.  Twenty years of paying premiums for one month of reimbursement benefit.

My sister-in-law’s long-term care policy.  My brother and sister-in-law purchased their long-term care insurance policies when they were in their late fifties.  Less than a year later my sister-in-law was diagnosed with early-onset dementia and approximately two years later drew benefits from her policy.  A couple of years of paying premiums for what will be years of reimbursement benefit.  If that isn’t the good news/bad news of long-term care insurance I don’t know what is!

I have no excuse. I know the devastating costs of long-term care because in my past professional life I worked for a senior housing provider and they represented the Champagne & Chandelier variety of assisted living.  But even the generic assisted living providers charge high rental rates and as ones’ care needs increase, so do the care fees.  This isn’t avoidance behavior on my part and I’m not squeamish about the subject of health and ones’ eventual death.  I’m just finding it hard to take this leap into signing up for insurance, even though it holds the assurance of fending off the potential of total personal financial collapse without it.

How are you Baby Boomers dealing with this subject?  If you finally bit the bullet and purchased a policy – how did you finally take that leap of faith?

I AM NOT LOOKING TO BE BOMBARDED BY SELLERS OF INSURANCE AS A RESULT OF THIS BLOG ARTICLE SO PLEASE DON’T GO THERE.  But I welcome other constructive feedback for those of us on the brink of making this difficult decision.

Five Sources of Hope for the Deeply Forgetful, Dementia in the 21st Century

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Five Sources of Hope for the Deeply Forgetful, Dementia in the 21st Century.

I’ve found the Alzheimer’s Reading Room to be very helpful in my efforts to continually improve my understanding of Alzheimer’s and other dementia.  The good news?  Subscribing to the Reading Room is free!  I hope all benefit from this attached article about dementia in the 21st century.

Examining our gratitude levels

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By the time you read this article, I hope you’ve already read the reblogged article I posted entitled “Up Your Gratitude,” published in a Parade Magazine article earlier this year.  That article was part of the inspiration for this article and can be found in this same Blog category.

I recently watched an Oprah Network special wherein Oprah visits families of Hasidic Jews.  One of the families had NEVER seen a television show in their lives and didn’t even know who Oprah was until her staff approached the family about this project of interviewing a Hasidic Jewish family.  This family consisted of the husband and wife and 9 children, the oldest of which was 17 years old and the youngest, 18 months.  If you can believe what the 17 year old son said – and I think I do – he has absolutely never watched TV and is an extremely happy teenager.  The couple’s 15 year old daughter loves not having the normal pressures associated with young teen girls.  “There’s no pressure” she explained.

Hasidic schoolchildren in Łódź, circa 1910s.
Image via Wikipedia

None of the children had ever heard of the names that Oprah tossed into their conversation: from cartoon characters such as Micky Mouse and Sponge Bob Squarepants, to Beyonce and other well-known entertainers.  Nope, they had no idea what or who she was talking about.  Considering they had never heard of Oprah, that’s not at all surprising.

And yet they were extremely happy and grateful people.

THIS ARTICLE IS NOT ABOUT RELIGION – it’s about the lack of wanting more,wanting better, and wanting bigger as it relates to consumerism.  Each person Oprah interviewed talked about the lack of pressure in their life to want, want, and want even more.  As a matter of fact, the wife in this family of 9 children, who is pregnant with her 10th child, said the only time she had a feeling of wanting more was when she was able to upgrade to a better wig when her earnings increased.  (At a certain age, Hasidic women must cover their hair as a gesture of modesty, be it a scarf or a wig.)  So when this woman was able to get a better wig she experienced an “Aha” moment – getting a better, more natural looking wig satisfied a want for something more that she hadn’t ever experienced.  Gratitude abounded in this household that most definitely doesn’t resemble our idea of a “normal” frantic-ridden, electronic guided, household.

