869 posts categorized "Culture"

Old Age and the Fear of Dying

It is my long-term practice to have two or three books related to old age going at once along with stacks of printouts of related materials.

For the past few months, I've let that go in favor of other, lighter kinds of reading and during my two-week hiatus from this blog, I read almost nothing beyond the daily headlines.

The basic requirements for productive thought are quiet and solitude. I gave myself a lot of that during the past two weeks and once I got over feeling antsy without a book in my hand, old topics I've neglected began bubbling up. Today's post deals with one of them.

”How can we know how to live if we don't understand death?”

Confucius said that. Knowledge of our own demise is the central predicament of humankind and there are not many of us who do not fear it. So much so that we spend a great amount of time distracting ourselves from this ultimate reality of life.

What can it mean to no longer be? I have no idea. Two common facile answers involve, depending on one's beliefs, a great reward in heaven or as some would have it, returning to what it was like before we were born. Mark Twain had something to say about that second answer:

”I do not fear death,” he wrote. “I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

It's fun to read that but not really much help.

One of the problems of western culture is that although it is changing to a small degree in recent years, discussion of dying is not encouraged and certainly not acceptable in polite company.

Imagine saying over coffee with group of friends after dinner, “I was thinking about dying today...” I promise you the word “morbid” will be mentioned, no one will look you in the eye and one of the party will suddenly find tomorrow's weather fascinating.

Ageism has a lot to do with the taboo against talking about death and old people are not too much less likely than the young to spend a lot of money on trying shave a few years off their their act age. Many of the young won't hire people with gray hair no matter how qualified they are but a lot of healthy elders are equally reprehensible by being careful not to associate with less healthy people of their generation.

We try to appear younger than we are because we don't want to face the fact that we will die and we are conditioned from childhood to look for every possible way out.

We believe that if we eat enough kale, do enough pushups, buy enough Botox injections and face lifts, we will fool the grim reaper into believing he made a mistake when he comes by and sees how young we look but he can't be fooled that easily. (Have you read Appointment in Samarra lately?)

Death – of plants, animals and humankind – is nature's way of clearing out the old to make room for the new. It is foolish to fight it. Confucius reminds us of that as does, similarly, St. Augustine:

”It is only in the face of death that man's self is born.”

From at least the dawn of language, philosophers have been telling us how to live with this fearful certainty – most frequently as Augustine and Confucius advise – but I think we can each come to our own understanding.

To live well within whatever restrictions old age saddles us with comes to mind. To luxuriate in the private rituals and small pleasures of our individual lives helps.

To do good things for others. Not great things; few of us are favored with the power to change the world in big ways. But we can improve other people's lives in small and unexpected ways.

What all the philosophers tell us about facing death is to live meaningfully and that, perhaps, is another way to meet the despair of our impending demise and overcome it.

* * *

The Death Deal by Ron Padgett which you will find at The Writers Almanac.

Ever since that moment
when it first occurred
to me that I would die
(like everyone on earth!)
I struggled against
this eventuality, but
never thought of
how I'd die, exactly,
until around thirty
I made a mental list:
hit by car, shot
in head by random ricochet,
crushed beneath boulder,
victim of gas explosion,
head banged hard
in fall from ladder,
vaporized in plane crash,
dwindling away with cancer,
and so on. I tried to think
of which I'd take
if given the choice,
and came up time
and again with He died
in his sleep.
Now that I'm officially old,
though deep inside not
old officially or otherwise,
I'm oddly almost cheered
by the thought
that I might find out
in the not too distant future.
Now for lunch.


Senior Discounts

Do you use senior discounts? The only one I am aware of using is movie theaters but I hardly ever go anymore. I wait for the films I want to see to show up on Netflix or Amazon or Hulu or even in discount DVD bins because theaters nowadays jack up the audio so high it actually hurts my ears.

But I'm not here to rant about that - at least, not today.

Discounts are hard to track. The first problem is age. It appears that most begin at 55 but 60, 62 and 65 are not uncommon and amazingly, even 50 turns up more often than you might think. It's not easy to sort out which stores think which age is old enough for a discount.

Another issue is day-of-the-week or day-of-the-month discounts. These are usually at supermarkets, usually 10 percent but they require one to remember if it is every Tuesday (or is it Wednesday?), the third Thursday and so on. I gave up a long time ago and besides, New Yorkers if not others know that it's not really a discount unless it's at least 25 percent off.

A Google search for “senior discounts” results in nearly five million returns. There are a lot of lists of links to senior discounts and they cover almost anything you would ever need in life. A short topic sampling:

Airlines
Car rentals
Cruises
Medical and Pharmacy
Apparel
Food and beverages
Restaurants
Health and nutrition
Golf
Movies

There are many more but you get the idea. You can search by names of stores and restaurants too, AARP has its own list and you will rarely fail to find a discount when you search for something specific like, for example, “flowers senior discount” or "electrician senior discount."

In recent years, a cottage industry of objections to senior discounts has developed from people who believe it is unfair.

Ann Brenoff, writing at Huffington Post earlier this year, agrees but has a couple of thoughtful suggestions:

”Seniors aren’t the poorest among us anymore. The national poverty rate, according to the 2014 Census, is 14.8 percent. For seniors 65 and older, it’s just 8.7 percent, while for children under 18 it was 21.1 percent. Maybe it’s children we should be offering discounts to?

“Seniors, like my (now-deceased) aunts, would tell you how discounts are a way of honoring or showing respect to our elders. I fail to see how 75 cents show a whole heck of a lot of honor and respect.

“Maybe the way to honor them is to fund Medicare to the level where it would pay for some of the things most seniors actually need: eyeglasses, hearing assistance, and dental work?

“And if we really respected their age and the wisdom that presumably comes with it, why aren’t we hiring more of them instead of making them feel unwelcome in the workplace and telling them how they aren’t a good 'cultural fit?'”

Hear, hear, Ms. Brenoff. A lot of us have been saying these things for years – we just had not made what I see now is the logical connection to senior discounts.

