Saturday, November 22, 2008

You Are Getting Older, And You’re Also Getting Better!

         You may no longer be the “hot babe” or the “handsome hunk” you used to be; so what? Some things do improve with age – fine wine, good cheese, even Galapagos tortoises. They never age. Scientists say, and they should know, that Galapagos tortoises lose none of their strength or physical functions as they grow older.

         Well, we’re not tortoises, we are human beings, and although we may physically change (look in the mirror!), there are many ways we become better, wiser, more able to navigate the tides of yearly wear and tear.

         We are now part of the “silver tsunami”, older Americans who are the fastest growing segment of the national population. We are experiencing the changes in our bodies that are the inevitable part of normal human aging: our muscles lose strength, our skin gets thinner and more easily damaged; the lenses of our eyes become thicker, so we have a harder time reading small print and driving at night. We may even notice in the mirror that our nose and ears are a little longer, our eyebrows grow a bit faster.

         As we notice these superficial, but critical  physical changes, we must also  be aware of the many benefits of aging. We gain wisdom as well as experience. We can learn to make better decisions, thanks to our earlier mistakes.

Life can become smoother and less worrisome as we prepare for this very interesting second half of life. We join the growing number of “successful agers” by maintaining and indeed strengthening our physical and mental health by improving our diet with more vegetables and fewer fatty foods, more exercise for body and mind and less “couch potato” lifestyles. We build stronger social networks of friends and family around us for greater community, comfort, security and enjoyment.

And now we have the time to give back to our community by offering our energy and expertise to local groups such as hospitals, hospice care, children’s reading and mentoring programs, senior’s programs, and the many other organizations that need our help.

This is how we turn our “olden years” into golden years! We now have the freedom to create a new life, and maybe a new profession as well, after retirement, after our children have grown, after we have successfully survived those youthful challenges and middle-aged responsibilities. Finally, we can look forward to helping ourselves by helping others -- gathering a new kind of gold in our golden years.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Learn To Live In The “Now”

“Now” is a bearable burden. What buckles the back

         is the added weight of the past’s mistakes and

         the future’s fears.

         I had to learn to close the front door to tomorrow

         and the back door to yesterday and settle down

         to here and now. – Anon


         How much of your day, and sleepless night, do you dedicate to your past, or to your future; to the “what could have been’s” to the “what if’s?” If you’re like most of us, you usually aren’t really present in the here and now, even when you’re  fully awake. We spend too much of our lives in that perpetual dream-state of past regrets and future anxiety. This tendency is a bad habit that takes over our lives, diminishing our potential for a better, happier life, a life that gives us the ability to be fully engaged.

         Like most bad habits, this one can be removed from your life, or at least modified. First, in order to detect and define what this past and future dislocation feels like, catch yourself in your day dreams and night anxieties, when you are aware that your more peaceful present is being shoved aside. Then open your awareness to the real  present, this special precious moment when you can relax and make decisions that will benefit you and give you pleasure. This is your intention, the authentic “here and now”, the realization and commitment that you are in charge.

         Then, after feeling the surging power and pleasure of being here, inside your own skin and now, in this unique moment of your life, you can create an on-going attention to how you are really feeling, how you are in control of your consciousness and how you can immediately take whatever action your self-enhancing decisions requires.

         Allow yourself to feel each precious moment. Don’t “should yourself”, don’t do what other people have told you that you should or should not do. Unlearn all the bad habits and bad teachings you’ve learned in the past.

         Realize that this is your true freedom – the freedom to make your own decisions in your own time, without parents, priests or parsons, friends or enemies, to tell you what you should do or should not do. This is your life and you have the inalienable right to live it by your own wisdom and your own decisions.

         Kick the habit of mindless heeding what other people in other times told you. Be your own boss in the truest sense of the word. Begin right now to create your new intention to be truly present in every moment. Pay attention to those subtle moments whenever you find yourself losing touch with your present, your reality and humanity.

         Remember Mr. Anon’s advice: “Learn to close the front door to tomorrow and the back door to yesterday, and settle down to your own here and now.”


         (Want to respond, comment, suggest? Contact:


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Coming Alive At 75

“Nothing happens to me anymore …

       that’s the reality of getting old.”


