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The Tattered Remnants of the Gray Panthers

Yesterday, AQ, Cowtown Pattie and Maria left comments asking what ever happened to the Gray Panthers. For those of you too young to remember, some...

Background
The Gray Panthers was organized by Maggie Kuhn in 1970, when she was forced to retire from her job at age 65, which was legal then. The name was a play on The Black Panthers, then a controversial, revolutionary black nationalist group.

It was Ms. Kuhn’s charm and feistiness that propelled the Gray Panthers to prominence and the group wasn’t just for old people. Maggie’s goal was to unite young and old for social change and they focused not just on elder rights, but poverty, civil liberties and joined in the anti-Vietnam War protests of the time. [Full disclosure: I produced several television interviews with Ms. Kuhn in the 1970s.]

Maggie Kuhn died in 1995, at age 89.

The Gray Panthers Today
The Gray Panthers is now a shadow of its former self. It national website is an embarrassment of poor design, bad navigation and boring content of a few position papers filled with Whereas and Be It Resolved statements. As far as can be determined, they don’t actually do anything, although there is a recent note on the home page about what would have been Maggie Kuhn’s 100th birthday earlier this month.

There are several local chapters that, with one or two exceptions, seem as moribund as the national office. The San Francisco group appears to be the most active, holding monthly meetings on the topics of health, war and peace, civil liberties and books.

The Detroit chapter held a protest against the Iraq War in March. Austin, Texas lists a meeting for October and a holiday potluck in December. And there is a note on the home page of the Washington, D.C. chapter to “Click here for spring 1999 newsletter.”

The one time in the past ten years or so that the national Gray Panthers made an attempt to affect public policy was a disaster of their own making. In 2003, the group bought full-page ads in several U.S. newspapers attacking the federal government for awarding contracts to MCI WorldCom after the company had committed one of largest corporate frauds in history. At the bottom was the usual disclosure appended to partisan political ads: “This ad was paid for by Gray Panthers.”

There was just one little problem with that statement – it was false. The money for the ads came from Issue Dynamics, Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm among whose clients was Verizon which was then campaigning to prevent MCI WorldCom from emerging from bankruptcy.

Can you spell conflict of interest?

The Future of the Gray Panthers
The only thing the Gray Panthers has going for it these days is a clever name, but I’m not even sure of that. It was catchy when everyone in the U.S. knew the Black Panthers reference, but who remembers that today? And the times have changed, requiring a different, more sophisticated kind of action than issuing a poorly-written press release now and then.

A national organization promoting the rights of older people and campaigning for their inclusion in public affairs – from as local as the neighborhood to Congress and the White House – is a good idea. But the tattered remnants of the Gray Panthers aren’t up to it.


NOTE: The destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina is unspeakable. If ever there was a time to open our hearts and pocketbooks, it is now. You can donate here.


Being Elder Rich

Since January, President Bush has been trying, unsuccessfully, to convince the country that because the numbers of older people are increasing, we must "save" Social Security by creating private accounts. Sounding a similar note, the media wrings its hands ever more frequently about the burden an aging population will place on the world’s economies.

Simultaneously, anti-aging proponents tout every kind of snakeoil that will, they insist, prolong life, while legitimate scientists are busy mining the bug and rodent populations for longevity clues. A year or two ago, it was fruit flies that they said could make us all Methuselahs. Last week, it was mice who, apparently, have a gene that can extend their lives by 30 percent. Scientists hope to apply what they have discovered to humans.

Does anyone else see a contradiction here: "Oh dear, we’ve got too many old people; let’s see if we can create even more by getting everyone to live an additional 25 or 50 or 100 years."

There is another way of looking at this:

“Far from being ravenous locusts determined to consume an ever-increasing share of resources, our elders represent an unprecedented windfall…

“In terms of political power, they form one of the most powerful political advocacy forces in our society. The amount of life experience they can bring to bear on the important problems that face our society is huge and will only grow as the decades pass…”

- What Are Old People For?, William H. Thomas, M.D.

Instead of spending billions of science dollars on increasing life spans (even if it were successful, it will take many decades to accomplish), we could apply that money to improving health in the old age we’ve already got and spend some effort to bring older people into the mainstream of public life where their experience, judgment and wisdom can be put to effective use in helping to solve the really important problems of the world.


Coming Crisis in Health Care

category_bug_journal2.gif Contrary to what appears to be popular belief, plastic surgery does not keep anybody young. Beneath the lipo-ed, Botoxed and stretched exteriors, aging continues and with that come health problems ranging from minor but chronic annoyances to catastrophic disease.

On Saturday, The Dallas Morning News published a frightening report that will affect you and your loved ones personally.

“It’s scary; we’re about to have a major medical crisis that will overburden millions of families,” said Dr. Harrison Bloom, a senior associate at the International Longevity Center in New York…”

“’It’ll be chaotic, and the quality of care will suffer,’ predicted Dr. Meghan Gerety, a professor of medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and chair of the American Geriatrics Society.

“Health care professionals advise boomers to brace themselves: Symptoms may be misunderstood or dismissed. Diagnoses may be late. And the wrong drugs may be prescribed.”

