Archive for the ‘Aging in Grace’ Category

Nothing like a True Friend

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

A dear friend passed away a few weeks ago. I wrote about Martha in early May (See May 6, 2010). By coincidence, kismet, or simply how things have a way of working out, about the time of Martha’s passing, my octogenarian mom lent me the book, A Walk by the Sea, written by Joan Anderson, known hereafter as ‘the author.’  Mom had received the book from a friend of hers to whom Mom has been a mentor. They are true friends.

The author is a 51-year old woman at a crossroads in her life when she meets Joan Erikson, who with her huband, the psychologist, Erik Erikson, formulated elegant theories of human development. The author met Joan as they each walked on the beach near their homes. Joan, then 91, became a beacon to the author toward how to live the rest of her life.  Joan Erikson’s friendship along with her vibrant outlook and zest for life, helped the author to make bold new choices  and move into a productive, creative tension between action and contemplation. It’s a sweet spot of balance to live into, never to hold.

Martha and I became friends when I was just beginning my professional career as a writer.  She was into her second act as an interior designer. The corporate position she left behind had brought recognition and creative satisfaction. As a prelude to her independent design business, Matha traveled around the world absorbing color, texture, and light.  For the next 37 years, she gave back the color, texture, and light to her clients and to her friends.

Martha was a beacon to me, though as in all friendships, at times, I resisted her wisdom. Long will I draw upon her wisdom and belief in the ‘right idea. as well as knowing when to wait and when to act. But, always, move toward action.

Part of the celebration of a friendship across the generations lies in that the elder can openly receive the younger, not only as a mentee, but as a true friend. The author illuminates this with joy. I am thankful for Martha’s friendship and the lessons of being a friend to her.

“Whew!”

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

One of my goals with this blog is to examine how we age and how we might age better. My life is a useful laboratory for this pursuit. I’ve begun to notice most of my peers have graying hair, as well as aches and pains. My mom has a birthday this week, her 83rd. She lives near me in her own comfortable apartment in a senior complex. She’s moved from her home, from her community, had to stop driving, and has several non-life threatening but limiting health concerns. It takes some adjustment for this independent, strong-minded, creative woman to adjust to life on a different scale.

She comes to stay at my house a couple times a month for a day or two. On Sunday evening, we returned to her complex about 8:30 pm, after celebrating Easter. There was a steady stream of cars to both entrances at the complex. I commented, almost to myself, “Everybody is bringing Grandma home after Easter.”

Mom riffed without missing a beat and sighed, “Whew!” We laughed together, I ruefully. I often leave her feeling both relieved and wary of what comes next. She remembers her own leave-taking of her aging father, her great aunts, and elder friends.

I pulled up in front of her building, moving ahead a little because a minivan was closing in behind me. An impatient voice called out from the vehicle for me to move ahead. I asked her to wait just a minute while I got the walker and Mom got out of the car and in the clear. Pulling ahead would have taken me to the curb and made Mom’s steps with the walker more difficult.

After I parked the car, the minivan family was unloading their elder.  Mom turned around and waved at the elder woman, a friend of hers who is confined to a wheel chair. May have been a challenging day for that family.

Sometimes we laugh.  Sometimes we snap.

CareCalendar.org: Help for the ‘Q’ Factor

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

I recently spent some quality time in the health care system. The system came through. Each player being paid did the respective task as promised: the surgeon, the anesthetists, the nurses and aides, the physical therapists, even the guided meditation person who spoke with me just before surgery. No complaints about the insurance company either, though the deductible is insanely high. I did my part by preparing for the process as directed and following instructions afterwards.

The ‘Q’ factor, a variable over which I thought I had least control, turned out to be the care from my friends and family. In theory, it seems obvious, but in fact, I am a rather independent soul who is sometimes under the impression that she is doing many things herself. The implications of needing help with daily life for a while, personal needs, meals, rides to the doctor, left me more than concerned. I just didn’t see how I would manage.

Just when I was resigned to going to a rehab facility for two weeks, my aunt who lives in Washington State offered to come for the surgery and ten days after. I’ve always enjoyed Karen’s company, but it didn’t even occur to me to ask her to come to help me. I was very moved by her offer and accepted.