It doesn’t have to happen that way. “Getting old” … at age 55, 65, even 85 … doesn’t have to be the end of your real life, but instead can be the beginning  of interesting, even exciting new chapters in the life you have left.

         Many studies have shown that by keeping active at any age, not just physically but also mentally, by accepting opportunities, responsibilities and challenges every day of your life, you can indeed keep younger in spirit, vital and alive, eager to face another day, every day.

         Look around you. Walk down your street. Read your local paper. An invalid neighbor might need a little help. Local square dance groups need another partner. Social service agencies need volunteers of any age. Little children need someone to read to them, to help them spell. Old folks need someone to sit and listen to their stories. You can fill any one of these needs.

         There are also paying positions out there just waiting for you; stores and companies need older workers who are dependable, experienced, willing to fill-in part time or full time.

         Want to learn a new career? Ready to become a painter, a sculptor, a medical care worker? Community colleges are gearing up to bring retired folks back into meaningful hobbies and professional second careers.

         Become a student again. Relive your earlier productive life by creating a new life for yourself, by finding new friends who are interested in you and what you’re doing, and learn to enjoy the thrill of new responsibilities and new horizons.

         Being old is only numbers. Being alive to new challenges, new pleasures and new friends is who you can become right now. Make something wonderful happen for you today … for your sake and for all of those who need your help, your experience, your creativity, the valuable, unique person you were yesterday and still are today. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Learning To Live With Loneliness

Where has the world gone to
Since I reached the age of 65?
Where are the friends and followers
Who crowded around those early years;
Those few, a very few, too few, still alive?
I look back longingly at cold coals, the fire
That once burned in me with such joy and strife,
The lost moments and quiet folds of those dallying
Days when loafers and lovers lived along with me.
Now, in this deathly quiet of my lonely living room,
I am often alone, too often alone, too much alone, ever all alone.

When we age, we lose more than our youth. We lose our loved ones, our acquaintances, our connections with the world we once knew. As our social circles shrink, our tenuous grip on life and all it means to us is wizened and grayed along with the hair on our head and the skin droopingly covering our weakening hands and blurring face.

As our world becomes smaller, our remembered lives wither and fade as we lose our friends. In many recent surveys, about 22 percent of those surveyed were “emotionally lonely”, feeling alone, left out, lacking in close companionships.” Sixteen percent were “socially lonely”, feeling they had no one to talk to or turn to, that they didn’t really belong to any group. Another 19 percent were “isolated”, experiencing both social and emotional loneliness.

The result? We die sooner. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 14 of every 100,000 people age 65 and older died by suicide in 2004, a higher rate than the general population. In addition, depressed lonely seniors may be at risk of early mortality, literally dying of loneliness because life no longer holds meaning when there are no longer friends or loved ones to share it.

These studies also report “good news”: as many as 40 percent of seniors still feel “connected”, feeling neither socially nor emotionally lonely. These seniors found new friends, joined special interest groups as varied as bird watching, book clubs and square dancing.

They also volunteer to help the hundreds of non-profit social and educational organizations that enhance the communal good. These elder volunteers have recreated their lives, rejuvenating themselves by passing on their experience, wisdom and energy to the next generations. No matter how old, ill, or physically handicapped, senior volunteers can make great positive changes in their communities.

Start searching the local telephone books, newspapers, and social agencies to find a newjob, a new life, and a new career of helping others. Don’t “retire” yourself to a life of worthlessness and loneliness. Your neighbors need you. Your new yet unmet friends need you. A new, happier, richer life awaits you.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Finding Your 2nd Wind At Age 45 (Or 55)

We need to start thinking about aging before we grow older. Whether we’re 40 years old, 50, or (gasp!) even older, we’re soon going to lose a step in our race for the prize, forget where we left our glasses, even wonder who that person is looking back at us in our mirror.

A recent international study revealed that men and women in their 40s were more likely to be depressed; middle-aged people aren’t as happy as either younger people or much older people. During this middle-age time of life, we begin to begin to understand that we aren’t going to achieve our wonderful youthful often-unrealistic dreams of success and fulfillment. We realize that we’re never going to be as beautiful, thin, strong, rich and famous as we had hoped.