Since none of those changes – discounts, Medicare and employment – are going to happen any time soon, here is a poem about it sent last week by TGB reader Tom Delmore that is funny, poignant and sweet.

It is from the poets.org website and is written by Ali Leibegott – titled Senior Discount:

I want to grow old with you.
Old, old.

So old we pad through the supermarket
using the shopping cart as a cane that steadies us.

I’ll wait at register two in my green sweater
with threadbare elbows, smiling
because you’ve forgotten the bag of day-old pastries.

The cashier will tell me a joke about barbers as I wait.
He repeats the first line three times
but the only word I understand is barber.

Over the years we’ve caught inklings
of our shrinking frames and hunched spines.

You’re a little confused
looking for me at the wrong register with a bag
of almost-stale croissants clenched in your hand.

The first time I held your hand it felt enormous in my own.
Sasquatch, I teased you, a million years ago.

Over here, I yell, but not in a mad way.

We’re laughing.
You have a bright yellow pin on your coat that says, Shalom!

Senior Discount, you say.
But the cashier already knows us.
We’re everyone’s favorite customers.


When Elder Couples are Forced Apart

A couple of weeks ago, when we discussed sex and old age, TGB reader Kate in Maine left this heart-breaking story in the comments [slightly edited for space]:

”My late widowed Mother had a beautiful assisted living apartment over looking the ocean in Maine. I began to see, when I visited her, she and a lovely man holding hands while ocean surf watching. The internal me thought 'say what?'

“...The gentleman eventually asked my Mother to marry - my second 'say what'???? They were both in their early 80's. My folks never interfered in my private life and I wasn't going to in this situation either.

“I saw what the relationship brought to her life and I was happy to see that. Fast forward a little, the gentleman asked my official permission to marry. Two weeks after that coversation, I showed up to visit and he was gone. His family didn't approve and moved him out in the dark of night.

“They both had all their wits intact, knew what they needed and wanted and it became a role reversal where the 'adult children' took away his voice and choice.”

Kate in Maine's story had been haunting me when another forced separation gained some attention on the internet.

It started with a photo of Wolfram and Anita Gottschalk of Surrey, British Columbia, taken by their granddaughter. Here is what the Global News reported about the couple:

Separations like that of the Gottschalks happen, and certainly not only in Canada, when one of them needs more care than the other or the caregiver spouse can no longer do it all alone.

I know a man whose wife needs round-the-clock care in a memory unit but they were lucky enough to find and be able to afford to live in the same continuing care community so he can visit every day.

She no longer recognizes him but after more than half century of marriage he doesn't love her any less and their living arrangement allows him to be with her any time, every day. And who is to say that somewhere inside, somehow, she still knows him and knows that he is there.

But that kind of care is not easy to find. It might be a question of money or of availability of space or out-of-date rules in elder care communities or the awful children of Kate's mother's friend.

Kate answered Darlene Costner's question about whether money or inheritance was an issue with her mother's friend being snatched away:

”Yes, Darlene, it was all about the $$. He was quite well to do and my Mother was fine financially so no inheritances were going to be changed. My mother and he were going to stay in the same assisted care but move to a larger apt. I already had that in the works.

“They both had long marriages 60+ years and I was delighted to see the happy glint in my Mother's eyes. He was someone special just for her and vice a versa. I totally fault his adult children (who rarely visited) for taking their Father's voice from him.

“Whatever years each had remaining to share was stolen by greedy, selfish, insensitive adult children. That spark left my Mother's eyes and for that I will always be sad. She lived well into her 90's and I think about what those years together could have been.

“The staff at the assisted care were very sympathetic, but due to privacy laws they wouldn't give us his address or phone number. He was taken out of state...

“None of his adult children ever attempted to connect with me or my Mother to discuss the issue (marriage). I never knew the last names of his children (married daughters) to try to connect with. When he was gone he was gone.”

How unutterably sad. It doesn't take any imagination at all to know how you would feel if you were torn away from the person you love and you have no say in the matter, apparently just because you are old. What kind of monsters - bureaucratic or especially family - would do that? And when do they get their payback?


Consider the Cane by Ann Burack-Weiss

I will be back from my mini-vacation tomorrow with Interesting Stuff but today I have an excellent treat for you.

Ann Burack-Weiss turned up in my life last April when she penned a comment at The New York Times chastising a reporter for assuming that wearing an old-age suit gives younger adults a good sense of what it is like to be old.

It does not, explained Ms. Burack-Weiss, and when I finished reading, I had to agree. So since I had in the past cheered the age suit, I posted this mea culpa that included Burack-Weiss's entire letter to the editor.

Even before that, her recent book, The Lioness in Winter, Writing an Old Woman's Life, had been sitting in my to-read pile for a month or two so I pushed it to the top of the stack.

WeissLionessCoverIt is an extraordinarily good read – a smart, personal reflection on a collection of writings about growing old from three dozen or so of the best women authors of the 20th and into the 21st century.

Like me, you have probably read the works of many of these women – Maya Angelou, Colette, Doris Lessing, May Sarton, Diana Athill, Simone de Beauvoir, Joan Didion among them. But perhaps, also like me, you have not paid the kind of close attention Ms. Burack-Weiss has.

Now I have started over with some of these writers because Burack-Weiss, a more thoughtful reader than I have been, shows me how much I missed in my first go-round.

It is not a simple or quick read, The Lioness in Winter. Nearly every page is packed with ideas and revelations that demand quiet time to sit and think and consider the vast array of ideas about this period of late life Ms. Burack-Weiss has pulled together for us.

If you are interested, it is at Amazon and other online book sellers.

Which brings me to today.

Since our April encounter via The Times, Ann and I have become email friends. A couple of weeks ago she sent me a short story she has written and after I pushed her allow it, she agreed to let me post it here for you.

It is titled, Consider the Cane. By Ann Burack-Weiss. Please welcome her to our pages and enjoy.