Then, Kate, an acquaintance, also single and independent, told me about carecalendar.org. She had been kicked in the knee by a horse and had an immediate crisis that included feeding a stable full of horses while she recuperated. Someone told her about CareCalendar and both she and her horses were cared for well during her recuperation.

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CareCalendar is an online service where one can enter ones needs over any period of time. The Bortel family in Stockdale, Texas created and maintains the service. There is no charge, but they ask for donations. After the requests are entered, there’s a code to send to everyone who has offered to help. Each of those people can go into the site and see if the requests fit with their schedules.

CareCalendar, coupled with my aunt’s generosity, made all the difference. I needed about a month’s worth of steady attention. In just a few days, I had promises of a five week’s of meals, rides to the doctor, and, even a crew of friends and their kids to do fall-cleanup in the yard. My aunt loved the results of CareCalendar, too, as she didn’t need to cook much, though she did make a fabulous apple pie.

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I received wonderful dinners, including African Peanut Soup, a divine Chicken and Rice Casserole, several bottles of wine (saved until I was off the pain meds), bouquets of flowers, and even Seasons 1 and 2 of Mad Men. Some of the friends and neighbors who helped were the usual suspects, friends I see often enough. I was very grateful knowing I could rely on them, though I wasn’t surprised at their attention. I sent CareCalendar and the sign-in codes to every person who offered to help, some of whom I didn’t know that well or expect do anything. But, they offered and I honored that.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised. But, I was. And, humbled too. A recent study reported in the New York Times details how children practice giving and helping even before they can talk. The researchers say that we are programmed with the urge to help. It’s biological, they say.

Apart from my appreciation for my friends and family and CareCalendar, one other thing is worth noting.  A handful of the people who helped me have started using CareCalendar, including the church’s ‘Hot Dish Ministry’ and individuals coordinating for friends and family.

Biological? It works. That’s all I need to know!

Generation Connect

Friday, December 11th, 2009

About half way through my freshman year of college, I was starved, starved to see and talk to people who weren’t aged 18 to 21. I have a vivid memory of being invited to dinner by a young couple with a baby and feeling a sense of relief, even though the parents were just a few years older than I. It was a relief to step back into the wider world, beyond the homogenous pond of my fellow students in the dorm, the dining room, the nerve-wracking chemistry lab, and the giant biology lecture hall.

Students at the University of Minnesota (UM) Medical School and St. Paul’s Luther Seminary have a lifestyle opportunity to step out of the age-narrow ghetto of higher education and gain skills in working with elders in their chosen professions. The residents of Augustana Apartments, a downtown Minneapolis senior housing complex, have invited people from these two programs to be their neighbors. Co-housing across Generations The arrangement is the brainchild of Dr. Edward Ratner, UM associate professor of internal medicine and medical director of Heartland Home Health Care in Roseville, Minn.  The initiative began Fall 2009 with two medical students and three seminary students moving to vacant apartments at the complex.

The idea is mutual support. Dr. Ratner wants his students to better understand the needs of elders; each student completes training as a home health aide as a condition of residence. Students have a place to live, eat, and socialize with people who aren’t in a hurry. For the elders, it’s a way to combat loneliness and to have the chance to pass along age-tested knowledge. In addition, such things as changing a light bulb or greasing a squeaky wheel in a walker can seem almost insurmountable to someone who can’t climb a ladder or easily squat down, while a younger person does such chores without hesitation.

Dr. Ratner’s plan is low-tech/high-touch. It’s almost laughably simply and blindingly obvious, yet it’s innovative. The population over age 65 is growing fast.  Fewer people than ever choose geriatrics as a medical specialty. Not only is it in the bottom of the pay-scale for physicians, many ailments of aging don’t respond to quick fixes.  Depression is common and undertreated among elders and isolation boosts the tendency to depression. Fewer kids grow up being around elders. As those kids become adults, elders can seem foreign. Younger people, even those pushing middle age, live hurry-up lives dominated by technology. An elder may offer a kind of listening and attention that seems novel to the fast pace of mainstream 21st Century life.

The co-housing initiative at Augustana Homes seeks to address these issues. I’m going to be checking with them in a few months for an update. In the meantime, I am scheduling time both with my mom and other elder friends, and with the “youngers” in my life.