Thursday, December 20, 2007

Yes, You Have A Wonderful Life!

By the year 2030, the 65 and older population in the U.S. will be doubled, totaling about 72 million people. Sadly as we near the end of life, even then as well as now, too many of us will be unhappy and resentful because we didn’t, or couldn’t, fulfill our youthful dreams.

Well, think again. Even if we didn’t get that PhD, or earn millions of dollars, or sail around the world, we still did make a difference, a difference we should be proud of and celebrate.

Even as they approach the greatest adventure of all, the end of life, the dear friends that I care for in hospice often relive their lives and bring contentment to their last days by telling me their stories. Remembering their good times helps them, and me, celebrate who they had been and what they had achieved, re-living what it felt like to have a whole life waiting to be experienced and to have done the best they could.

Remember the 1946 Frank Capra movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life”? George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), feels that his life has been a failure. Then Clarence, an angel, showed George what would have happened to his family, friends, and his little town, Bedford Falls, if George hadn’t existed. It is only then that George understands how worthwhile his life really was. He is finally able to exclaim, “Yes, I really have a wonderful life!"

What is your story? Think about it: the little kindnesses you did, the moments when the best in you came out and changed other peoples’ lives, all the little gifts of love and attention given and received? Even in your darkest days, little candles were lit by you and others around you to prove that you indeed had – and are having – a wonderful life.

Pass this message on, and let me know how you continue to light the darkness in our world.

* * *

“How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world.”
- Shakespeare: Merchant of Venice, Act 5, Scene 1

Friday, December 7, 2007

Think Young, No Matter What Your Age.

“How foolish to think one could ever slap the door in the face of age.
Much wiser to be polite and gracious and ask him (or her) to lunch
in advance.” – Noel Coward

“Thinking young” is not pretending to be young. The magic of thinking young is allowing our mind and our emotions to be flexible and daring, always looking for adventure and satisfaction, searching for new things to experience and
enjoy. We can all be that kind of person with that kind of mind no matter how old we are.

Aging doesn’t have to be a fearful, isolating, empty process. It can become a time of new discoveries about ourselves and the world around us. It can be a time for new adventures even if the physical adventures of rock climbing and running marathons are beyond our physical abilities.

I learned that I could walk a marathon; in my late 60’s, I entered the U.S. Marine Corps Marathon and participated with all those crew-cut runners, and I still had great fun doing it. Sure, they arrived at the 26.2 mile finish line way ahead of me, but I finished the marathon! Just because our wrinkles are showing and our pace is slowing doesn’t mean we can’t be explorers and adventurers; we can continue to enter the world, whether it’s a walk around the block, a hike in the Cotswold’s, or re-discover our childhood by reading the adventures of Harry Potter.

“Thinking young” is an on-going, active engagement with our personal world every moment of every day. The key is to be constantly aware that every single day, every single precious moment, may be our last. We must continually exercise our emotions, our mind and our life processes with the same daily dedication with which we exercise our body, in order to stay physically healthy and pain-free. Even if we are retired or disabled, we must continue to make friends, join groups, read books, make a strong effort to create within every day an adventure.

What are you doing to “think young”? Let me know and I’ll pass it on to others who would like more suggestions for activities to help them live life to its fullest.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Hear Young: No Matter What Your Age!

A long time ago, when I was inducted into the U.S. Navy, I was given a hearing test. The Doctor said, “I have good news and bad news. Your low frequencies are OK, but you have problems with your high frequencies.” Yet, I could hear well enough to take orders, so he passed me.

I have spent the rest of my life “passing”, until recently as aging began to take its toll. I now find that my “OK low frequencies” are no longer enough to follow conversations in a crowded room, to hide the frustration of not understanding what my wife or best friend is talking about, of going to a movie or a play and missing half of the dialogue.

As a “Senior Citizen”, I began to feel growing social isolation; an inability to function in noisy, hectic environments which won’t allow me to hear and correctly respond to the world around me. Finally, I have to admit that my vanity doesn’t want me to “look old”, to wear those big, cumbersome hearing aids that so many of the “old folks” seem to be wearing. Of course, I am growing old, but I don’t want to advertise the fact to the world!