Eldercrossing400b

The cane is the universal symbol of age and frailty. Road signs alert motorists to the possibility of encountering deer or children by blackened cutouts of their shapes leaping high in the air. Since 1981, "elderly crossing” signs in the U.K. show a bent woman leaning on a bent man leaning on a cane.

(Spirited objections - even contests to suggest cheerier alternatives - have surfaced from time to time.) The signs remain. In fact, they have been spotted at various sites in the U.S. and other countries as well.)

* * *

Long before there were walkers or wheelchairs, even before the wheel itself, there must have been the cane. It might not appear on the Lascaux cave walls. (The one human figure, reportedly “a bird-headed man with an erect phallus,” is not carrying one). But there were trees – and it’s hard to imagine that one of the first hominids to stand upright didn’t pick up a limb, lean his weight against it as he walked and heave a satisfied sigh.

Thousands of years passed. Wood to enamel to plastic. A curved handle and a rubber tip! Holes to adjust to the walker’s height! A carrying strap! A folding device! All the colors of the rainbow!

My cane arrived with great hype: “It stands by itself!” Which is true. Unless the floor is uneven. Or there is a carpet. Or a stray waft of air. It is no longer a concern of mine. I do not now need a cane.

* * *

I used to need a cane. After the pelvic fractures. Before and after the Total Hip Replacement. The cane transformed me. I was one who could brandish! Taxis summoned with a lunge. Cars - inching up on me as I crossed the street with the light - halted with a flourish. I discovered the power in dependence. And its hidden cost.

It was easier to slump into a stooped posture than to extend the effort to walk tall. Gratefully accepting first dibs on the front seat of the bus or offered a chair while others stood in long ticket lines, I was aware of a diminishment – in the eyes of others, in my own sense of self. So I was glad to be rid of the cane. To fade into the throngs of New Yorkers who crowd its streets, a small chip in the “glorious mosaic” fitting neatly into its niche.

* * *

I manage just fine without a cane. Unless there is ice on the ground. Or snow. Or slippery leaves. Or it is windy. Or it is raining and the temperature is expected to dip below freezing. Or it is very dark.

I check the weather report. It will be “breezy.” When does “breeze” turn into wind? When is wind strong enough to knock down a skinny 80-year-old lady? I consider the cane.


A TGB EXTRA: Good News About Social Security...

...and you helped make it happen.

Remember two weeks ago when I told you about a new requirement at the Social Security website? Here it is as explained in an email from that federal agency [emphasis is mine]:

When you sign in at ssa.gov/myaccount with your username and password, we will ask you to add your text-enabled cell phone number."

Because only 27 percent of people 65 and older own cell phones, this was idiotic; it locked millions of people out of their own information. I gave you a couple of email addresses where you could send your objections, including the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging.

Now look at what has happened.

Yesterday, a press release arrived from that Committee. Let me quote some of it to you – again, the emphasis is mine:

”Following efforts from U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Claire McCaskill, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Aging Committee, seniors will once again be able to access their Social Security accounts online without needing to have a cell phone.

“Senators Collins and McCaskill sent a letter to the Social Security Administration (SSA) last week urging immediate action to roll back a new policy that required text message authentication for seniors to access their “my Social Security” account online.

“While noting the need for enhanced security, Senators Collins and McCaskill were concerned that using text message authentication as the only means of guaranteeing an individual’s access to their account put an undue burden on seniors, many of whom do not own a cell phone.

“Following the letter from Collins and McCaskill, as well as feedback from customers around the country, the SSA announced it is rolling back the policy that would have limited access for some users."

Just two weeks from implementation of a bureaucratic folly to resolution. When was the last time, I wonder, the federal government worked this quickly.

You can read the letter Senators McCaskill and Collins sent to the the acting director of Social Security here [pdf]. And here is the pertinent blog post at the Social Security website.

If you are one of the people who wrote letters, take a bow. Sometimes, now and then, occasionally and once in awhile speaking up works.

It matters not that this was an easy one for the Committee. Far less goes undone in Washington for years at a time. Hurray for us.


John Oliver on the Importance of Local Newspapers

On Monday's post about AARP and ALEC, a reader complimented me on my investigative reporting. It's good to know that what I write here is appreciated but in this case and almost all others, I cannot take credit for the information I pass on.

Just your ordinary, everyday, original reporting takes more time that I have to keep up this blog; investigations take days, weeks and years (see Watergate) so I don't do much of that. I rely on the hard work of others.

What I do most of the time is gather existing information about a topic, evaluate it for quality, reliability and interest, edit as makes sense and pass it on in story form and always citing sources.

This is pertinent today because the main video essay on John Oliver's HBO program, Last Week Tonight last Sunday was about what America is losing as its local newspapers are cutting back and shutting down.

I understand from the many polls that journalism is one of the least liked and least respected institutions in the United States and I disagree with that public condemnation.

Yes, I worked in various forms of journalism for most of my career and some would say that makes me prejudiced. I disagree with that too. I know the mistakes that are made (as are made in every kind of business and industry) from the inside; I also know that the largest percentage of news gets it right most of the time; and I know that our democracy, under attack for years from many sides, cannot survive without journalists and without local newspapers.

Our best-known founding father, Thomas Jefferson, apparently never stopped talking about the necessity of a free press to the survival of democracy. There are dozens of quotations about it from him. Here's one:

”Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

We are losing too much of our free press, particularly at the local level, and Oliver's essay last week is so true as to make one weep at the end. But not David Chavern, CEO of the Newspaper Association of America.

He's a churlish sort of fellow who can't see the gift Oliver presented to the newspapers his organization represents. Instead, he saw insults, accusing Oliver of

”...making fun of experiments and pining away for days when classified ads and near-monopolistic positions in local ad markets funded journalism is pointless and ultimately harmful...he spends most of the piece making fun of publishers who are just trying to figure it out.”