So this is the time, our middle years, for us to get our dream-like expectations into line with what we can actually achieve. There is still hope, there is still promise. We can still become more actualized. We can now enjoy a fulfilling, enriching second half of life.

How do we rise out of our depression and broken dreams? First we celebrate our past achievements and set goals for our second half of life, goals which are more realistic and do-able. This is the time for honest self-appraisal, a habit-breaking opportunity for a deep and refreshing “second wind” that will carry us into a more successful future. We can do it. We can be happy. Statistics show that most depressed middle-agers bounce back and become happier and more satisfied with life as they reach their 50s, 60s, and 70s.

How do we do it? First, stop being afraid of growing old or of being old; aging brings wisdom. We learn from our mistakes, because a mistake can be an opportunity in disguise. We can become lucky, because luck is often just knowing, through experience, when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. Life takes on new meaning. We learn to smile more, and people will smile back at us more often. We learn about life by living it more deeply and fully, savoring the hidden flavors which we were in too much of a hurry to notice when we were young.

There is research suggesting that cheerful people actually live longer lives. Possibly, they want to live longer because they have finally gained the wisdom to see that they don’t have to be rich to enjoy the simple richness of every day, don’t have to be beautiful to enjoy the beauty around them. There are hundreds of recent studies which prove that through positive mental and social stimulation,and regular exercise and proper diet, we can remain healthy and happy well into our 80s and 90s.

We must step into this new view of aging, and step out of that middle-age sense of “poor me” or “what-might-have-been.” We must begin a new enlightened age and realize that a better and happier life is just waiting to happen, starting at this very moment, as we turn the corner at age 40, or 50, or 60.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Why Would I Want To Be A Hospice Volunteer?

Why would I want to spend time with, to even think of caring for, a stranger? I have always been afraid of death and dying; I’m even afraid of getting sick. I have enough problems of my own, and I’m still young, sort of, and I have a lot of living to do.

Well, it took me a while to change my mind. I first become a volunteer at McKenzie-Willamette Hospital after I cut my leg with a chain saw. They fixed me up so beautifully that I had to show some gratitude. I became their part-time mailman, delivering information and packages to every one of the hospital’s departments, even to the emergency room where I had already spent some not-volunteer time.

I soon became accustomed to seeing and being with sick people, and dying people, and babies just born. I realized there was a rhythm to life: being born, living, getting sick and old, and dying.

Most people want to die at home, but too many die in the hospital. I saw empty beds that used to hold sick people with whom I had become acquainted as I walked the corridors and special units; many of them did not check out of the hospital to go home.

Soon I heard about hospice, a program in which dying people could remain in their own beds at home. I began asking around and one thing led to another. I’ve been a hospice volunteer for over five years now and have cared for many wonderful, dying people.

Amazingly, it is the most important, the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my long life. I will continue to be a hospice volunteer until someone else volunteers for me.

Why? Let me tell you about Mr. B. I met Mr. B, in his 80’s, in a small, bare nursing home room with only a leafless myrtle tree and a few sparrows outside the one window to keep him company. He was a loner. He had no family, and he lay dying in the last stages of emphysema and a failing heart. The first time I saw him, Mr. B was lying naked under a sheet, skin and bones, hardly able to breathe.

I was taught in my hospice training that my job as a volunteer was to spend time with the patient for an hour or more, one or two times a week, to ease the strain on the loved-one who was giving care at home, or to offer personal contact and help to a patient in a care facility. The best advice I was ever given, was “to sit down, shut up, and listen.”

I did just that as I sat beside Mr. B’s bed, watching him struggle for breath, wondering if he would be like many of my other hospice clients whom I visited only once or twice, after which they promptly died. As if to answer my thoughts, Mr. B opened one eye, his grizzled beard hiding a lean jaw and blue grey lips. “Who in the hell are you?” he whispered.

I told him, and added that I was there to spend some time with him. He chewed on that for a while, then opened the other bloodshot eye. “What good is that?” he said, closing both eyes.

Over the weeks, I came back and continued being there with him, listening to the oxygen pump keeping him alive, hearing the moaning, the calling out and the crying from the rooms around us, aware of the facility staff passing my in the hallway. Little by little, he began to open his eyes during my visits, and tell me his story.