Time to check my own gratitude level – and level of personal satisfaction.  When you receive not-so-good service at an establishment, do you trash its character to others so that they are aware of the establishment’s failings and will curtail their support of its business?  It’s easy to complain about something isn’t it?  It’s harder – but better – to compliment someone who does a great job:

  • Writing a note to the manager of a salon you frequent, complimenting the stylist who always does such a great job on your haircut and/or color.  It’s not enough that you tell the stylist how satisfied you are.  Tell the one who signs his paychecks and sets his schedule – that’s where the thank you also needs to go so that your favorite stylist receives something for his/her efforts.
  • Going out of your way to thank someone in person, or by thank you note, for their volunteerism at church or other community venue;
  • Calling or writing a note, not texting, not e-mailing, when you’re grateful for something you received as a gift;
  • When your coworker does a great job, or your child does something in the home without being asked, or when you are simply grateful for the commitment your spouse has to his or her job that assures constant financial support in the home – acknowledge their efforts instead of simply appreciating them in your own mind.

Who benefits from appreciative thoughts if they are not expressed to the person who inspired them?  Gratitude expressed provides more benefit than you can imagine.  Don’t you want to start a ripple effect of gratitude in your small corner of the universe?  Get that ripple going – you’ll be better off as a result, and everyone to whom that ripple touches will benefit as well.

Up Your Gratitude: ThankYou Notes Can Have Profound Effects | Parade.com

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Up Your Gratitude: ThankYou Notes Can Have Profound Effects | Parade.com.

The attached article, published on January 1, 2012 in the Sunday newspaper’s Parade Magazine section, had a great impact on me; so much so that I wrote my own blog article today, about the effects of gratitude on one’s life.  I hope you enjoy both articles.

10 Government Programs You Can Access for Your Elderly Parents

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10 Government Programs You Can Access for Your Elderly Parents.

This VERY comprehensive article is designed for a person’s elderly parents but guess what…us Baby Boomers need to be aware of these resources as well so I want to pass this article along to you!  It helped me – I hope it’s a great resource for you as well.

Techie Jokes for your weekend

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There’s a new telephone service that lets you test your IQ over the phone.

It costs $3.95 a minute.  If you make the call at all, you’re a moron.

If you’re holding on the line for three minutes, you’re a complete idiot.

Guilty as charged.

Another techie joke

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Did you hear about the high-tech ventriloquist?

He can throw his voice mail.

One more techie joke for the weekend

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Two executives in expensive suits stopped off at a small country bar.  As the bartender served them, he heard a muffled “beep! beep!” sound and watched as one of the men calmly removed a pen from his inside coat pocket and began carrying on a conversation.  When he was done talking, the exec noticed the bartender and the other customers giving him puzzled looks.  “I was just answering a call on my state-of-the-art cellular pen,” he explained.

A short while later, another odd tone was heard.  This time the second executive picked up his fancy hat, fiddled with the lining and started talking into it.  After a few moments he put the hat back on the bar.  “That was just a call on my state-of-the-art cellular hat,” he said matter-of-factly.

A few stools down, one of the locals suddenly let out a loud burp.  “Quick!” he exclaimed.  “Anybody got a piece of paper?  I have a fax comin’ in!”

Voices of the bored retirees.

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  • “I’m trying to decide what to do with the rest of my life.”
  • “I’m a frustrated fish out of water since retiring two years ago.”
  • “I’m desperate to find something to fill my time!”
  • Woman in her 80’s: “What am I supposed to do with the rest of my life?  I feel helpless and hopeless without worthwhile connections.”
Are you living past the sunset in your life?

I attended a class four and a half years ago comprised of people in their 50’s through their 80’s.  This class was designed to make our Senior years count.  I just now stumbled on notes that I took in that class wherein each class member was asked to make a comment about their current state in life.  The above four comments are just some of those statements.

Desperation and sadness all around me.  I recall now that the mood of this class was one of desperation and sadness as those who yearned for retirement their whole working life found themselves frantically trying to fill their days.  Their feelings were summed up in these words:

  • depressed
  • lack of purpose
  • short-sightedness
  • emptiness
  • loss of self

Gerontologist, S. Barkin puts it this way regarding our responsibility to be actively walking through our senior years, and I paraphrase,

What do we want to do for the time remaining in our life?   We all should be mining our experiences and the wisdom therein to help with our present and future paths.