Not a word of that is true but let me quote Margaret Sullivan, media columnist at the Washington Post, rebutting Mr. Chavern – she does it so well:

”What Oliver did was precisely nail everything that’s been happening in the industry that Chavern represents: The shrinking staffs, the abandonment of important beats, the love of click bait over substance, the deadly loss of ad revenue, the truly bad ideas that have come to the surface out of desperation, the persistent failures to serve the reading public.

“Oliver — who is, after all, in the comedy business — did indeed make fun of Tronc, the renamed Tribune Co., whose incomprehensible corporate jargon thoroughly deserves the drubbing it’s been getting in recent months.

“And he took some well-deserved shots at media’s addiction to content that generates digital traffic, particularly ever-weirder stories about cats.

“And Oliver’s final sequence was a brilliant send-up of the movie Spotlight as it would be in the new newspaper environment.

“In short, Oliver’s piece...was pretty much a love letter to newspapers.”

Now, grab your favorite beverage, sit back, put up your feet and revel in a brilliantly produced appeal to save America's free press.

Newspaper reporters throughout the United States are paddling as fast as they can under increasingly restrictive circumstances. We should be praising them for the work they can manage to accomplish, not vilifying them.

I will leave you with another quotation from Thomas Jefferson with which I heartily agree:

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

A Meditation on Making New Friends While Old

Judging by the number of online stories about loneliness and feeling alone many, many people are longing for a close friend. A best friend. Most of all, someone to trust.

These articles are usually written by people much younger than you and I who presumably get out and about to a wider variety of places than old people tend to do and meet more people.

But one particular change in employment – working from home – has made finding friends much harder for them than during my career years.

According to a recent study, 45 percent (!) of U.S. employees work from home and that doesn't count freelancers. So finding a friend may be one area of living where youth and age have a lot in common these days.

Or not. Old people are not as likely to hang out in bars and clubs. Old people's oldest friends die at a greater rate. Our energy and stamina trim the number and duration of sports and other physical activities where we might meet others.

And maybe some of you are like me – I am not good at small talk so that when I am in a situation where I can meet others, especially more than one at a time, I am not adept at conversation.

Having friends is important (and I don't mean that perversion of the word, Facebook "friends"), even crucial to our health and wellbeing. Increasing numbers of studies continue to confirm that isolation and loneliness can lead to early death; may be twice as deadly as obesity; and contribute to depression, anxiety and suicide.

We all need friends – even people like me who need a lot of alone time too.

The internet is rife with suggestions for meeting people and making new friends in old age, especially important they say when you no longer work. You know the list:

Volunteer
Join a club that matches your interests
Travel with strangers (Friendly Planet, Road Scholar)
Take classes in whatever interests you
Go to a gym or fitness center regularly
Attend a lecture series
See what's at your local senior center
Get a dog
Join Stitch which is for friends as well as dates
Find interest groups on Meetup

They have been giving us these suggestions forever and there is nothing wrong with any of them. They even work for some people and it really is our own responsibility, each of us, to get off our duffs and figure a way to meet new people who might become friends.

But those hundreds of thousands of articles on Google, all with the same advice, lead one to suspect these traditional ideas are not working well enough for enough people.

At one time or another in the past 10 years since I left my New York City home, I've tried most of the suggestions. I have met people I like, people with whom I share interests, people it's nice to spend time now and then. But none who have become the kind of friend I love and trust without question.

In the six years since I moved to Oregon, I have found one of those but by different means than the usual list.

That person came into my life via email over a mutual concern about which we disagreed. I've long forgotten what the issue was but we decided to have lunch to see if we could sort it out and then we kept having lunch.

It has been about five years now that we have been sharing lunches and dinners and hanging out while exchanging email and phone calls in between. Sometime when I wasn't looking it became everything a friendship should be filled with - kindheartedness, generosity, goodwill and honesty.

It's always been that way with me – I didn't know a person had become a friend until we had already been there for a good while. It is such a delight, then, when the realization hits.

Here is one thing about making new friends that I have never read in all those suggestion lists: it takes time. It takes patience. You can't rush it or will it. It takes doing a variety of things together, talking, exchanging ideas, beliefs, backgrounds. At our age we have a lot of history.

What to do if you don't have a friend, a real friend? I think there is an interim space between an acquaintance and a friend for which there is not a word – at least, not one I know.

These are people to spend time with occasionally or see at events or places you attend regularly, maybe have lunch with now and then. There is pleasure in that. And, sometimes, one may become a friend. Maybe that's the path to becoming friends. But even if not, these are worth our time.

I want to be sure to mention that none of this is to discount friends I love and trust and care about who live far away sometimes because one of us moved away, or it is an internet acquaintanceship that grew into more. I treasure each one of them.

But we also need at least one in-person friend to share whatever it is we need to say aloud, with whom we share secrets and know they will stay that way, someone we can touch and hug when we meet.


Independence Day 2016

Each year we celebrate the The Declaration of Independence with parades, backyard barbecues and fireworks. All good things but it is also a good thing now and then to re-read or re-listen to the words of this powerful document that has inspired people the world over.

Back in 2009, a bunch of well-known actors got together at Independence Hall in Philadelphia for a live reading of the Declaration, prefaced by a magnificent introduction from Morgan Freeman.

There is a video of the event produced by Norman Lear and Rob Reiner and it is worth your time to listen on this, the 241st anniversary, to one of the greatest documents in the history of humankind.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone.


Elder Tweens

I just made that up: elder tweens.

The word “tween” is new since I was young and although the age parameters vary depending on who is talking, it is the name given to an unofficial stage of life somewhere between childhood and teen years.

This new phrase, elder tweens, refers to all the current oldest generations combined, those of us who are retired now or facing retirement in the next decade or so. Let's say it encompasses, generally, all people from about age 50 to dead.

We are the elder tweens and we have a job to do for future generations of old people.

The thought came to me while reading an article about finding meaning and/or purpose in an old age that is longer than it has ever been, a time now when millions of people commonly live into their eighth, ninth and even tenth decade.