Mr. B was born in Mississippi; both his parents died when he was still a child. He grew up in an Catholic orphanage where most of the nuns were uninterested, but one nun who played the piano, took an interest in him. From her, he learned not only to play but to love music; he grew passionate about beautiful music and the great classical music traditions of the ages. As a grown man, he never found a real job, never used his love of music to earn a living. He had spent most of his long life being alone, traveling the rails throughout the West as a hobo, looking out of the dusty windows of fleabag hotels when flush, and sleeping under bridges when penniless.

But Mr. B loved music. And I loved music. I would come to the care facility for an hour and stay for two, arguing with him about who was the best German composer of the 19th Century, or which conductor did a better job with Mozart. 
After a week or two, he propped up his head on his pillow; soon after, he began to sit up in bed, his birdlike chest heaving with every argument. In a month, I came into his room to find him wearing pajama tops. After another month, I would find him standing, clothed, brushing his teeth when I arrived.

I learned more from Mr. B about music and about being a human being than I learned in all the colleges I had attended and all of the philosophy I had ever read. In the ten months I spent being a friend to Mr. B, I saw his health deteriorate, then rebound. At times, he could hardly lift his head from his pillow, but he often grew more animated as we talked. He began to tell me about his fear of dying and fear of the unknown. We talked about how growing old was not for sissies. Then we would talk about music and argue until he fell asleep.

On December 30, I visited Mr. B. Several care facility and hospice professionals were crowded around his bed. I knew Mr. B was really and truly dying this time. After they left, Mr. B opened that one eye again. “Richard,” he whispered, “talk to me”.

I sat down beside him and held his bony hand. I talked to him about music. I talked to him about living and dying. I sang songs and recited a few halting lines of poetry while he slipped into unconsciousness.

On New Year’s Eve, I called the care facility and talked with the head nurse on duty. Mr. B was resting comfortably, she assured me. I asked her if she would sit with him for a while that night, just to be there with him. She promised me that she would.

On January 2nd of that New Year, one of the social workers at Cascade Hospice called me. Mr. B had passed away on the first morning of the New Year with little pain.

* * *

Cascade Hospice, a non-profit organization originally created by Springfield’s own McKenzie-Willamette Hospital, is dedicated to providing medical care and comfort to a patient after his or her doctor has decided that the patient has six or less months to live. Cascade provides a dedicated staff of doctors, nurses, social workers, even massage and bathing specialists for in-home care or nursing home care to ease the distress of the patient and the burden on the patient’s care giving loved one or loving friend.

The telephone number of Cascade Hospice at Cascade Health Solutions is:


Sacred Heart Medical Center also has a fine hospice program at:


Sunday, March 9, 2008

Create A Plan Of Action For Your Golden Years

As each day passes, every one of us, our parents, ourselves, our loved ones, our friends, is aging. If we are lucky, we will grow older gracefully, live out healthy lives, and die peacefully in our sleep.

Unfortunately, many of us won’t. Many of us may have a long, lingering illness and a difficult death; our declining mental and physical health will require a “caregiver” to help us through this passage. Before that may happen, we may well have the role of “caregiver” placed upon us, if and when a parent or loved one requires this life-changing service from us. For most of us who aren’t medical professionals, this is a new and difficult role, one which we may not expect or even desire. No matter which scenario happens first, caregiving for you or your loved one, this is the time to create a plan of action for those last golden and often stressful years.

An organization which has given a great deal of study and thought to this growing national problem is AARP, the premier voice for retired people and those facing the facts of aging. Though each person’s experience is unique, caregivers face many common challenges. Here is some recent information AARP has provided which can help us consider the situation and create our own plan of action:

Less time for personal and family life.
Caregiving takes time; as a result, caregivers have less time to spend with other family members or less leisure time for themselves.

The need to balance job and care giving responsibilities.
Caregiving tasks, such as taking a parent to the doctor, or talking to a social worker about community services, usually must be done during work hours. This can present problems on the job.

Financial hardships.
The products and services associated with providing care can be costly. Those costs can quickly add up.

Physical and emotional stress.
Caregiving can be physically and emotionally stressful, especially for those providing intense levels of care for long periods of time.