- The Dallas Morning News, 27 August 2005

The Need For More Physicians
The reason is that there are not enough physicians trained in the ailments of old age. In 2004, there were fewer than 7,000 board certified geriatricians, which is fewer than half the number currently needed. By the year 2030, when the 65-plus population will be double what it is today, there will be about one geriatrician for every 7,665 older patients unless we can increase the number of physicians trained in that specialty.

But the odds are not good. According to The Nation’s Health,

“…geriatricians comprise only one-half of one percent of all medical educators.” To meet demand in the coming years, says The Center for Workforce Studies, “…about 2800 additional medical school graduates will be needed annually.”
- The Nation’s Health, May 2005

Considering that we currently graduate a total of about 16,000 new physicians per year, this appears to be a crisis heading for disaster.

“We’ll never have enough geriatricians, so we’re helping primary-care physicians become better at screening patients for geriatric conditions,” said Dr. Ziad Haydar, assistant chief of geriatrics at the Baylor.
- The Dallas Morning News, 27 August 2005

Although many primary care physicians, family doctors and internists care for aging patients, training in geriatrics is important because older bodies to not respond to drugs, dosages and other treatments in the same manner as younger bodies, and physicians untrained in geriatrics too often erroneously believe many conditions are inherent to old age and don't bother to treat them at all.

Cost Containment
In March this year, The New York Times reported that a “significant” number of doctors are refusing new Medicare patients and experts say that older people in the coming years and decades will receive inferior care if there is not Medicare reform.

“Lawmakers will need to adjust Medicare’s payments to realistically compensate doctors for the extra time they spend on assessing geriatric patience and coordinating geriatric care teams,” said Daniel Perry, [director of the Alliance for Aging Research.
- The Dallas Morning News, 27 August 2005

Better geriatric primary care can save a lot of money by reducing hospital and nursing home costs. Even a ten percent reduction could save more than $50 billion per year, according to Perry.

“But experts aren’t optimistic that lawmakers will reform Medicare until there’s a public outcry. And boomers may also be their own worst enemies, since they’re not inclined to admit they’re getting older.”
- The Dallas Morning News, 27 August 2005

Did you know that it is legal in the United States for any doctor, no matter what his field of study, to perform plastic surgery? And in 2004, 11.9 million plastic surgery procedures were performed. Maybe if there were not such a demand for vanity medicine, more doctors would become geriatricians.


NOTE: Maybe you already know, but I didn't so I checked definitions:

GERIATRICS – a branch of medicine that focuses on health issues of later life
GERONTOLOGY – the study of the aging process


Stepbrother Joe

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[c. 1990] Following Mom’s death, my stepbrother Joe, who had helped so much during Mom's final months, spent another few weeks with me in Sacramento helping some more as we closed the apartment, arranged the memorial dinner and for the ceremony to scatter Mom’s ashes at sea.

Joe telephoned after I had been home in New York for about two weeks. He had had trouble writing a letter, he said, and wanted to tell me “in person” that he was HIV-positive. I asked why he hadn’t told me in Sacramento. He had not wanted to burden me further, he said, while my mother was dying.

Joe visited me in New York in the fall of 1992. It was his first visit to the city and he fell in the love with it as I had when I arrived 25 years eariler. He walked uptown and downtown, east side, west side, all around the town. And my favorite building, the Chrysler Building, became his favorite too. He promised to return in winter because he wanted to see Greenwich Village, he said, in the snow.

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Newspaper Clipping Found in Mom’s Wallet

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I was sitting with Mom when she died in the early afternoon of 27 April 1992. She was 75 years old. I washed her body and dressed her and lit a candle and sat with her and Joe and her best friend Barbara for four or five hours before telephoning the authorities.

A friend once suggested to me that dying is the last, great lesson a parent teaches a child. If that is so, I will have much to live up to when my time comes. But in my case there was an additional, greater gift.

Mom, in her last months, taught me about my own goodness. I discovered depths of caring and compassion while caring for her that I had no idea I was capable of. Oddly, I was the happiest I had ever been, those months in Sacramento. Not lighthearted, but feeling useful and needed. Mom died as she wanted and in helping her do that, I was more comfortable with myself than I had ever been.

Next...


COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
trst2 @ 2003-11-20 said:
I’m at work, had just my lunch and now I am sitting in front of the computer drinking coffee and looking and reading fotolog: Your words go straight into my mind.

bandman @ 2003-11-20 said:
What a beautiful tribute to your mother. Not what you say about her but what she must have taught you over the years that gave rise to your compassion and caring. That doesn’t come without the groundwork being laid from early on.

Compassion is a gift that is triggered through receiving it first.

av_producer @ 2003-11-20 said:
You know I knew this was coming. And still today as I pulled this up and I started to read, I clicked away, I didn’t want to know, I didn’t want to believe it.

I came back, after some thought, to say good-bye Mom. And as we know that nothing disappears from the Web, in a small way she will be with all of us forever.

jkh_22 @ 2003-11-20 said:
I’m touched by your experience and your ability to write about it so well...death feeding the cycle of life, and the infinite exchange of care between mother and child within that cycle.

artofgold @ 2003-11-20 said:
Ronni, I’ve been captivated by your log since finding the link via AV’s log a few months ago. I’ve resisted leaving a comment as I think I’ve just been overwhelmed with the history and emotions contained within your log. I thank you for sharing all of these moments.