”What do we want to do with an extra 30 years?” asks geriatrician Linda P. Fried. “How should we, as individuals and as a society, shape the trajectory of our longer lives?

“...Should we be designing new social policies that will foster these opportunities? How do we prepare young people for longer lives – and can these questions be answered in way that would be beneficial for all generations?

Good questions. Dr. Fried is not the first to consider them but answers, good answers, aren't easy to come by mainly because we have never had to think before about what is a whole new stage of life.

For millennia, we have known what childhood and youth are for. And the middle years too. Even retirement was easily defined for the past century or so since it was invented: a few years of leisure activity for the healthy and (by today's new standard) an early death.

But now that we live so much longer – and healthier too - can anyone really play golf for 30 years? Which brings me back to the elder tweens.

The phrase isn't meant as the name for a new stage of life. Instead, I see it as an era – and a temporary one at that. The idea being that we 50-plus people – the ones who now have a whole lot of time on our hands – should put our minds to figuring out the best ways people can find personal fulfillment and satisfaction during these 30 extra years.

Dr. Fried lays out the problem this way:

”The truth is that we have created a new stage of life but have not yet envisioned its purpose, meaning and opportunities and the space is being filled with our fears...”

I'm not sure I buy the “fears” part but otherwise that's a good starting point and Dr. Fried also underlines the need elders have to continue contributing in significant and positive ways but is generally denied to old people in the United States.

Her solution rests with such venerable volunteer organizations as Encore.org (of which Fried is a co-founder) and Experience Corps along with the federal community service organizations Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions and RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program).

These are important and worthy organizations that do excellent work but, as Dr. Fried notes, these organizations (not including locally based volunteer groups) involve only 360,000 elders.

Also, volunteering is just one way to find meaning in life and not for everyone. I suspect there are as many paths to personal fulfillment as there are people but in all the ageing work I've done over these couple of decades, only volunteering is ever suggested as helping to meet these human needs of heart and soul in our late years.

Without in any manner meaning to slight Dr. Fried's real successes, it is time to look beyond volunteering and perhaps it is we, the elder tweens, who are the people to take a whack at figuring out how to create this new, long stage of life and make it our legacy for the generations coming up behind us.

Perhaps we can outline a way of living in the late years so that younger people might know as much about it when they get here as they do nowadays about – oh, say parenthood.

From those of us nearing retirement, to people like TGB readers Millie Garfield and Darlene Costner who are both past age 90, and the rest of us in the middle – we have wide and deep experience from a variety of perspectives and ages of figuring out our old age.

What if we, the elder tweens, tried to answer Fried's questions on a larger scale - come up with new ways for people think about growing old. To repeat Dr. Fried:

”What do we want to do with an extra 30 years? How should we, as individuals and as a society, shape the trajectory of our longer lives?

“...Should we be designing new social policies that will foster these opportunities? How do we prepare young people for longer lives – and can these questions be answered in way that would be beneficial for all generations?

This is the place in an essay where I should give you some concrete examples and direction to contemplate but I would like to keep this post to a reasonable length and anyway, there are hardly any parameters yet to inventing a new stage of life which is what I'm suggesting we do.

The one thing I know for sure is that as important to society and to the individuals who participate volunteering or, giving back if that phrasing works better, is not the only way to find meaning and purpose. Good works are admirable but there are many other ways to find meaning in life.

One quick example is how fulfilled I am doing the work to produce this blog. I am especially proud of having created the community in the comment section filled with thoughts, ideas and conversation that expand so well on the day's topic. I learn as much there as I do in my research and I know many readers do too. Not to mention that it astonishes and pleases me how many of you find TGB valuable.

That is NOT an invitation for more congratulations today and besides, it's too easy. Instead, I'm asking you for some hard work. Let's pretend for awhile that it is up to us to invent a new old age to leave behind for generations who may live even longer than we do.

We elder tweens who remember what retirement used to be and find ourselves in a brand new kind may be the best positioned to start this crucial conversation. How does society need to change to accommodate all these extra years? What are the many ways we can expand the choices?


As Forgetfulness Sneaks Up

As you will see from today's post, I had such a good time recently re-reading a 35-year-old collection by American poet laureate, Billy Collins, that I couldn't resist a second post (see Wednesday). Collins and I both turned 75 this year - a kind of mid-point in the progression of old age - and he often seems to be dogging my path - or I his - on that journey.

But before I get to today's poem, I am I'm going to make you wade through a story or two from me. (Or, you could just scroll down.)

Old people often reference our age-related memory slips – with or without humor - particularly, I think, in an attempt to fend off worry that forgetfulness may foretell future dementia.

I long ago stopped using the phrase “senior moment” when it happens and I've moved on now, too, to ignoring the kind of glitches that attack in the middle of a sentence, when I lose all notion of what I was trying to convey.

You see, I realized that I have always done that - forgotten the point exactly when I was explaining it. Here, however, is what has changed: when I was younger, I just kept talking, fumphing around the issue until I caught the thread again and could finish.

Nowadays, that doesn't happen or, when it does, not in time to complete my thought during that conversation. It usually hits me hours and, sometimes, a day later.

Oh well. No point in sweating dementia, I have decided, until it gets here.

In the past couple of years, I have come to see that there is an advantage to at least one kind of memory loss: TV program plots.

Okay, sometimes I watch old episodes of, for example, NCIS (especially those with Cote de Pablo) – even when I can remember them just because I happen to like the show and it's too much trouble to mine Netflix for something worth seeing.

But often as not – with NCIS as well as The Good Wife and a few others – I have no idea what the storyline is. None. Not even when I'm watching just a few weeks after the first (or second) time I saw it. Might as well be a new episode to me.

How handy is that, getting to watch favorites again as though they are new?

In the case of Billy Collins's 1991 collection, Questions About Angels, every poem was like new to me when I re-read the book this month even though I certainly read it all when it was new and several times since then.