Finally, a much younger friend who has a hearing disability since childhood, tells me about her new “hearing glasses”. She says that she has finally made peace with wearing hearing aids when he realized that almost everybody wears eye glasses in order to correct visual deficiencies or as protection from the sun’s glare. She then realized that hearing disabilities are the same. Like eye glasses, hearing aids are just another way for each of us to more fully and naturally experience the world.

“And they can be a fashion statement as well,” she exclaims, pulling aside her hair. At first, I don’t even see the hearing aid. Then I notice an almost invisible clear plastic tube nestled inside her ear, and hidden behind the top of her ear, a tiny flesh-colored capsule. In that tiny space, less than three peas laid end to end, is a sophisticated computer powered by a battery half the size of a pea. This allows her to experience the world around her in all the wonderful frequencies of life, with four instant-touch programs to hear normal conversations, or intimate conversations in a crowd, or all the beauty of music, even a noise-stopping silence program when he wants to quiet the sound around her.

Was I convinced? Not until I shopped around for the perfect, almost invisible “ear glasses” which exactly fit my own particular needs. And now, for the first time in my long life, I can hear the birds sing outside my window, I can hear Mozart’s music like I never have heard it before, I can fully enjoy and understand all the dialogue in a movie or play, and I don’t have to exclaim “What did you say?” to my wife and best friends when we’re having a conversation.

You can let your days come alive, too. Life is beautiful, when you can see it clearly, and hear all the music and joy it offers.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Having Problems Seeing?

As we age, our view of the world often grows a little fuzzy. We often try to ignore the problem by holding the newspaper closer or farther away at the breakfast table, or maybe just scan the headlines. We may have trouble identifying friends or neighbors from a distance. Even more dangerous, we may not see stop signs or on-coming traffic when driving or walking.

Yet, just because we’re growing older doesn’t mean we can’t live a full life for many years more by seeing, hearing, feeling and thinking the way we used to. Let’s prepare now, and seek professional advice, before something happens that will force us to realize that we aren’t seeing the way we so confidently did five, ten and twenty years ago.

In future essays, I will touch on our other life-giving senses and how we can “hear young”, “feel young”, and “think young” no matter what our age. But first let’s examine how to protect our eyes and improve our ability to see our world the way we used to.

The good people at EyeCare America have provided five healthy hints for the aging eye, and since August was Save Your Sight Month, it's especially important for we who are over 65 years old. Even if you’re not, take this advise now to protect your eyes in the future:

• Always wear protective goggles when working with machinery and while engaging in athletic activities.

• Find out your family history of eye disease. Having a family member with an eye disease such as glaucoma can greatly increase your chance of getting the disease. So talk to your eye doctor about how you can prevent or prepare for any genetic possibilities.

• Vitamin A is great for your eyes and will help you maintain healthy vision. Foods rich in vitamin A include carrots, yams and dark, leafy greens. Take supplements if you can’t get enough vegetables.

• Protect your eyes from the sun. Overexposure to the sun's rays can lead to cataracts. Your sunglasses should have UVA and UVB protection. And wear a brimmed had when you’re out in the sun.

• If you or a friend is 65 or older, call EyeCare America's Seniors EyeCare Program to see if you qualify for a free eye exam — the number is 800-222-3937 and operates all day, every day, year-round!

EyeCare America helps people of any age who live in medically underserved communities (and people who might be at risk for eye disease) with free eye exams and eye health information, so give EyeCare America a call today!

And from this day forward, examine how you are squinting or missing the clarity in your vision you used to have. With diet, a change in your eyeglasses prescription, more careful attention in your driving habits and reading habits, you can keep enjoying the wonderful visual experiences around you.

Remember, create the correct intentions to preserve your precious senses, and pay constant attention to the solutions to your visual problems, and you will enjoy every day much, much more!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Are You Now, Or About To Become, A Caregiver?

Your parents cared for you when you were a baby. They fed you, changed your diapers; they were there for you when you needed them. Has this relationship now come full circle?