I am glad you had closure with your mother, it sounds like you’ve learned valuable lessons from her. This is a beautiful tribute to her as it proves she’s taught you well.

Again, thanks for sharing, Sunny

zinetv @ 2003-11-20 said:
This is truly beautiful.

storyville @ 2003-11-20 said:
Sublime

hamlet @ 2003-11-20 said:
Take care, Ronni.

sckelly @ 2003-11-20 said:
Ronni, we read these same words at my Granny’s funeral. She loved this poem. I have the whole thing if you don’t...

helene @ 2003-11-26 said:
I’ve been looking through parts of your fotolog and reading the strong words accompanying the pictures of your loved ones. I can understand the feelings from taking care of your mom as she was passing away and really giving back what you once got from her as you needed her caring to survive. Strong!! Thanks for sharing!


The Same Old Story

Okay, I lied yesterday – or was mistaken, anyway - when I said those random notes on aging were unlikely to yield a full-blown blog post. I scribbled out this quote, as I read the novel a couple of years ago, because it nicely stated some feelings I had begun to experience occasionally:

"...an old man's impatience at seeing the show come 'round again one too many times.”
- John Le Carre, Absolute Friends

When Jayson Blair got caught making up stuff for his New York Times reports, I skipped most of the details. Been there, I thought, how many times before? Janet Cooke fabricated the existence of an eight-year old heroin addict about 20 years ago and nearly won a Pulitzer Prize before she was found out. There followed Patricia Smith and Stephen Glass and many others who fictitiously dressed up their news pieces.

This lapse is so common that although there is no way to know two millennia later, it wouldn’t surprise me if Flavius Josephus embellished his reports of the Roman wars in Judea and Homer probably fiddled the facts in the Odyssey too.

Then there are the weekly tabloid sagas of celebrity “scandals.” Please. Nothing from Hollywood is scandalous these days. We’ve heard so many versions of drug and sexual shenanigans in high circles during the last 30 or 40 years the sleaze and shock value are long gone. How much of this can we consume before our brains atrophy?

And while I’m discussing Hollywood, it’s commonly said there are only seven basic plots, but the movie and TV people don’t even bother to use all seven. What are we up to now, the third remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers? They are all cheesy compared to the first. I hear tell there’s a remake of To Kill a Mockingbird in the works. You tell me: is there anyone alive who could match Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch? Another cinematic telling is one too many.

In the world of public affairs, executives steal the corporate revenue. Government contractors can’t account for billions of dollars. Politicians skim taxpayer money to build bridges to nowhere. Elected officials lie. So what else is new? There was the Yazoo Land Scandal that started in 1795. The Whiskey Ring 80 years later. Tammany Hall. Teapot Dome. And all the gates since Water.

It’s déjà vu all over again and some of these shows have started to come around a few too many times for me. It is wearisome that none of it ever changes except in scale.

Maybe the very elderly who famously nod off in their rocking chairs aren’t succumbing to age but, like Le Carre, to boredom with the same old story.


Random Thoughts on Aging

[HONORARY OLDER BLOGGER NOTE: Rana, at Notes From an Eclectic Mind, is having a wonderful time today at my expense. Check it out.]

category_bug_journal2.gif The notebook has a satisfying heft to it, resting solidly in my hand when I pick it up. The stiff, black covers - as weighty as those of a hardback novel by Salman Rushdie - lend gravitas and the lined pages within are thick and smooth. They take a pen nicely. It looks substantial, this book, suggesting that it might contain important information.

And it does. It is my blog journal, the place where I keep handwritten notes, thoughts and ideas for future entries, questions to be researched, phrases I like that could be useful one day or might spark lengthier thought. It has been with me since Time Goes By was launched, but it is full now and I have purchased an identical new one.

To avoid the clutter and inconvenience of two TGB journals, I have copied over unused items of significance into the new book leaving these random notes that are unlikely to breed full-length blog stories (although it's hard to be certain of that sometimes):

  • One day I woke up and the backs of my hands were wrinkly. I didn't see it coming. There seems to have been no transition period.
  • Anti-aging proponents and many gerontologists think aging is a disease to be cured rather than a time of life.
  • Experience and wisdom can be gained only by getting older. Who decided a cute, young body is more valuable?
  • I thought, because I have always had freckled skin, no one would notice when I got age spots. Wrong! Age spots don't look anything like freckles.
  • Old people regret not what they did during their lives, but what they did not do.
  • When I was young, I thought being old would make me an entirely new and different person, a better person. It didn't.
  • Using blogging to accept who you are. You can't lie because over time you will forget what you've said before and trip yourself up. Blogging is an excellent exercise in honestly knowing yourself.
  • An 80-year old planting a peach tree, the fruit of which he'll never live to eat. "I've been eating peaches all my life," he said. "I'm just trying to repay a little."
  • Culture: the place where society tells stories about itself.
  • For one hour a week, West Wing makes me believe that integrity and morality in politics might be possible.
  • Either my hearing is becoming keener with age or the world is getting louder. I could stand to acquire a little deafness these days.
  • Caregiving of parents: do everything in your power to make it possible to do yourself. The richness of the rewards cannot be calculated.
  • "...an old man's impatience at seeing the show come 'round again one too many times. - John LeCarre
  • The highest state of human beingness is reached when a person can believe, "My life is not important, but life itself is of unsurpassed importance."
  • In June, The New York Times inaugurated a regular column about poker. They still don't have one on aging.
  • "There is no pleasure worth foregoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward." - John Mortimer
  • Job advice for older people concedes up front that there is probably no place for them in the working world.
  • I have always suspected that people who say they would rather die young than get old have never progressed emotionally past teen years when shocking one's elders is a time-honored game. I've always wanted to get old.
  • TV commercials for covering gray hair are so commonplace we forget they are telling us that gray in unacceptable.
  • Don't forget when dealing with young people: they cannot begin to understand what being old is really like. Be gentle with them when they are being stupid about it.