In many instances, forgetfulness is an annoyance but it is a good thing, I have come to see, to be able to read old favorites with the same kind of surprise and pleasure as when they were new. Some kinds of forgetfulness come with their own rewards.

Billy Collins:

FORGETFULNESS
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.


Memorial Day 2016

Today, we honor the men and women who have died while serving in America's armed forces. Today, there will be parades in thousands of cities and towns throughout the country. Today, there will also be the annual National Memorial Day Concert on the west lawn of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Check your local CSPAN listings.)

The Indianapolis 500 auto race is also a Memorial Day weekend tradition – this year is the 100th running. (I don't understand why these two events are related but then, I'm not a sports fan so what I do I know.)

Most of all, we Americans spend the holiday with family and friends often at backyard barbecues, and many will also visit the graves of loved ones killed in our wars. In that regard, I ran across a poignant story about two U.S. airmen who went missing in action in Laos in 1969 during the Vietnam War. At last, in 2012, the crash site was discovered and the men's remains identified.

A dual burial was held at Arlington National Cemetery in 2013, but due to budget cuts, the Air Force could not perform a flyover during the funeral. That's when some civilians stepped in to make the flyover happen. Here's the report from a local TV news program:

In addition to the remembrances and barbecues, we have one more Memorial Day tradition: nighttime fireworks displays. This one from last year at Wolf Trap.

Enjoy the holiday, my U.S. friends.

For readers in other countries, tell us something about your holidays that honor your war dead.


Facts and Figures About the U.S. Elder Population

Back in 1963, President John F. Kennedy designated May as Senior Citizens Month. Two years later, Congress passed the Older American's Act to deal with a lack of community services for elders.

The Act established the U.S. Administration on Aging (AoA) that administers grant programs created by the Older Americans Act and is the primary federal agency concerned with elders in the U.S.

May is still celebrated as (renamed) Older Americans Month and before May gets away from us, we at TGB should make note of it. To give us a general idea of who elders in America are, here are some statistics - gleaned mostly (but not entirely) from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Although the numbers will be off if you are not in the U.S., the general sense will likely hold for you if you are in another developed country.

HOW MANY OF US ARE THERE?
46.2 million people were 65 and older on 1 July 2014. That's 14.5% the population.

It is projected that there will be 98.2 million people 65 and older in 2060 – nearly 25% of the population. Of this number, 19.7 of them will be 85 or older.

It is also projected that in 2060, the number of baby boomers still alive will be 2.4 million, the youngest of whom will be 96 years old.

OUR EDUCATION LEVELS
81.9% of people 65 and older have completed high school or some higher education.

Nearly a quarter of the group, 24.8%, hold a bachelor's or higher degree.

MONEY AND POVERTY
The median income in 2014 of households people 65 and older was $36,895.

97 percent of retirees receive Social Security benefits.

For 36 percent of people 65 and older, Social Security provides 90 percent or more of their income.

For 24 percent of those people, Social Security is the sole source of retirement income.

About 9.5 percent of people 65 and older live in poverty (incomes below the poverty line).

Without Social Security benefits, more than 40 percent of Americans aged 65 and older would have incomes below the poverty line. The program lifts 14.7 million elderly Americans out of poverty.

LIVING ARRANGEMENTS
57.6% of people 65 and older were married in 2015.

24.4% of people 65 and older in 2015 were widowed.

As of the fourth quarter of 2015, 79.3% of householders 65 and older owned their homes.

The state of Florida has the largest population percentage of people 65 and older: 19.1%. The state of Maine comes in second with 18.3%.

Chattahoochee County, Georgia has the lowest percentage of elders at 4.1%.

Sumpter County in Florida has the largest percentage of elders of any county in the U.S., a whopping 52.9%.

The state of Alaska is home to the lowest percentage of people 65 and older, 9.4%, followed by Utah with 10%.

HOW WE SPEND TIME
15 million older persons 65 and older volunteer in some form.

In 2013, about 536,000 grandparents aged 65 or older had the primary responsibility for their grandchildren who lived with them.

21.5% of men 65 and older participated in the labor force in 2014. The rate for women 65 and older was 13.7%.

MISCELLANEOUS

It is estimated that in 2014, 9.4 million 65 and older Americans were veterans of the U.S. armed forces.

71.9% of the 65-plus population voted in the 2012 presidential election. That was up from 70.3% in 2008.

Elders are just over 14 percent of the population but consume 40 percent of prescription drugs and 35 percent of over-the-counter drugs.

On average, individuals 65 to 69 years old take nearly 14 prescriptions per year. Individuals aged 80 to 84 take an average of 18 prescriptions per year.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I strongly dislike media stories that extol old people for physical achievements that are unexpected in their age range. You know, the ones who climb Mt. Everest at age 80 or water ski barefoot at 75 or bungee jump off bridges.

Those are nothing more than one-off stunts but are widely reported with a whiff of blame aimed at the rest of us who are not behaving like people 50 years younger than ourselves.

Lately, you could get whiplash from the cognitive dissonance caused by reports of 60- and even 50-somethings who can't get hired due to age discrimination versus politicians who want to raise the retirement age to 70 for the full Social Security benefit.

So while we are putting together a description of old people today via statistics, let's also look at a list of accomplishments, important achievements that instead of aping youth, depend on education, experience and understanding that are gained only with age.

ELDER ACHIEVEMENTS
Alexander Graham Bell was 75 when he received a patent for his work on a hydrofoil boat.

Susan B. Anthony was past 80 when she formed the International Woman Suffrage Alliance.

At 88, Michelangelo created the architectural plans for the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli.

At 89, Arthur Rubinstein performed one of his greatest recitals in Carnegie Hall.

At 90, Marc Chagall became the first living artist to be exhibited at the Louvre museum.

At 94, comedian George Burns performed in Schenectady, New York, 63 years after his first performance there.

Grandma Moses received her last commission as an artist when she was 99.