As I mentioned in my article, Retirement planning: it’s not what you think, all of us have a history of life skills that should not be put up on a shelf and never used again.  Instead we should be retooling those skills into something that is meaningful and enjoyable to us and beneficial to others.  The students in my class had many thoughts – mostly unfocused and therefore not very productive – but those thoughts had yet to turn into action.

The first step is to decide what is significant to you and act on it.

Aging well starts with the mind but it’s in the doing that makes it count.  We all have a choice when we find ourselves at a loss of purpose: we can stay stuck, or we can actively make a difference in the local community around us.  Baby Boomers are the first generation of peoples to have such a long life span.  We’re living longer so we have more time to pass our knowledge down to others and use our skills in a valuable way.  As the sports company Nike says in one of their ad campaigns:  JUST DO IT!

Snail Mail (personal) vs Electronic Mail (impersonal)

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I’m thrilled that instant information rules our day for the most part and I’m SUPER thrilled that we can communicate via Blogging, but I’m also a proponent of posted/written communication.

First of all: Blogging.

I think us Bloggers relish the opportunity to “be published” on the Internet because  not many of us will ever have a byline in a syndicated newspaper, and book-publishing just seems too hard a goal to attain.  With that said, however, I write with this in mind: job counselors often advise employees to dress for the job they want, not for the job they currently hold, so I’m Blogging with a publishing intent that takes me out of my home-office and into the homes of others.  If I can’t get others to read my articles, I may as well be writing in a personal journal.  So blogging is a great venue in which to reach the masses.

But I LOVE the written word.  I own a Kindle, actually, I’m on my second Kindle, and that’s the only way I read books, be they fiction or non-fiction.  I’m such a voracious reader, I’m convinced Kindle was invented just for me.  🙂  So when I say I love the written word, what I’m really saying is that I love letter writing.  I own stationery, n. paper and other materials needed for writing, and I have a large accordion file that holds greeting cards, n. a decorative card sent to convey good wishes. (Definitions from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th Edition, 2004.)  I love sending cards and I love receiving cards, but mostly I love sending them.

Nicole Brodeur, Seattle Times staff columnist wrote a piece that appeared in our local newspaper on January 13, 2012: For The Love of A Letter. She writes how wonderful it is to receive a piece of mail with our name on it, written in hand, which becomes “a bit of humanity among the bills and slick circulars.”   She correctly states that the written letter is becoming a dying art, so much so that the United States Postal Service faces a very bleak, if not brief, future.  Certainly e-mail is quick and doesn’t require one of those pesky, ever-changing-in-value postal stamps.   Evites are quick and oh so engaging – NOT- as we read respondents’ comments about why they can’t attend.  But Evites are pretty darn impersonal.  Ted Kennedy Watson, owner of two Seattle shops with all things paper, states in Ms. Brodeur’s article that he “gets ‘hundreds’ of emails a day, some invitations to events that, en masse, lose some of their luster.  You start to feel more included than invited.”

En masse communications – you’re simply one of the many e-mail addresses in someone’s global e-mail address book.  I know we’ll always rely on this form of instant communication – I certainly do – but Ms. Brodeur hits it on the nail when she says that she hopes that “we don’t tweet or tap away the value of putting thoughts to paper, of taking the time.”  (Even a “Dear John” written letter is more personal and respectful than a “Dear John” e-mail or text message.)  She talks about letters that she’s saved over the years which instantly brought to mind one of my most valuable letters; one which I keep in my fireproof safe: the last letter my mother ever wrote to me.  My parents still lived in Hawaii when I moved to the Seattle area in June of 1994 and my mother and I spoke on the phone at least two times a week.  But it was her letters that I relished the most.  One of those letters arrived in my mailbox on September 22nd, 1994.  I read it, placed it to the side, and went about the rest of my day.  Two days later my mother died in her sleep quite suddenly and inexplicably.  When I received the news in a phone call from my father that day I frantically looked around for my mom’s letter hoping that I had not tossed it in the recycle bin.  Glory hallelujiah – I had not.  So two days before my mother died, I have her thoughts on paper, in her handwriting, and signed “Love, Mom” at the bottom of the second page.