And now that the sturdy, old journal is emptied out, it can be stored in a drawer with all the other stuff I should probably throw out.


Some Honorary ElderBloggers

[NOTE: If you haven't done so, check out Millie Garfield's video about her 80th birthday.]

We’ve been rearranging the furniture a bit here at Time Goes By, moving links from one side of the blog to the other and one section has been renamed Honorary ElderBloggers (those who’ve not reached their 50th birthday yet) which seems a more appropriate header, given the topic of TGB, than Younger Bloggers was.

It’s a minor point, but also an excuse to call a few of them to your attention.

I’ve been reading Kathryn Petro at A Mindful Life for at least a year. She’s a professional counselor and says of her work, “My mission is to inspire enthusiasm in people for lifetime learning…” And for the elementary school students she works with: to "help them cultivate curiosity and independent thinking; my goal is to help them learn how to learn."

There is calming quality to Kathryn’s blog. Although most of her posts are short, I usually find myself lingering over them, feeling like I’ve just had a good shoulder massage. I particularly like her inspired juxtaposition of images with unexpectedly apt quotations.

Even Elisa admits that Elisa Camahort’s Personal Weblog is “the world’s most boring blog name,” but her blog is not boring and I’m not saying that just because she’s the one who invited me to speak at the Blogher conference.

She’s frightfully smart and has a wide range of interests from technology to music, movies, books, theater, politics, restaurants, animal rights and – well, I forgive her for liking American Idol. She thinks she’s a slacker, but that’s just a pose. There’s always something I didn’t know before among the widely divergent subject matter at Elisa’s place.

Jennifer Warwick of The New Charm School entered my life through Blogher and like Elisa Camahort, she’s smart as a whip. She’s a management, leadership and career strategist whose blog is filled with not-your-ordinary success tips, and she is also an excellent wordsmith. Don’t miss the amazing thing she does using references to pretty shoes, cashmere sweaters, handbags and tiaras to bring home her career advice with sparkling style.

Jennifer has a soft spot for powerful women in history and she’s keeping a watch on the John Roberts Supreme Court nomination too. I can’t recommend her blog without also quoting the nicest thing anyone has said about me since I started blogging: “We should all have a Ronni in our lives.” How is it possible to say a proper thank you for that?

What I read Rana of Notes From an Eclectic Mind for are her Texas humor, her rants and like the women above, her astonishing ability to put words together in a manner that sings with grace, clear-headedness and passion. And what she can do with the ordinary stuff of daily life is extraordinary.

I don’t remember how I first found Rana, but I was hooked with the first piece I read, Getting Old in a Little Town. I can’t link directly to it, but click on “The Little Town” under Categories in the right rail of her blog, then scroll a long way down to 28 December 2002. I promise it’s worth the little extra effort and so are all the rest of Rana’s stories about The Little Town where she grew up.

The problem with singling out people for special mention is the others who are not mentioned. They are on the list of Honorary Older Bloggers for equally good reasons, and there are many others I haven’t gotten around to adding yet.

Because Time Goes By is about getting older, I’m not convinced I should have an Honorary ElderBloggers list at all. It started on whim a few months ago when there were some younger bloggers I couldn’t resist recommending, and now I’m torn between keeping TGB pristinely on topic and including these excellent younger voices...

That's a decision for another day.


The Courage To Be Our Age

category_bug_ageism.gif People generally try to avoid admitting they are growing old. Some say, “I’m 65 years young.” Or, “You’re only as old as you feel.” Others, when asked, simply lie. “You don’t look that old,” is another lie, a social convention considered to be a compliment. And there is Satchel Paige’s famous question: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” So many ways to say we’re not as old as we are.

Some try to hide their age with medical procedures ranging from simple chemical peels to major surgery – a growth industry which leaped 30 percent from 2000 to 2004.

Experts tell us that by eating nutritionally and remaining active, we will stay young. They are wrong. These will not keep us young; they will keep us healthy and fit. We are all growing old and none of these tactics can change that.

So why do we try so hard to deny our age? Because we live in age-phobic culture that is discriminatory and disrespectful, littered with false beliefs about old age. No one wants to live in such a world, so we go along with the cultural imperative to maintain a facsimile of youth, actively complicit in our own second-class citizenry.

Ageism is as evil as every other ism and it will persist as long as we pretend to be younger than we are.