Most of my friends have become, or are about to become, caregivers for a parent or a loved one. One friend changed his father’s diapers and cleaned him every day for two and a half years before his father died. Other friends have also found that they have suddenly and unexpectedly changed into full-time or part-time caregivers, often at the moment they thought they could retire and enjoy the care-free rewards promised by becoming “senior citizens”.

In the United States alone, about 22.5 million people are experiencing the inevitable “end of life” trauma every year. They are either chronically ill or in the final act of dying, the role we all will experience, either from aging or disease. For every chronically ill or dying person, there will also be at least one caregiver, usually a spouse, child, sibling, or friend, who will suddenly find himself or herself in an equally traumatic life-changing situation.

Here are five precepts which will help you as a caregiver, offered by Frank Ostaseski, founder of the Zen Hospice Project. These same precepts can also help you live your life more fully, every day. Read them carefully, think about how you can incorporate them in your daily life, moment by moment. Begin practicing them now.

The First Precept: Welcome Everything. Push Away Nothing.
In our life, and in approaching death, our primary task is to trust, to listen, and pay careful attention to our changing experience. We are always on a journey of continuous discovery in which we will be entering new territory. The journey is a mystery we need to “live into”; opening, risking, and forgiving constantly.

The Second Precept: Bring Your Whole Self To The Experience.
In the process of healing others and ourselves, we can be open to both our joy and our fear. In the service of this healing, we draw on our strength and our helplessness to discover a meeting place with the other person or situation. This will allow us to touch another human being’s pain, as well as our own, with compassion instead of fear and pity.

The Third Precept: Don’t Wait.
When we worry or strategize about what the future holds for us, or for a loved one, we miss the opportunities that are right in front of us now. If there is someone you love, someone you are now caring for or may be caring for in the future, tell that someone you love him or her. Allow the precious and precarious nature of this life to show you what’s most important right at this moment, and enter fully into it.

The Fourth Precept: Find A Place Of Rest In The Middle Of Things.
We imagine that we can only find rest when everything else is complete, or by changing the conditions of our life. But it is possible to discover rest right in the middle of chaos. It is experienced when we bring our full attention, without distraction, to the moment, to this activity. This place of rest and revitalization is always available. We need only turn toward it, breathe, sink into this one moment, let time stop. It is a power of deep mindfulness, of deep compassion for others and ourselves, which most of us seldom use. To activate this power, we need only to turn toward it, acknowledge it’s existence within us, and rest in it.

The Fifth Precept: Cultivate An Open And Receptive Mind.
Our mind and our life need not be limited by agendas, roles and expectations. Each of us is capable of sinking into each moment of our life, staying in that experience until the situation itself can inform us of our next action. Just listen carefully to your own inner voice, sense your deepest urges, trust your intention. Learn to look with fresh eyes within yourself and at others, and feel freely from an inner source of love that is limitless.

Start now. As a person, a patient, or a caregiver, begin your life anew.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Revolt of the Old Farts

Remember when people in their 50’s, 60’s or 70’s were considered “old”? Recent scientific studies are now re-evaluating the aging process, and people can push the “old fart” aging concept further and further away. Thanks to modern medicine, better diet and more exercise, an aging person need no longer be considered an “old fart”.

Aging is not on a fixed schedule. The latest medical studies suggest that our brains can grow new connections well into the “senior citizen” stage of life. As with our physical body, our brain can grow, remain young and gain vigor with more exercise. Find new passions, hobbies and jobs after your old job ends. Seek out new friends and build new relationships, indulge in new activities and adventures after your old life becomes memory.

We may be retiring from our jobs around age 65, but the “old folks home” can stay vacant for decades as we continue to think young, find new jobs to create new futures for ourselves.

Certainly your mirror doesn’t lie. After all, you’re no longer young in years. There will be aches and pains ahead. But your mind, and your aging body, can still achieve many of the creative experiences which your youthful energy once enjoyed. Look forward to new horizons of friends, fun and fascination with every moment of every day you have left. There is a lot more joy in the Old Boy or Old Girl yet.