Glad My Dating Days are Done

Several neighbors came by for lunch when I was visiting my mother for a few days in the late 1960s. Because I then worked producing a radio talk show that often featured interviews with the biggest music stars of the day, conversation briefly turned to such groups as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Band, The Doors, Creedence Clearwater Revival, etc.

All the women, including my mother, dismissed rock & roll out of hand. It wasn't real music to them.

Remember, these were women born in the 19-teens and 1920s who came of age in the big band era – Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, for example, and singers such as The Andrews Sisters, Bing Crosby, Billie Holliday, etc.

I mention this because I don't think that the oldest generation can ever really understand – or accept, sometimes – the culture of the concurrent youngest adult generation.

This came to mind last weekend while reading an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times titled Sexual Freelancing in the Gig Economy that discusses how dating among the young is done these days.

It is, and always has been, asserts writer, Moira Weigel, related to the economy even if the details differ slightly from generation to generation. Nowadays, corporate language rules in dating, she says:

”First, [men on Tinder] 'reach out.' Then, after spending the night together, they 'follow up.'

“...We constantly use economic metaphors or describe romantic and sexual relations...we have 'friends with benefits' and 'invest in relationships.' An ex may be 'on' or 'off the market.' Online dating makes 'shopping around' explicit. Blog after blog strategizes about how to maximize your 'return on investment' on OKCupid.”

Further, says Weigel, changes to how the workplace operates nowadays, affects dating culture too:

”Back when most people punched clocks at fixed hours, a date might have asked 'Shall I pick you up at 6?' But part-timers, contractors and other contingent workers – who constitute some 40 percent of the American workforce – are more inclined to text one another, 'u still up?' than to make plans in advance.”

An attractive, 30-year-old, single friend tells me that she hardly dates at all. Get-togethers, she explains, are set up with one- and two-line text messages and the guys, as as often as not when the day arrives, text to “postpone” the meeting and she never hears from them again.

Moira Weigel again:

”The generation of Americans that came of age around the time of the 2008 financial crisis has been told constantly that we must be 'flexible' and 'adaptable.' Is it so surprising that we have turned into sexual freelancers?

“Many of us treat relationships like unpaid internships: We cannot expect them to lead to anything long-term, so we use them to get experience.”

No wonder surveys tell us women are postponing marriage. It makes me sad to read this stuff and I'm glad I'm too old to participate. A majority of the comments seem to feel sad too. Here's a sample from a Times reader named Sophie Vandoorne in Paris:

”Wow, this article made me understand a bit more what my daughter had tried to explain to me all these years about the lack of romance in today's American society.

“I just could not believe her when she claimed that men in NY were not about love and romance. They were about work and sex. Being French I would say, yes sex is great darling, it makes one feel alive but aren't sex and love together so much better?

“I could hear her think, 'mom, you are such a dinosaure you don't get it, do you?'

“Well, no I really don't. I still think like Freud taught me that life is about being able to work and to love. If as Steve Jobs urged us to do, you can find work you love, that's even better but can you really live your life without loving someone and being loved in return? Isn't it what people secretly still wish for themselves?

“I guess my daughter is right, I am yesterday indeed.”

Me too, right here in front of you on this page, a dinosaur. Whether it's music or dating or a lot of other things that have changed.

But that's the way it's supposed to be, isn't it? Young folks reject the old ways, old folks resist and the world moves forward. For better or for worse. Usually a bit of both.


Crabby Old Lady, Credit Scores and a John Oliver Treat

Two or three weeks ago, Crabby Old Lady received the bill for renewal of her homeowners coverage. It was up 7.4 percent - too high but not enough to cause heartburn.

However, the accompanying premium for Crabby's auto insurance, due on the same day, shoved her about three miles past horrified: 30 percent greater than six months ago. Huh? No accidents, no other kind of damage or claim. What could be the reason?

When Crabby inquired by telephone at the office of her insurance agent, she got, instead of conversation, an emailed report informing her that a drop in her credit score had caused the increase.

Now before we go a single step further here, let Crabby tell you that she regularly checks her credit score. It is and has been for many years a handful of points below perfect. Now and then it goes up a couple of points or down a couple of points but literally no more than that.

There is a reason Crabby Old Lady has, in difficult times, gone without to pay her bills on time. Into anyone's life some rain will fall. You can count on it. Sometimes it is expensive rain and a superb credit score – particularly if, like Crabby, you have no relatives to fall back on – will get you through the storm. It has saved Crabby's butt more than once over the years.

In a second call to the agent, the only information Crabby could elicit is that the computer made the determination and therefore nothing can change it. (All hail HAL.)

Here are the (so-called) black marks that reduced Crabby's insurance score as assessed by one of the three standard bureaus:

Average Balance on Open Auto Accounts: Not Available; Best possible is $8501-$11,000. (So if you paid cash for your car or even paid the loan regularly, you get marked down if the balance is outside arbitrary parameters?)

Number of Credit Card Accounts on File: 9-23; Best Possible is 4-8. (False. According to the credit report itself, which Crabby downloaded, she has 10 credit cards on file, eight of them closed long ago.)

% of Credit Card Limit Used: 0%-1%: Best Possible is 2%-10%. (Huh? Who makes these rules and based on what? Crabby's use is, as stated, about 1% per month. That's a credit crime?)

Ratio of Open Credit Card Accounts to Total Open Accounts: 61%; Best Possible is 16%-34%. (False. Crabby has two open credit accounts – cards.)

Not a single one of these “reasons” makes the least bit of sense. It's all horsefeathers. Worse, no one at the insurance agent's office had anything to say to Crabby beyond, “it's what the computer said.”

A thirty percent increase is bad enough for anyone but for old people who live on fixed incomes, it can be a disaster. Crabby isn't saying the insurance companies are picking on elders necessarily, but still.

Okay. Enough. Crabby Old Lady is just whinging now and because you have been patient enough to get this far, here is your John Oliver treat several days early.