Among those pretenses are the phrases above. Language matters and we need to change it. From day one at Time Goes By, the word “old” has been used as a neutral or positive descriptor. Repetition breeds acceptance and if a lot of us use the word “old” that way, its pejorative nature will begin to slip away. And…

We can stop using other phrases like “senior moment.” We’ve been forgetting things since we were kids; it is a myth that old people have poor memories. And…

Unnecessary medical procedures are another pretense and it never fools anyone. We are all adept at recognizing cosmetic surgery nowadays and it’s rarely a pretty picture. And…

When the media publish stories that perpetuate ageism, we can let them know their prejudice is showing. It’s easy these days with email. And…

When you believe you’ve not been hired or have been fired because of you’re old, ask them outright: Is this because of my age? You’ve already lost the job, so it can’t hurt and it makes the bad guys uncomfortable. And...

There is a lot more we, older people, can do to bust the myths of aging, insist on as much respect as people of every other age are accorded and fight back against discrimination.

Our generation has a lot of experience at changing unjust social policies. Many of us marched for civil rights and women’s rights. We protested a war and brought down a president. Just this year, we defeated President Bush’s Social Security privatization plan. And we can do it again.

All it takes to change the culture of ageism is the courage to be ourselves and to stop pretending we are younger than we are. Do it for yourself. Do it for your children and for your grandchildren so they will live in a different kind of world when they get old.


Advertising to Older Folks

Recently Crabby Old Lady was catching up with David Wolfe’s Ageless Marketing blog. It’s not that she cares much about the techniques and practices used by Madison Avenue to part Crabby from her money. Most of the time advertising’s attempts at emotional manipulation are so clumsily obvious and off-key as to be laughable.

An extreme example currently running on television is a black-and-white commercial in which a man and woman come as close to having full-blown sex onscreen as Crabby has ever seen during the family hour. And what’s the product? Car tires - although Crabby can’t remember the brand name - and she laughs out loud every time at the incongruity of sexual rapture over wheels.

But David’s blog is worth Crabby's time because he sometimes reports on research about older people’s behavior, psychology and thought processes and he lobbies, bless his heart, for more realistic advertising communication.

Still, Crabby thinks these folks, who devote vast amounts of time and resources to trying to figure out what kind of marketing will best induce people to pay inflated prices for both useful and useless products, miss the mark.

One example: For years – yes, several years – Crabby fairly regularly thinks about buying the Bose noise-canceling headphones. Crabby has about 8,000 mp3 files on her computer. She likes the “surround-sound” a headset provides, but the cheap set she owns is uncomfortable on her ears and doesn’t envelop her in the music quite the way she would like.

Friends who know about such things tell her that Bose probably makes the best-quality headphones, or close enough. The company ubiquitously buys full-page advertisements in magazines; Crabby runs across them at least once a week. And unlike most ads for most other products, these explain in detail what they do.

This is a product Crabby wants to own and she’s even willing to overlook the fact that they spell canceling wrong in the product name, as cancelling. But she still has not bought it.

Why? It’s simple: there is no price listed.

What there is instead, is an 800 number, but Crabby has never telephoned because there is no way she will make herself captive to a sales pitch for one little piece of information.

So how dumb is it to leave off the price?

Bose isn’t alone in this practice. Many times, Crabby has sought out a product she read about in an ad only to be struck silly by sticker shock in the store. She might have paid the outrageous price if she’d had time to get used to it for awhile before being confronted with the actual purchase. But when Crabby’s head is reeling while the sales person impatiently taps his fingers on the counter, she ain’t payin'. And a sale is lost.

For about a year now, David Wolfe has been deconstructing marketing techniques, particularly those targeting older people, and often doing it quite interestingly. But Crabby thinks it’s a lot easier than Madison Avenue makes it out to be:

  1. Tell her what the product does.
  2. Show her a picture.
  3. Make the copy and images relevant to the product.
  4. Throw in some emotional manipulation if it justifies the expensive research; Crabby can see through it anyway.
  5. TELL HER THE PRICE.

It’s that simple.


Mom at Age 18

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[1934] One night, Mom called for me so frequently, I’d not slept for more than 15 minutes at a stretch. Every cell in my body ached for rest as I heard her call yet again. I considered not moving, not answering. Mom had probably only misplaced something among the bed clothes again, and who would know but she and me if I ignored her.

Exhausted and mightily resentful, I plastered on a fake smile as I dragged myself toward her room. Then, something I can only call magical happened. As I walked into Mom’s room my phony smile, with no effort or intention, became real, my pain and weariness evaporated and I felt genuine pleasure at being able to help Mom in this most extreme circumstance anyone ever faces. I can take no credit for the change; it arrived unbidden, an unearned grace.

I sat on a low stool by Mom’s bed that night and we talked for a long time, an hour or two. Not about anything important. No summings up. No grand philosophies about life and death. Just stuff.

Next...


COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
ibanda @ 2003-11-18 said:
I know of course the death of any parent is difficult, but somehow I feel your Mom’s death hit you harder than you expected. I wish I had had the chance to talk as you did - just stuff...

mrsdeen @ 2003-11-18 said:
Thank you for sharing this deeply personal moment with us. It makes me reflect on my father’s death last year and shed some tears over what we didn’t get to share in those final moments...

pellegrini @ 2003-11-18 said:
I love those very old pictures really too much!

grimp @ 2003-11-20 said:
Old pictures are like treasures to unearth. They are wonderful.