Don’t become an “old fart”! Old farts complain a lot, forget to smile, fear the new, the unfamiliar and the untried. You cannot regain that fresh, unlined face, but you can regain the freshness of youthful spirit and adventure.

Live it. Do it. To have new friends, be a friend. To have a happier future, create it, one day at a time.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Losing Your Memory Does Not Mean Losing Your Mind

Memory loss as we age can be very frightening, especially when we forget where we put our car keys, or miss an appointment, or are unable to remember an address or telephone number. Most of these mind glitches are a normal, but a very distressing, part of growing older. Memory loss is sometimes a symptom of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, but most often it is the result of living long years and storing massive amounts of information in our memory banks.

Our brain has a huge library of past actions and experiences. As we age, this immense library overflows with both important memories (like your friends’ telephone numbers or the address of your doctor) as well as unimportant memories (like the lyrics to a 1950’s song or your worst enemies’ birth date).

There is a lot of good news about tackling this troublesome situation; there are techniques you can use right now which will help to clean house in your brain’s over-burdened library. Begin today to commit yourself to the intention of paying attention to what you do and especially to what you want to remember. For the important things you want to remember, the following suggestions will help:

• Keep lists
• Follow a routine.
• Make associations (connect things in your mind), such as using landmarks to help you find places.
• Keep a detailed calendar.
• Always put important items, such as your car and house keys, in the same place every time.
• Repeat names when you meet new people.
• Run through the ABC’s in your head to help you think of words you’re having trouble remembering. Often, “hearing” the first letter of a word may jog your memory.

However, there is even better news about memory. Until recently, scientists believed that as we age our brains begin to lose brain cells, a few at a time. They also thought that the brain was the one body organ which could not regenerate new cells, new connections, and new memory space, so there was nothing we could do to regenerate new brain tissue the way we can regain regain muscle strength through exercise.

Recently, many scientific experiments have proven that the old “use it or lose it” concept works in the brain just as it does in the rest of our body. Through exercise, both physical and mental, we can grow new nerve cells, and cause older nerve cells to form dense, interconnecting webs that make our old brains run faster and more efficiently. There are also powerful clues that both increased physical and mental activity can stave off the beginnings of Alzheimer’s disease, attention deficit disease, and other cognitive disorders.

No matter what our age, we will be able to build a strong, active body along with a dynamic, inquiring mind by continuing to exercise body and mind. We definitely can continue to feel young and think young well into our 70s, 80s, and 90s. We all need to get off that couch and walk, exercise, remember, and learn, to live more vitally every day!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Is There Sex After 60?

It is sad and deeply unfortunate that “sex” and “loving” have become four-letter words. And for those of us, a little long in tooth and past most stages of youthfulness, they have become what only blurring memory can recapture.

Or so many assume. But for some couples who have passed their 60th birthdays, this age-old practice, originally thought by some only worthy of procreation, can continue for recreation, transcendence and comfort. It is also one of the best reasons to remain alive and to continually celebrate the reason that love created couples in the first place.

Growing old does not mean growing cold. Physical beauty may slowly merge into the reality of years, but real beauty – your beauty and my beauty – is created by our beloved. If we are so fortunate to still hold him or her in our arms, the love and sex and mutual compassion can remain as fresh and bright as when we first looked into each other’s eyes.

All we need do is look into our own heart. Re-examine what caused us to be struck for the first time by our lover’s incomparable beauty and attractiveness. Often, it was an attraction, no, a collision of minds, brains, emotions, star-crossed spirits, attracted to each other no matter who we were or what we looked like.

Our essential selves, like the stars, never fade. If we’re lucky, and if we gain the wisdom to see it in each other, we then are as young as time. And when we come together, after the dishes are washed and cat put out, we can blaze again in our mutual glory with a loving that need not ever cease.

Monday, February 26, 2007

It’s OK To Be “At The End Of An Era”

How many times have you felt left out, passed by, no longer “with it”, “at an end of an era”? Were you a Bobby Soxer, crazy for Elvis or Frankie or even the Beetles, proud of your hopped-up Ford, your executive abilities or sex appeal?

