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?

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Open Wide and Say Ha! Three medical jokes for your week.

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FIRST JOKE:

A woman accompanied her husband when he went for his annual checkup.  While the patient was getting dressed, the doctor came out and said to the wife, “I don’t like the way he looks.”

“Neither do I,” she said, “but he’s handy around the house.”

SECOND JOKE:

Three doctors were on their way to a convention when their car had a flat.  They got out and examined the tire.  The first doctor said, “I think it’s flat.”

The second doctor examined it closely and said, “It sure looks flat.”

The third doctor felt the tire and said, “It feels like it’s flat.”

All three nodded their heads in agreement.  “We’d better run some tests.”

In this Blogger’s humble opinion, I guess that’s a hint at why the health-care system is broken.  Yes?  No?  Probably.  Which leads us to the LAST JOKE of the week:

A physician went to heaven and met God, who granted him one question.  So the physician asked, “Will health-care reform ever occur?”

“I have good news and bad news,” God replied.  “The answer is yes, but not in my lifetime.”

Honesty is NOT always the best policy.

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Bear with me – don’t judge me quite yet.

You are not destined for Alcatraz just because of a little well-placed dishonesty.

If you are primarily responsible for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, or perhaps you assist an elderly relative who relies on you for help, do you find yourself telling little white lies?  Do you stretch the truth a bit in order to keep the peace?  Without doing any harm to your loved one or anyone else, do those little white lies help you accomplish tasks on behalf of your loved one, thus improving their life?  Congratulations – you understand that honesty isn’t always the best route to take and you’re in good company.

How do you jump over the hurdles of negotiating with a loved one for whom you provide care?  Here are a few examples that come to mind.

Scenario one: the need to get creative in order to leave the house for personal business.  For example, if telling your wife that you’re going to a caregiver support group meeting makes her mad, sad, or distrustful of your intentions, (“I’m sure you’re going to say bad things about me!”), why not tell your spouse that you’re going out with the guys, and you promise you will be back in two hours.  Then make sure you’re back on time!  If you’re not comfortable with that lie, by all means, every month you can continue to explain how helpful this caregiver support group is to you and how much it helps you be a better husband; and month after month your wife will not understand your rationale and will feel ashamed.  Knowing that you’re going to a support group only confirms how miserable she’s made your life. Read the rest of this entry »

Life can turn on a dime.

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If ever there is an example of how life can turn on a dime, it’s Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ tragic experience.  January 8, 2012 marks one year since Ms. Giffords was shot in the head while meeting with her constituents in Tucson, Arizona.

The bullet traveled 1000 feet per second into her brain and not only did she survive, even her neurosurgeons termed her recovery a miracle.  Is Ms. Giffords back to 100%?  No.  Will she be?  There is a strong hope that she will.  As her husband said to Diane Sawyer when asked if he’s holding out too much hope: “You can’t have too much hope!  That’s not practical!”  In her ABC special on 20/20 chronicling Congressman Giffords’ and her husband, Astronaut Mark Kelly’s journey, Diane Sawyer characterized their endeavors in this manner:

 The courage & love you bring when the life you live, is not the life you planned.

Life turns on a dime in many ways: in relationships; in difficult financial times; and in sickness and in health, to name just a few.

Some of you reading this Blog are in the midst of a life trauma that you certainly didn’t plan, and from which you wish you were released.  What challenge do you face?  Did you see it coming?

One story of life’s changes. I volunteer as a Facilitator for an Alzheimer’s Association caregiver support group.  Every member of our group has a loved one with some sort of dementia diagnosis.  Some are in the early stages, some are in the middle stages, and three in particular recently experienced the end stage.

RRRING!  A telephone rings in the middle of the night and life changes for caregivers gearing up for the Holidays with their family.

In the wink of an eye, life as they knew it took a sharp turn.  It’s the Holiday season and suddenly one set of caregivers hires in-home hospice care for their parent and another caregiver rides in an ambulance with her spouse to a local hospice center because of a terminal change in health.   Within days both sets of caregivers arrange memorial services for which they hadn’t planned at this stage of their loved one’s life.

BANG!  Six lives are lost, and Gabrielle Giffords’ and Mark Kelly’s lives change forever.

Congresswoman Giffords loved spending time with her constituents.  The night before she was shot, she took a long bike ride with a friend and was eager for the next day to begin.  A week later she and her husband were to undergo in vitro fertilization so they could start planning the birth of their first child together.  And those attending this gathering, both staff and general citizenry, hoped for a successful and enjoyable experience.  The bottom line is that you can’t plan for what you can’t see coming.