Mom and Joe

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[10 July 1986] My stepbrother Joe, who had retired from the Navy and was living in San Francisco, joined me in Sacramento about five days a week, and I could not have cared for Mom during her final months without him.

When she became bedridden, Joe could lift her so I could change the linen. He was a terrific cook. He took out the trash without being asked. He even folded laundry. Together we ran the house and cared for Mom as though we had been doing such things together all our lives, and I came to love him deeply.

Next...


COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
av_producer @ 2003-11-17 said:
Real life testing. Who talks. Who steps up. Who walks away. Joe passed the test.

shutter451 @ 2003-11-17 said:
I took the test 18 years ago with my dad, six years ago with mom. I’ve always been pretty good with tests, like the SATs. And my wife thinks I could whoop ass on Jeopardy. But these are the tests we don’t choose to take. They’re the ones you can’t cram for. There are no Cliff Notes to help you through the last moments of your parents’ lives. I stuck around; I hope I passed.


Growing Old Gracefully

[NOTE: Thank you all who took part yesterday in the blosophere celebration of Millie Garfield's 80th birthday. What a large, rich variety of greetings you sent her. I had a terrific time visiting them all from the comment links at her blog.]

It is a phrase we’ve heard and used ourselves all our lives: “I intend to grow old gracefully.” I remember saying it myself over the years – when I was a good deal younger than I am now.

What I meant to convey by the phrase then is fuzzy to me now. Something, I suspect, about rejecting cosmetic surgery and accepting “gracefully” whatever time might throw my way in terms of changes in my appearance. Most certainly I appropriated the line from elsewhere without much thought to what getting older is like while imagining myself, in the remote future, in the third person - she, not I, would grow old gracefully.

Now that I have reached the age when such a state of being is an attractive idea, I’ve been wondering what it really means to do so.

Googling “aging gracefully” returns hundreds of thousands of sites which, after an hour or two of perusal, I found can be broken down into four categories:

  1. Pets. Weirdly, there is a lot written about helping pets age gracefully. Not quite what I was looking for.
  2. Christian sermons with a lot of Bible quotations.
  3. Health advice.
  4. Botox and cosmetic surgery proponents arguing against aging gracefully – that is, if appearance is all you think the phrase means; and I do not.

So the web, a rich source of answers for many other questions, failed me. And my growing library of books, reports and studies on aging doesn’t much address this question. Damn! No “experts” to quote.

The one personal ideal who comes to mind, Katharine Hepburn - who never gave a hoot about what other people thought of her - isn't a bad place to start this quest.

These, then, are some thoughts on aging gracefully. You may have some others.

  • The pursuit of the appearance of youth is vanity and it is demeaning. There is grace in wearing our years honestly.
  • Tolerate the inevitable decline in strength with a good nature. When needed, there is dignity, not shame, in asking for help.
  • Cultivate your friends, old ones and new ones, young and old, and listen – really listen – when they speak. It will keep you from becoming hidebound in your outlook, and everything is interesting if you pay attention.
  • Accept eventual death with forbearance and composure. The wheel goes ‘round everlastingly and we must make room for the next generations.
  • And live. Really live. Every day.


Look to this Day. For it is Life,
The very Life of Life.
In its brief course lie all the Varieties
And Realities of your Existence:
The Bliss of Growth,
The Glory of Action,
The Splendor of Beauty.
For Yesterday is but a Dream,
And Tomorrow is only a Vision,
But Today well lived
Makes every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day.

[from the Sanscrit]

Millie’s Big Eight-Oh

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This is it! A really big deal: The 80th birthday of our very own Millie Garfield - blogger extraordinaire, pioneer vlogger and a woman who proves with every post that old age is a terrific time of life.

So get yourselves on over to her blog – My Mom’s Blog – and help give her a giant blogosphere birthday.

Have a great celebration today, Millie, and thousands of more blogging days to come...


Older = Smarter, and Wiser Too

category_bug_journal2.gif After bashing AARP yesterday for publishing a loathsome piece on why lying about our ages is a good idea, it is only fair to note their report on aging brains which counters conventional wisdom that people lose mental power as they get older.

“…studies have shown that older adults are better at solving problems, more flexible in their strategies, and better able to keep their cool during a crisis than younger people are. They also bounce back from a bad mood more quickly.”

According to this story, which is part of a special report on normal and abnormal brain aging, we do get smarter - and wiser too.

“[People] frequently overlook the mental powers they gained...

“’In the old days, you called it wisdom,’ says Duke University neurobiologist Lawrence Katz, Ph.D. ‘But what is wisdom, really? It is a dense and rich network of associations developed through a lifetime of experiences.’

"You can’t buy that richness, and you can’t get it from a pill. You have to earn it – by putting your gray matter to the test time and time again. ‘There’s a reason we don’t have 20-year-olds running Fortune 500 companies,’ Katz says.”

Although aging brains normally lose some speed in learning new skills after age 50, “once you have learned something new, it stays with you as well as it does with younger people.”