We read newspapers, watch TV, observe the crowds around us; then when we look in the mirror, our dreams fade away like old photos. One era after another slips by; childhood, the exciting teen years, college and jobs, marriages, retirement.

As these eras pass with each year and decade, we can often feel a sense of diminishment, of losing “it”; we mourn the loss of the heady rush of being part of the fads and ferment of that moment, the “now” of life. However, as we age, we choose more mature set of values to live by; and with this maturity, we gain a sense of knowing who we really are, what fundamentally makes us feel fulfilled, content and happy.

Unfortunately, our consumption-driven society and the increasingly successful efforts of advertising and marketing professionals insist that “enough” of anything is not enough. We are exhorted to buy the newest, to be “with it” by becoming dissatisfied with last year’s model, whether it’s a car or movie star. Our worn but comfortable pair of shoes or special wool sweater lose all their appeal. Whatever is at this moment “up to date”, in products, tastes in music, or philosophies of life, forces yet another ending of an era and the beginning of a new one.

This may happen for many people, but not necessarily for you. Along with aging and maturity, you have also acquired wisdom. Along with this wisdom comes a true sense of who you have learned to be. You are your own person, not just another consumer of somebody else’s ideas and products. You feel comfortable in your own skin and in your own life. This is the life you have created for yourself; this is the life which will keep you comfortable and serene for years, maybe decades, to come.

Once you know who you really are, why you’re here, and where you’re going, it’s time to relax and keep marching along through your string of days to the beat of your own drum, and not someone else’s. Let the ever-changing “eras” pass you by, just as the roiling clouds move across the sky. You know from long experience that the weather is always changing, but the string of days will continue. You are forever at one “end of an era” or another, but your personal
eras of memories and your hopes for the future will endure.

So, sit back and watch the passing show, even learn from and enjoy younger folks and their innovative ideas and passions. But don’t feel you have to keep up with the crowd. Live each day in your own way, at your own pace. Relax, you’ve earned it. Let the rest of the world go by, for better or for worse; era, after era, after era. It’s quite a show, isn’t it?

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Whom Do You Trust Under 60?

When we were younger, our culture cry was “Don’t trust anyone over 30”. As always, youth and aging cultures clash on everything from tastes in music, to clothing, to morals. Because of this knee-jerk mutual-misunderstanding and mistrust, groups isolate themselves from one another, to both sides’ great loss.

This mutual alienation must not repeat itself now, for we are older, and as we age, we grow wiser. Most of the moral laxity and bad taste we see in our children and grandchildren, if we look carefully , may closely resemble our own juvenile actions and attitudes way back then.

I am not suggesting that we learn to love their music or wear their grungy clothing, but we do need to understand their “art of aging” process just as we need to understand and benefit from our own. We all, the young and the old, have to learn a little bit better “how to grow up”. We all need to learn new lessons of wisdom and new ways to make our inevitable passage of time a little more comfortable, a little less dangerous, more enjoyable and, especially, even more joyful.

By easing back on our prejudices and creating a more open awareness and acceptance of those different from us, we open a new freedom for ourselves as we age. Just because we aren’t as young and energetic and adventurous as we once were, we can still “think young”. Times are a-changing and life isn’t as it used to be, for young and old alike. Maybe if we get to know more youthful people, no matter what their age, we will begin to have more youthful, life-affirming ideas as well.

Come on, gang, let’s get with it. There’s lots of life in us old folks yet. Please view and listen to the attached little video. Turn up the sound and enjoy, bring a smile to your face. Feel what it is to be young at heart again.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Learning to Love Yourself Again

“Joy brings a happy, almost elated feeling that inspires gratitude. When we are burdened with sadness and fatigue, even thinking about joy seems artificial and absurd. Yet even under the most challenging circumstances, it is possible to take some small step that reconnects us to the lilt of joy. A loving gesture, a token of appreciation, or a humorous exchange can offer welcome release and provide a sunnier outlook. Scientific research suggests that active appreciation and gratitude stimulates the highest brain functions. Cheerfulness sharpens our intelligence, activating the sword of knowledge that can cut though emotionality, putting ego out of commission and releasing vital energy. Happy people are not ruled by their emotions.”
-- Arnaud Maitland, Living Without Regret

Where in your life is that lilt of joy? What would it take to reconnect with that precious moment when you were really alive, hopeful for the future, purposefully positive about who you were and what you wanted to become? Remember how you loved yourself then, in that shining instant when everything was possible?