Oftentimes when we hear of tragedies such as those mentioned above, we naively say to ourselves, “Those are the types of things that happen to other people; not us.”  Well, the truth of the matter is, those types of things happen to people, and that’s us.

Congresswoman Giffords’ neurosurgeons stated that they don’t know where in the brain one finds charm, optimism, humor or charisma.  Certainly no where in the brain can one find sufficient prescience that allows us to see what’s coming around the corner.

No matter how hard we try; no matter how careful we are; life turns on a dime.  And sometimes, the life we live becomes the life we did not plan.

I received inspiration for this article from the caregiver heroes with whom I am acquainted, and from Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly in their book: Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope.

Living long enough to put your foot in your mouth.

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Many years ago I attended a very large wedding at my church.  Big bridal party; all dressed to-the-nines.  While mingling after the wedding prior to walking into the church reception hall, I chatted with a couple who would be getting married a couple months hence.

“Weren’t those groomsmen’s shiny gray tuxedos atrocious?” I said.   “What were they thinking when they decided on those colors?!!!”  To which the future bride and groom then stated, “Uh – those are the exact same tuxedos we chose for our upcoming wedding!”    Oops.

I give you the above real-life example as a lead-in to the following wedding joke humor:

“How lovely you look, my dear!”  gushed a wedding guest to the bride.  The guest then whispered to the bride, “Whatever happened to that dizzy blonde your groom used to date?”

“I dyed my hair, ” replied the bride.

Oops!

What would your loved one want?

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More frequently than I can tolerate, I have visited long-term care (LTC) facilities during Holiday celebrations: July 4th, Christmas, New Years Eve, etc., and I find residents in the dementia wing with accoutrements, e.g., July 4th hats, reindeer horns, festive party hats, that the resident with Alzheimer’s or other dementia would NEVER consider wearing if they had a choice.

My suggestion: before you allow anyone to adorn your parent, spouse, grandma/grandpa, aunt/uncle with a party adornment, ask yourself this question:

What would ______ want?

 Why do facility employees feel obligated to dress up their residents with what can only be described as hideous garments/accessories during Holiday seasons?  It’s demeaning.  It’s borderline abusive.  It’s just not right unless the resident himself has chosen to wear such accessories.

Becoming a clown does not equate to living a dignified existence.

My father, on the right, with his brother. My dad was in the Canadian artillery during World War II.

Prior to living in long-term care facilities, these senior citizens lead distinguished lives, fought in wars, managed households and families, and most likely survived tough financial times.  These men and women just happen to be older now, but no less important; no less dignified. In one of my earlier articles, Be an advocate for your aging loved one, I stated, “If your loved one no longer has a voice in which to defend or advocate for herself, who better to do so than you?”  Chances are in these costumed situations during the Holidays, your loved one doesn’t even see themselves in a mirror, and if they do see themselves, the image they’re seeing may not be comprehensible to them.  Would they want to look like a child wearing a season-appropriate party hat?  Would they have worn that hat in public prior to the advancement of dementia?

This brings to mind another article, Senior citizens are NOT children!  In that article, I broached the topic of talking down to Senior Citizens by using cutesy names: caregivers do it, customer service employees do it, DON’T YOU DO IT!  We have to get out of the mindset that our older population is somehow less worthy of respect simply because of their advancing age.  If anything, the opposite should be occurring.  All of us should honor the lives that were – and the lives that still remain.  This station in life, these circumstances, are not who they are.  They are simply where they are right now.  Use the memories that you retain of your loved one to promote the true person they are.  Don’t let others – caregivers or well-meaning friends – define your parent/spouse/family member.  It is my firm belief that regardless of the severity of a person’s Alzheimer’s or other dementia, the essence of the person remains in tact.   Make it your responsibility to enhance other people’s understanding of your loved one by correctly defining their true essence.

Dignity and quality of life are a right, not a privilege.

Secret letters – no longer a secret.

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Grandma was preparing dinner when her grandson Bradley came into the kitchen.

“What has grandma’s darling been doing all day?”

“I’ve been playing mailman,” replied Bradley.

“Mailman?” asked grandma.  “How could you do that when you had no letters?”

“I had a whole bunch of letters,” said Bradley.  “I found them in that old trunk up in the attic, all tied up with ribbon. I put one in every mailbox on your street!”