So why do older people have a bad reputation for what their brains can do? It’s what I’ve been saying at Time Goes By all along:

“Blame it on our youth-obsessed culture. Many factors can impair thinking and memory, but the most insidious is ageism. Researchers are discovering that the more you buy into the notion that getting older means losing your marbles, the more likely you are to succumb to it.

“For example, Yale University psychologist Becca Levy, Ph.D., has found that older people shown negative words about aging, such as senile, before taking memory tests did significantly worse on the tests than those shown positive words about aging, such as wisdom.

“In fact, people who saw positive words improved their scores. Levy has also shown that in cultures with a more positive view of aging than ours – China, for example – older people perform better on memory tests.”

The more you believe memory loss and thinking ability will decline as you get older, the more likely they will. A healthy diet and exercise play into maintaining brain power in old age too.

Researchers also report that risk for developing dementia is reduced if you continue “challenging your intellect with puzzles and lessons.” I would add blogging to that list. You can read about its benefits here.


Do You Lie About Your Age?

category_bug_ageism.gif Chronological age is an issue from earliest childhood. When we are very young, we are eager to be older and when grownups asked our age then, we held up the number of fingers that matched our years and proudly added “and a half” as soon as we could.

But by the time I reached my teens, in the mid-1950s, I had learned that “a lady never tells her age” and that to ask adults how old they are is rude. These were the first indications that getting older is not what it was cracked up to be when I was five.

Through the ensuing decades, that message was reinforced at every turn in life until it became a given that growing old is the worst offense anyone can commit against the culture.

Many people lie about their age. I remember being surprised, when I was researching Nancy Reagan for an interview when she was First Lady, to discover that her “official” published age had been shorted by four or five years of her real age. Why would it matter how old the wife of a president is? And given our culture's extreme prejudice in favor of youth, how can five years matter after age forty anyway? You're still "too old" according to the youth and beauty police.

And so, when I started Time Goes By, I resolved to state my real age every time it is appropriate. Someone has to take a stand that age is a natural development of living and it is time to get it out of the closet.

Now comes the current AARP Bulletin, that organization which purports to advocate for the largest number of people older than 50, with a story about hiding our age. Pamela Redmond Satran defends lying about her age because:

“…it becomes a yardstick by which other people measure you. People immediately use it to gauge how good you look, how much you’ve achieved, how healthy you are, and what more the world can expect from you before you join that age-free cohort in the sky.

“I don’t want to tell my age because I don’t want my life to be judged by anybody else’s timetable.”

And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Ms. Satran goes along with the ageism of the culture, allowing others to judge her by such an arbitrary number, and she urges the rest of us to lie too. That AARP, whose raison d’etre is to defend the rights of older people, would publish this piece is disheartening and perpetuates the culture’s aversion to age.

Nothing will change - age discrimination in the workplace will continue unchallenged, old people will remain invisible, bad jokes about incontinence will go on being the staple of lazy comedians, and fear of getting older will afflict everyone – until we, older people, refuse to be judged on the number of our years alone.

One way to thwart that judgment is to stand up to our real ages. Let younger people become accustomed to us as we really are. I’m getting smarter, more experienced and I’m learning new things every day – just like when I was younger. There is no way this could happen without getting older.

So I sing it loud and I sing it clear: I am 64 (and a half). Anybody got a problem with that?


Happy Birthday, Oliver

category_bug_oliver

Olieonback How’s the weather where you live? It’s so awful here there’s nothing worth doing but to stretch out on the sofa and pant. The weather guy said that in the past 30 days, 23 of them had temperatures higher than 90F and really high humidity too. It’s days like these when I wish I had a zipper on my fur coat.

Ollieincarrier Moving from my snoozing place is my last thought in this weather. I don’t even want to chase tinfoil balls or play strings-on-a-stick. But Ronni has been dragging me out of the house for a couple of hours just about every other day. I ask you, is that fair to a cat in this heat? She puts me this stupid carrier and drags me off to someone else’s house, and I don’t like it there. All this back and forth is something about showing our place to prospective buyers and the real estate lady doesn’t want Ronni or me around when they do it. Hiss on that!

But hey, guess what? Yesterday was my first birthday. Now birthdays are supposed to be big-deal special events, but there it was again in the middle of the day - she stuck me in that damned carrier, then we took a taxi ride and I had to hang out at her friend’s house again for three whole hours. He seems like a nice enough guy, but it’s not home – ya know what I mean?

Ronni made up for later though. When we got back home, she sang me a song and we had real chicken for dinner. And then later, she brought out my favorite treat – ice cream. So it wasn’t such a bad day after all.

About a month ago, I found a new, secret sleeping place. It’s a shelf in the back closet where it’s quiet and cool and dark. And best of all, Ronni didn’t know anything about it. Sometimes she’d call my name and call my name, but I just smiled to myself and curled up for another dream.

Ollieincloset And now look at this: she walked in without so much as a by your leave, snapped on the light and then – and then, she started clicking off pictures with her camera. I hate that camera. She’s always sticking it in my face and wants me to hold still. She caught me by surprise and I wasn’t awake enough yet to run off, but I sure wasn’t going to smile for her.