You can be that person again. No matter the disappointments, no matter what heartaches, no matter the dim, dusty years that have passed since then, you are here, now. It is another day, another hour, another moment. As the quantum physicists say, we indeed do create our own reality. It simply takes our conscious intention to realize and manifest what we really want, who we really are, and then create the courageous attention, moment by moment, to make it happen.

You are loveable. You are loving. You can attract other loving people to you, once you realize how much you have to offer to yourself and to others. The old saying, “It takes a friend to be a friend” is the key to learning how to love ourselves, especially as we age, even as our old friends may have been leaving this earth before us. But today we are still here, and as long as there is another day to wake up to, we have more opportunities to find another lilt of joy in remembering all those past joyful moments in our lives and find ways to create new joys.

With those old joyful memories, and our new experiences, we have the precious opportunity to create in this moment and this day the wonderful gift of thanking ourselves for being here and finding others to share the same inexplicable joy. Begin now. What one thing can you do today that will give you joy? What can you do today to give another person comfort or joy?

I am delighted to be here this day to share my joy with you.

Now, pass it on.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

How Not To Become Invisible

You are an executive in your 50’s or 60’s and you just lost your job or have retired. You are an aging man or woman who is single, widowed or divorced. You are anyone over 40 who doesn’t recognize the celebrities in People magazine or the stars on TV and the movies. You are becoming aware, slowly but surely, that you are being made redundant, invisible, passé because of your seniority and the bustling crowd of younger generations nipping at your heels.

Your childhood friends are dying or moving away. You still listen to love songs and watch old movies the younger folks snicker at. You don’t go to bars or popular concerts anymore because the so-called music hurts your ears. And, often, you don’t have anyone to go with anyway. Is this all there is? Are you condemned to becoming isolated by an ever-evolving culture which is increasingly foreign to your memory, your tastes, your very reason to continue living?

“Do not go gentle into that good night,” the poet says. I say, seize this day and all the treasure of your days yet to come. You may be part of the end of an era, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of your personhood, your joys, and a rich and more productive life to come.

Gather new friends around you, those who can sing the same old songs and tell the stories you have lived and enjoyed. Find younger friends also, to teach, mentor, enrich their lives with your experience and wisdom. Younger friends will also enrich your life, with their own “new era” ways of thinking and embracing their own future. They will help you learn that you’re not too old to create a second profession, find a new life, a new love, a new job, to develop new reasons for waking up to all the mornings yet to come.

Reading groups, social groups, volunteer organizations by the dozens are begging for your help. Jimmy Carter needs your help in Habitat For Humanity; hospitals and hospices need your presence and compassion; schools and libraries need you to teach, mentor and share your stories, to spread your special talents around. Now is the perfect time in your life to became the painter, poet, or political activist you always wanted to be.

Now is your time to become truly visible, to blossom into the new you! Smile more, talk to strangers, wear a funny hat. Become a friend and helpmate to the entire world. You’re old enough now to be who you really are. After all, you’ve earned the right.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Aging: Is The Glass Almost Empty Or Half Full?

Just This
When I think of the patience I have had
back in the dark before I remember
or knew it was night until the light came
all at once at the speed it was born to
with all the time in the world to fly through
not concerned about ever arriving
and then the gathering of the first stars
unhurried in their flowering spaces
and far into the story the planets
cooling slowly and the ages of rain
then the seas starting to bear memory
the gaze of the first cell at its waking
how did this haste begin this little time
at any time this reading by lightning
scarcely a word this nothing this heaven.
-- W.S. Merwin