Most people do not prepare to be caregivers. The following are some steps that new caregivers can take to address their loved ones’ needs.

Determine housing options and preferences.
Are our older relatives still able to move freely and do things around the house?

Have they thought about living somewhere else? Options to consider could include staying in their current home with some changes or with some help; moving into a retirement community or some form of assisted living; living with relatives or others; or entering a nursing home.

Learn the medical history.
Do they have any medical conditions or health problems that are hindering their ability to live independently?

Who are their doctors?

What medications do they take?

If our parents are unclear about the details, it may be necessary to go with them on their next visit to the doctor.

Make a list of people in their personal support system.
Get contact information for everyone on the list. These could include emergency contacts, other close friends and relatives, neighbors, members of their church, housing managers, and others.

Create a financial profile.
List sources of income, such as Social Security and pensions, extended care insurance, monthly and yearly income.

List expenses, bank accounts and investments, and statements of net worth.

Get important account numbers in case these are needed in an emergency.

Review legal needs.
Determine which legal documents are needed, for example; wills, advance directives such as living wills and health proxy forms, trusts, powers of attorney, etc.

Find out where they keep important documents such as their birth certificate, deed to their home and insurance policies.

Gather information about services that can provide help.
These services include home care, adult day care services, home-delivered meals, and help with everyday activities.

Many caregivers get so caught up in providing care for others that their own needs go unmet. Here are some tips that can help caregivers take care of themselves – especially when they’re caring for others:

Take care of our own health.
Eat properly, get regular exercise, and set aside some time each week to do something to enjoy.

Speak up when support or assistance is needed.
Ask for help from family and friends before getting to the breaking point.

Find out about services that help caregivers.
Care/case management from a social service agency may be able to link our loved ones to benefits, services, and adult day services. Ask about respite care that can give a break to the caregiver and about support groups , both in the community and on the Internet.

Seek help or training to improve care giving skills.
Hospitals, volunteer organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association and community service agencies are good places to look for appropriate training programs.

Thanks to organizations like AARP, aging can become less difficult for us and for our loved ones. A little planning now will go a long way to help ease the path to and through those “golden years”. It’s never too early to start, never too early to plan for the inevitable, never too early to live life to its fullest for every precious moment and day we have left.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Caregiving: For Yourself And For The One You Love

Welcome to this first day of the rest of your life. May this be the first day that you really understand you are no longer a youth, maybe not even a person of middle age, a person who has an endless wealth of time and health and does not really want to think about the future.

This brief essay is a wake-up call to ask you to open your eyes and see how you can avoid having those “golden years” of aging become an unhappy time. It is important that you begin thinking and planning now for a more realistic and maybe more carefree last stage of life for you and for your partner.

This is especially important for everyone because our local and federal governments are just beginning to understand the enormous impact of the “boomer” generation, a huge group of people who are living longer and stretching the nation’s resources and its ability to provide many vital services, such as:

• Proper health care – As health care costs rise for the individual and the community, new ways must be found to allow communities to provide and fund adequate care for the individual.

• Proper nutrition – An estimated four million older adults in the U.S. are unable to afford, prepare or gain access to a proper diet. Millions more are grossly overweight because of consuming too much of the wrong food, which leads to the increased need for health care.

• Proper exercise – Too few older adults get sufficient daily exercise, despite research showing that proper exercise greatly increases overall muscle strength, bone density, agility and general function. From grade schools to senior centers, all communities need to fund and support opportunities for exercise at all ages of life.

• Proper transportation alternatives – Reduced mobility can put an older person at higher risk for poor health, isolation and loneliness. Most Americans rely on their automobiles to have a good life, but as they age, reaction time slows and their ability to drive is seriously impaired. Communities need to provide specialized education and more public transportation to keep older persons mobile.

• Proper housing – Studies have shown that older adults overwhelmingly prefer to “age in place” in their existing homes and communities; they may, however, need to modify their existing home or move to another residence that is more accessible, more affordable or more appropriate in size to accommodate their changing needs. Older people need to know the opportunities available, and their communities need to provide proper and affordable choices.