Ollieyawn But my most favorite snoozing place – except for my own fluffy pillows on our bed – is Ronni’s desk. I swear she spends more time at her computer than she does sleeping, so this is good way to be with her and every once in awhile she scratches the top of my head or mootchies my ears and that makes me feel good. I’m glad Ronni has a huge, wide desk. I’ve grown a lot since I came to live here last October. You can tell when you compare my size to these first pictures.

Ronni says we’ll be moving soon – to Maine. I looked it up on the computer and it’s a long way away – at least for a cat. I suppose she’ll put me in carrier when we go there, but she promised me I won’t have to leave the new house as often after we get settled there. That will be a great relief to me.

Your blogging friend,
Oliver


Mom and Ronni

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113momandronni1986_07_10_copy

[10 July 1986] When Mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1992, I asked if she wanted me to go to Sacramento to be with her. She answered, “Oh, yes, please,” with more emotion than she had ever revealed to me. She wanted to die at home, she said, and she wanted me there.

I was then editorial director of The Whoopi Goldberg Show working in New York while the show was produced in Burbank. The production company had no email yet, but with a computer, phone, fax and Fedex, I was able to oversee my New York staff from Sacramento while I cared for Mom, and I don’t believe anyone in the Burbank office ever knew I’d left New York.

Next...


COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
arto @ 2003-11-16 said:
Wonderful that you could do that for her.

virgorama @ 2003-11-16 said:
Wow. At some point I will have to face this with my ma..

shutter451 @ 2003-11-16 said:
Hello Ronni. Thanks much for your visits and very kind comments. I’ve been following your log for some time now, with great interest. I have been resisting the temptation to leave one of those cryptic notes that people sometimes leave for the sake of leaving them ("Hey, cool log!" or "You really KNEW John Lennon and Yoko?"). Your log is deep in its personal history and emotion, and has affected me in ways that are not easily summed up. That we are reasonably close in age and have witnessed much of the same history since the 1960s, probably has a lot to do with it. Nevertheless, I am captivated.

einstein @ 2003-11-16 said:
Well, I agree with shutter451, ronni - your log is so emotive sometimes it’s hard to know what to say - thanks for sharing all these moments.

bandman @ 2003-11-16 said:
What a beautiful and touching story. Having that kind of closure with a parent is becoming so rare with families spread all over the country.


Mom 1916

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112mom1916b

In January 1992, Mom was diagnosed with liver cancer. Her doctor explained her options with great care and kindness, but the bottom line was that she had maybe three or four months to live. Mom sat in silence for a long time when Dr. Hunt finished speaking, then she looked him in the eye: "Are you telling me, she said, that I shouldn’t buy any green bananas?"

And they both laughed. I had no idea until the doctor told me this story that my mother was both that sensitive and that funny.

Next...


COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
zinetv @ 2003-11-15 said:
With this combination of picture and caption, you have captured the human cycle. From alpha to omega, from beginning to end it’s all about living the space in between. Your log and this page are really all about the human cycle and how we live it.

Unless the cycle ends suddenly, this page serves as a reminder that we all face this news at some future time. I hope we all face it with your mother’s attitude.

colorstalker @ 2003-11-16 said:
You really do have a gift for the telling anecdote. I know there’s a lifetime of training behind this as well, but in your log the stories don’t feel professional - more as though they spring from your need to tell them. Many are very moving. Thank you.


Social Security – Part 22: 70 Great Years

Now don’t go getting all cross-eyed bored seeing that Social Security header up there. Crabby Old Lady is talking about a CELEBRATION today.

Seventy years ago Sunday, on 14 August 1935 - when the U.S. was in the depths of the Great Depression and about 25 percent of the workforce was unemployed - President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law.

He said then,

"We can never insure one-hundred percent of the population against one-hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life. But we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against…poverty-ridden old age.”

And so it has done. It is the most successful social program in the history of the world. Millions upon millions of people in the past have been saved from living below the poverty line thanks to the Social Security Act and so have millions of people today.

To give you an idea of how many people benefit, 415 million Social Security numbers have been issued since 1935, and 5.5 million are added every year.

In the beginning, it paid only retirement benefits. In 1939, Congress added dependents of retired workers and survivors of covered workers who die before retirement. In 1954, the Act was amended to cover the disabled. And in 1971, the Census Bureau reported that for the first time in history, the aged were no longer the poorest segment of the population.

President Bush and the current Republican Congress have so far been unsuccessful in trying to convince the public that siphoning off money from Social Security into private accounts will make everyone in America millionaires by the time they retire. And don’t you believe them about that when they gear up the propaganda machine again.

Crabby has recounted in this series the many reasons privatization is a terrible idea. Another recently came to her attention: private pension funds are evaporating through bankruptcies and mergers. Think of all the employees of the various Enron-type scandals too, who have lost much of their private pensions. Where would they be, especially the older workers who don't have the years of employment in front of them to recoup these losses, without the Social Security safety net?

Congress is off on its summer vacation, but when they return after Labor Day, a House Republican plan for private accounts may come to the floor for debate and vote, and Crabby Old Lady will need to rev us all up again in opposition. But that is weeks away.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, take a moment to celebrate this grand old lady of social programs. Bake her a cake, sing her a song and give her your thanks. Wish her a happy 70th birthday and many more decades to come.

Social Security Privatization Series Index