Where did the time go? Why didn’t somebody tell me that this is all there is? All my life, I played with time like a child sifting through sand on the beach. I didn’t waste it as much as I didn’t use it, really use it. I thought there was plenty of time, plenty of days, years, relationships, in order to get it all right, to finally do something with my life, to be somebody.
And even when I tried; mistakes, petty angers and false starts weren’t teaching tools but became false justifications for an untested life slowly sifting away. I had plenty of time to get it all together, didn’t I? But then middle age came and left like a furtive acquaintance, not yet a friend. New careers, new hopes, new small successes but no sense of achievement, still not knowing who I am or why am I here.
Then slowly, the intimations of wisdom came along with my aging, shuffling into my life on little furtive feet of northwestern morning fog, along with their partner, the first intimations of death, finally creating a real and more satisfying denouement to my minor, mortal play. And it was only then, thanks to a new, tentative career of caring for the terminally ill, the actively dying, the true heroes of the hospice movement, I found the teachers who knew what living was all about in the drama of their own dying.
When one can count the number of sand particles in one’s hand and know there are no longer the world’s beaches to squander, reality sets in and wisdom arrives. My patients’ stories, both of lives invested with heart and soul, or lives squandered with “might haves” and “should ofs”, made me realize how potentially beautiful, enriching, and short all of our lives are.
And the most wonderful lesson in their stories was the fact that we all can have a wonderful life, a worthy and fulfilled life, either if we begin to act on this innate wisdom of how to conduct every day as if it were our last early in our youth, or if we can at least realize the transformative possibilities and act on that newfound wisdom in those last moments, hours, days, or years, that we still have left on this good, green earth.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Are You Frightened As I Am?

Growing old is not for sissies. In our 20s and 30s, we are frantic for love and success, expecting to live happily forever after. In our 40s and 50s, we’re at our peak earning years and deeply involved in parenting. As we approach our 60s, we are reaching retirement and empty nesting, we look into the mirror and are shocked to see an aging stranger. Is this all there is? What happened to that beautiful, hopeful person with those great expectations?

You may be as frightened as I, wondering where we go from here. After all, we may have another third of our life to live! In ancient Rome, we would have been dead by age 18. In Victorian times, we may have lived to our 40s. In America’s last century, our 60s. But now, with modern sanitation and medicine, we can expect to live to our 80s and 90s. Science is presently teasing us with the promise of an even longer life!. But at what price, with what quality of life?

With age comes the natural slowing of the body and mind, as well as a higher incidence of cancer, the curse of Alzheimer’s, painful arthritis, and many illnesses most of our forefathers and mothers were spared because they died too soon. However, there are ways we can slow the aging process, reduce the possibility of illness, and increase our feelings of self-worth, re-engagement with the world, a recharging of our personal power.

Fortunately, along with the many real problems of aging may come greater wisdom as well. Growing old can become a gratifying, graceful third act, an opportunity for each of us to star in our own enriched life drama. Before the curtain comes down, we can leave our audience of friends and family comforted, enlightened, and perhaps hopeful about their own final time on the stage. Our fear can be transformed into the tingle of excitement all actors feel before they step out into the light.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Future Stories

I find my life rich in stories, and I want to give them away. They are seeds from the ripened fruits of my experience, even as that fruit, mature and full of flavors, is consumed by the inevitable march of time. But the little hard-shelled seeds of that rich experience are relevant and resourceful, waiting for another’s random harvest.

* Are You As Frightened As I Am?
* Aging: Is The Glass Almost Empty Or Half Full?
* How Not To Become Invisible
* Learning To Love Yourself Again
* Whom Do You Trust Under 60?
* It’s OK To Be “At The End Of An Era”
* Is There Sex After 60?
* Losing Your Memory Does Not Mean Losing Your Mind
* The Revolt Of The Old Farts
* Finding A Final Philosophy
* The Tragedy Of Fathers And Sons
* Finding Work After Your Job Is Over
* Learning To Love Again After “The Love Of Your Life” Is Gone
* The Manly Art Of Caregiving
* Caring For The One You Love
* In Defense of Nursing Homes
* The Fine Art Of Dying At Home

(And How About Your Stories? We Can Learn From Each Other!)