Somehow I don’t think a saved e-mail could ever render the memories and the sentiments that my mother’s handwritten letter does every time I retrieve it from the safe to read it.

Facebook (I have an account) and Twitter, and other social sites can continue to do what they do, but let’s not dispense with the antiquated and/or archaic practice of putting pen to paper.  Please?

Retirement planning – it’s not what you think.

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How do you define using your time in a meaningful way?  If you’re getting ready for retirement – or are already retired – how are you going to spend those 40+ hours you previously filled at your job?  “That’s easy!”, you say. “I’m gonna do whatever I want to do, whenever I want to do it: sleep in, read, play golf, travel; I’ll have no problem filling in the time!”

Now fast forward a year or two: you’re bored; your spouse is sick of you just hanging around the house; you’re feeling like there’s something more you could be doing; and even with doing whatever you’ve wanted to do, something’s missing. You wish there was more to this long sought after retirement phase of your life.

How do you envision using your free time?

You’re not alone.  The founding Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, Laura L. Carstensen, correctly states in a recent AARP article, that “people are happiest when they feel embedded in something larger than themselves.”  As we all know, we are living longer.  In order to make good use of these added years, we need to ask ourselves what we can offer others in these bonus years of our lives.  Should we continue in what might be our restricted scope of the past: getting by, doing what we can for ourselves and our family, but rarely reaching out beyond that confined scope?  If you feel as I do, that’s not nearly satisfying enough.

What should our lives look like now that most people spend as many years as “old people” as they do rearing children?

How should societies function when more people are over 60 than under 15?

Ms. Carstensen is certain that today’s generations of older people will set the course for decades to come and that “change will happen, one person at a time.”  I personally think that too often we think that any “doing” that we do must be grandiose in scale; or remarkable and newsworthy in order to be worthwhile.  If I felt that way, I don’t think I’d even make an effort to give of my skills, my time and my passion to my community.  Why bother?  It won’t do any good, right?  WRONG!

“If every person over 50 makes a single contribution, the world could be improved immeasurably.”

Is this the sunset of your life or just the beginning?

Think about it: us Baby Boomers have a history of life skills that can benefit so many!  How sad it would be if the engineer, the lawyer, the CPA, the household family manager, the medical professional, and other highly skilled people put those skills on the shelf, never to be used again?  What a waste!  I’m not saying you continue to be that engineer, lawyer, and the like in your retirement.  What I am saying, however, is that your past experience, regardless of its nature, can be used for the good of others but perhaps reshaped into a different form.

The bulk of my employment experience has been in the legal field and the senior housing industry, but at this stage of my life I’m not specifically involved in being a paralegal, or a senior housing manager.  What I am doing, however, is combining those skills and directing them towards areas for which I am very compassionate, e.g. advocacy for older adults, and counsel for those taking care of a loved one with dementia.  You too can contribute to your local community by applying your skills in ways that benefit others and are meaningful to you.  I would be of no use to anyone if I didn’t believe my personal Baby Boomer motto:  Committed to strengthening my community one person at a time –  not one society at a time; not one State at a time, and certainly not the world.  But I can motivate myself to strengthen my community one person at a time.

At what do you excel and what do you like to do?  As an older adult, perhaps retired, you now have the luxury of doing what you LIKE and WANT to do, not just what brings home steady income and puts food on the table.  Whoo hoo!  What a luxury!!!

LET’S TALK ABOUT THIS SOME MORE:

What are you doing now to plan for a satisfactory remainder of your life?

How are others currently benefiting from your knowledge-base and how did you find the new venue in which to share your knowledge?