This is only a partial list of concerns that face communities nationwide. There will be over seventy five million Americans who will soon reach their golden years, and they may find too little fun or funding at the end of their days. There is a great deal of information on these topics provided by many organizations;, is a good, helpful website to consult in order to follow new information as it’s being developed.

My next essay will be more specific and practical to your need and desires as you “Create A Plan Of Action For Your Golden Years”.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Caring For The One You Love

“I take you to be my lifelong partner, to have and
hold from this day forward, for better or for worse,
for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to
love and to cherish, until death do us part.”

Do these words sound familiar? Did you say them at your wedding? Did you think something similar when you decided that this special person is going to be your life partner for ever and ever? Do you still feel this loving commitment to your spouse? Have you committed yourself in an equally meaningful fashion to your aging parents or to a deeply loved friend?

When we make this wonderful, exciting, life changing decision, few of us think of that faraway time when we may not only be the mutually satisfying partner, best friend, or happy child of that loved one, but also his or her full time caregiver.

For every person who can no longer care for himself or herself because of aging, disease, dementia, or the myriads of other end-of-life difficulties, there is usually a caring, giving person who remains, with either the earnest desire or the obligation to care for the loved one who is now in ultimate need.

Fifty-two million people in America currently provide care to an adult partner, friend or family member. Nearly one out of every four households is the center of care giving for someone over age 50; an additional seven million Americans are long-distance caregivers for older relatives.

Are you ready for this life changing, often career ending experience? Is the person who will now be dependent on your daily care, ready to accept his or her new passive role in life?

It is important for all of us to begin thinking and planning for this final most important episode in life. It is necessary for you and your loved one to plan now for all the possibilities and to begin instituting procedures for all of the aging and end-of-life steps each of you will be required to take. Invite your loved one to go with you on this journey of ultimate discovery. You will both learn how to help one another as you grow older, wiser, and more self-reliant entering those final “golden years”.

And, of course, the extraordinary secret of our lives is that we never know until then who the caregiver will be and who will be the one that finally receives the care.

In the next few blogs, I will explore with you many helpful hints which can set both of your lives in order, so that you and the one you love will enjoy many happy, healthy, stress-free “golden years” together.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Finding A Final Philosophy

Who are you? Why are you here? Have you accomplished anything meaningful, maybe even momentous in your life? Has your time spent on this planet been fully enjoyable and worthwhile for you and for others?
Most of us don’t really think of these ultimate, impossible questions. Yet as you read this essay, you might find value, maybe even comfort, in reflecting on them. Your life can be similar to a great poem; it should have rhythm, meaning, a solid beginning, fulfilling middle and satisfactory ending. To help you think about this, a quote from Anam Cara, a book of Celtic wisdom, may help:

“Poets are people who become utterly dedicated to the threshold where silence and language meet. One of the crucial tasks of the poet’s vocation is to find his (or her) own voice. When you begin to write, you feel you are writing fine poetry; then you read other poets only to find that they have already written similar poems. It takes a long time to sift through the more superficial voices of your own gift in order to enter into the deep signature and tonality of your Otherness. This is a voice within you that no one, maybe even you, has ever heard. Find the true music of your own spirit.”

Professionally, you may not be a poet. But you are an intelligent, curious human being. You are investigating this most curious subject, “The Art of Aging”, so you have the ability to think like the poet does. Reflect on the “deep signature and tonality of your Otherness”. What is that voice within you which no one, not even you, may have ever heard?

Most scientists agree that all matter, all life, is made up of vibrations, music if you wish, the music of your spirit which makes you who, and what, you are. Can you hear it? Can you feel it?

Now that you are older, you have the opportunity to allow the time and your wisdom to experience this “silence of the poet”, that magical place where creativity and self-discovery happen.

Think about it. Take long walks with yourself and explore interior parts of you. Make friends with your hidden potential. Say “hello” to the Otherness in you. Then act on this new information; create a new career for yourself in this fertile, final stage of your life.

This little exercise could transform the rest of your life. Now is the time to re-create yourself and give to the world what is the best within you. You may find that you’re a teacher, a philosopher, a caregiver, a volunteer, a friend, a more happy and fulfilled person. You may even be a wonderful new poet whose powerful voice will create new music for our old, tired, needy world.