If you’re retired: How satisfied are you in this stage of your life?  If you’re satisfied: why?  If you’re not satisfied: why not?

Senior Citizens are NOT children!

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An epidemic has taken hold of this Nation.  Adults 70 years or older are being infantalized.  Adult children have decided that their parents can’t do anything without their guidance.  Service employees, e.g. restaurants, retail store clerks and the like, feel compelled to talk down to their Senior customers.  Caregivers in long-term care (LTC) facilities further degrade the residents with baby talk.  These residents downsized their living space; don’t downsize who they are by treating them as anything other than who they are: intelligent adults.

Only you can put an end to this epidemic.  If it is not eradicated by the time you reach the Senior Citizen age, you too will be subjected to its horrors.

Adult children.

Mom moves into your house because of a financial or medical reason, and suddenly Mom has no say in what goes on in her life.  Everywhere she turns, her son and daughter-in-law are bossing her around in the guise of trying to do what is best for her.  Mom wants to stay up late reading or watching TV and she’s told she should go to bed.  Mom wants to do this activity, or that activity with friends outside of the home and she’s told not to leave the house because the son and daughter-in-law want to make sure she doesn’t get into any trouble.

PA-LEEEEEZE!!!!!

Your Mom raised you and somehow you turned out o.k.  She must have been a good parent, teacher, guidance counselor, child supporter, you name it.  Just because she is living under your roof doesn’t mean she’s lost her right to have a say in matters that go on in the household.  Ask her opinion from time to time.  Let her somehow contribute to the functioning of the household, e.g. day-to-day participation in household functions, helping you with decisions you’re making about your own lives.  Doing so will restore her pride and make her feel less superfluous.  It’s quite o.k. to be concerned about her well-being – you should be – but you can do so without suffocating her.

Service employees.

My mother with my daughter Erin, circa 1976.

Why is it that wait-staff, retail sales clerks and the like feel an immediate need to speak super loudly to a Senior citizen customer?  In my work with the elderly, I made this very mistake by talking loudly to a LTC resident I had just met.  She finally interrupted me, put her hand on my knee and said, “Irene, I’m old; not deaf.  Please stop yelling at me.”  So simply lower your voice and don’t call her a pet name such as “Sweetie,” “Hon,” etc.  I’ll never forget my mother’s phone call to me many years ago when she was barely over 70 years old.  She went to the Dept. of Motor Vehicles to renew her driver’s license.  After filling out the paperwork and getting her photo taken, it was time for her to leave with her newly issued license.  The DMV clerk then said quite loudly, “Now Sweetie – before you leave, make sure that you have everything with you that you came with.”  My mother called me that evening, both angered and in tears, bristling at the way in which she was treated.  In my mother’s eyes, the DMV clerk downsized her intelligence and abilities and that thoughtless act forever changed my mother as a result.  Please treat your Senior consumers with respect and with dignity.  They know they are older than you are – you don’t have to remind them of that fact with your ill-placed attitudes and gestures.

An aside:

Here I am, 58 years old, with my hubby. Only HE is allowed to call me Dear.

When I was 58 years old, a couple years ago, I picked up some items at my local grocery store and used the self-checkout counter to purchase my groceries.  As I was leaving the store, the retail clerk said, “Thanks Dear!”  A male customer who was older than me also went through the self-checkout at the same time but that retail clerk didn’t say a cutesy name to him!  Oh Boy – she didn’t know what she had just started.  I didn’t make a scene.  I left the store, wrote a letter to the manager and included this blog entry/article with a suggestion that he update his store training to include my suggestions about how to treat Senior Citizens.  He wrote me back to thank me and stated that he planned to provide updated sensitivity training to his staff.  BRAVO!

Professional LTC caregivers.

Oh boy – I see this a lot.  Caregivers who, God bless them, have a job that not many of us would willingly perform – especially at the low hourly wage at which they are paid.  I admire you and I respect you.  You’re a better person than I because I don’t have what it takes to do what you do.  But please address your patients/residents by their given names.  I would even go so far as to suggest that you call them by their surname until they give you permission to use their first name.  “Good morning Mrs. Smith.  It’s so good to see you today!”  That’s a far more respectful greeting than the following:  “Good morning Sweetie Pie.  Let’s get you ready for breakfast, shall we Hon?”  YUCK!  God help the person who addresses me that way when I reach my Senior years.  I’m a friendly person at heart, but I too would bristle at any condescending treatment directed towards me.  (And considering how I reacted to the cutesy name directed at me in the supermarket a few years ago (above) I may not be quite as civil in my later years.)

BOTTOM LINE FOR EVERYONE CONCERNED.  These Senior Citizens with whom you have contact survived the Great Depression and at least one World War.  Surely they have the ability, and the right, to be treated with respect and given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to making their own personal decisions.  Don’t take away their ability prematurely.  Eventually they may not have the ability to function independently, but it doesn’t do them any good for you to hasten the time in which that may happen.

Solo Caregiving.

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My recent blog, “Caregiving: The Ultimate Team Sport” assumes the person providing care for a loved one has a wealth of family members upon which to draw for support.  When that is not the case it can be difficult to find willing team members to provide that support. This article provides advice to the solo caregiver and to his/her friends, business associates, neighbors, and community contacts.

Garage Sale fundraiser for the local Alzheimer's Association.
Garage Sale fundraiser for the local Alzheimer’s Association.

CAREGIVER: BE BOLD – ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED.

Those people with whom you have contact probably know that you’re the only one carrying the ball when it comes to caregiving but they can’t possibly understand the degree of difficulty you’re experiencing.  Assuming that to be the case, your friends, business associates, and neighbors may not feel the need to reach out to you with assistance.  Now is the time to be very transparent with them and tell them what you need.

Having dinner with my dad and his late-in-life Bride.

DINING ALONE IS A DRAG – NOW’S THE TIME TO ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT.

There is no shame in inviting yourself to dinner.  If these are true friends/acquaintances of yours, they will welcome you into their home.  Once you’ve invited yourself a couple times, true friends and valuable neighbors will start to invite you into their dining room on an ongoing basis.  Besides, they’ve probably been wondering what they could possibly do to help you out in your situation and you’ve just presented a very easy way in which they can do so.  Heck – they’re going to cook dinner for themselves anyway; one or two extra people aren’t going to throw a huge wrench into their meal plans.

My wonderful Dad, circa 1960’s, being a jokester.

ATTENTION WELL-MEANING FRIENDS & NEIGHBORS!

I think the rule of thumb in these situations is to assume that your friend the solo caregiver needs a hand with something, so ask him what he needs.  Let’s look at the difference between the following offers of assistance.

  1. “Hey Sam, call me if you ever need some help.”
  2. “Hey Sam, could you use a little extra help around the garden?  I’m all caught up with my yard work and would like to help you in any way I can.”
  3. Hey Sam, we always cook for a crowd and always have some leftovers.  I’d like to give you some leftovers in disposable containers that you can freeze and use any time you don’t feel like cooking for yourself.”

In the 1st example, you’re leaving it up to Sam to feel comfortable enough to inconvenience you (in his mind) with a request for help.  You’re basically forcing him to ask for help.  In the 2nd and 3rd examples, you’ve given Sam an offer of tangible, definable assistance that shows that you really mean it when you say you’re willing to help out.  If neither of those offers fit within Sam’s current needs, you’re still making it easier for him to ask for help with something else: “Wow Larry, thanks so much for your offers but what I could really use is help figuring out the health insurance issues that have kept me awake at night.  How about having a beer with me, and between the two of us, maybe we can make some sense of this mess in which I find myself.”

Friends, work associates and neighbors – your solo caregiver friend needs help and you could be just the right person with the skill that he needs.  Some day you may find yourself in a similar situation and will know first hand how difficult it is to be a solo caregiver.  If it takes a village to raise a child, it must take at least that to help someone with the burden of being a solo caregiver.