In a remarkable case of serendipity, last Sunday on Oliver's HBO program, Last Week Tonight, the main essay - as smart and funny as always - was about Credit Reports.

Apparently, you can't fight the credit bureaus but Crabby Old Lady won in the end. Her friend Ken Pyburn sent her to his insurance agent and lo, the new premiums for home and auto coverage identical to last year saved Crabby more than $300 a year. She'll take it and be happy.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?


Senior Centers

Senior centers have a bad rap and they should not. Although there may still be too many that offer little more than bingo night once or twice a week and not much else, most are working hard to upgrade and update for the latest elder generations.

(You know those boomers – they don't want to be part of what “old people” do.)

Snark or not, boomers really should get over themselves. Some won't go to senior centers because they don't like that name – it makes them sound old, you know.

Although I often lobby against the word senior myself, a name is a shallow reason to give for not participating and when people start using euphemisms that are just too politically correct to take seriously, the only thing you can do is groan and move on. It is almost always a committee that causes such language effrontery.

The senior center in my town is called – ahem, the Adult Community Center, usually shortened to ACC.

LOACC

This is one of the better centers in the U.S. On any given day, the variety of fitness and well-being classes from aerobics to Zumba along with yoga, tai chi, strength training, meditation and more are filled to capacity.

There is a small gym with four machines, hand weights and balance balls. In a room nearby, there is a masseuse available one day a week that members can book in advance.

There are also a large number of gaming groups who meet almost daily – bridge, Scrabble, mah jongg, among them. There is a knitting group and a quilting group who donate the results of their work to local charities.

All activities are either free with an inexpensive membership or low cost.

Each Wednesday afternoon, I attend a two-hour current affairs discussion group at the center that is organized by a group affiliated with a local college. Membership is just $30 a year and if I were inclined or had more time, there are additional groups within relatively easy driving distance I could attend almost every day of the week at no additional cost.

The center also has a professional kitchen with a chef who oversees the town's Meals on Wheels preparation - nutritious food delivered by ACC volunteers to more than a hundred elders who cannot cook for themselves. The kitchen staff also serves lunch at the center three days a week for a fee of just $4 per person.

In my rounds for volunteer work, I've had some unspeakably awful institutional meals at senior centers but never at the ACC. They get a good amount of their fresh vegetables from a nearby community garden, the food is prepared from scratch, nothing frozen and reheated, and the chef is excellent.

In additional, there are reasonably priced day trips to restaurants, theaters, local historical sites, museums, etc., and there is a “solo” dinner club for singles, among many other choices.

As varied as the social choices are, the services are crucial to the well-being and health of elders in the community. Without the center, these services would not be available or certainly not all in one place where they are easy to find, easy to use and mostly free. There are so many that I will list just a sampling:

Blood pressure monitoring
Flu shots
Foot care clinics
Legal assistance
Tax assistance
Medicare/Medicaid help
Rides to doctor appointments
Rides for grocery shopping
Medical equipment loans
Caregiver respite groups
Widow support groups

When I needed rides to and from the medical center for my two cataract surgeries a couple of years ago, I used the ACC ride service and it went off without a hitch.

In fact, the driver told me that she had taken time to do a dry run the day before to check the traffic so I wouldn't be late, and the service was free. (I made a substantial donation to the Center.)

According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), there are about 11,400 senior centers in the United States that serve more than a million elders every day.

The NCOA also runs the National Senior Center Accreditation Program that recognizes centers that meet nine national standards of operation. The ACC is one of about 250 centers who have achieved these standards.

The reason I'm telling you all this today is that I want some information from you. Three or four years ago, I wrote a post here titled Are You a Senior Center Snob? admitting to having been one myself. So did some of you.

At first, senior centers are like the word “retirement.” In the beginning I choked on it but with repetition as I wrote about it here, I got over my aversion. That happens similarly with senior centers when you've spent some time checking out what's there.

Maybe it is a gradual transition; maybe it comes in two or three steps. First accept that you are old, move on to tentative outreach to some elder activities and pretty soon, you've made an interesting friend or two and forget you once thought senior centers were boring.

A well-funded senior center like the ACC that also attracts a good number of volunteers (usually elders themselves) offers a wide variety of social activities and community services, something to interest most everybody in the ones that are as good mine.

Now, here's what I would like to know from you:

Do you regularly spend time at a senior center? If so, what activities and services do you like or use? What additional or different activities, services, events and programs would you like to have?

If you don't use a senior center, what would prompt you to do so? What kind of activities, services, events and programs would entice you to try it?

And one more thing. If you are reading this in another country, are there equivalent organizations where you live? Tell us about them.


How Our Convictions Changes as We Age

Recently, I've been thinking about how interests, beliefs and convictions change as we grow older. By growing older, I do not mean that milestone of crossing the invisible line between midlife and old age. I mean how we change during the period of old age itself, between the time we accept that reality about ourselves and whenever death arrives.

For most of us, there are a lot of years in that time, even two or three or more decades. And although the culture, government, even the medical community, frequently lump all old people into the same category, they are mistaken to do so.

There are large variations in our health, our capabilities, education, financial status and while I am not discounting how much those markers affect how we function in the world, today I am more interested in how our attitudes may have changed and continue to change.

Most people do not expect to believe the same things at 50 they did at 20. One hopes experience, reflection and learning refine one's points of view and sensibilities over time.

Even if the (incorrect) stereotype is that old people are all stuck in their ways, there is no reason the process of growth should not be lifelong. For example:

I'm surprised at how much happier I am than during my youth and middle years. I don't mean giddy or silly or even that I necessarily laugh more. Contentedness is probably a better word.

This might be related to the fact that I'm getting better at knowing the difference between what I can change and what I can't, and even when I fail at that, I don't get angry as I once did.

Having said that, however, another surprise is how my emotions have otherwise intensified. Climate change is a good example. I no longer allow myself to read past the headlines. That's enough for me to get the point.

Whatever else the article reports, I know it will only be worse for mankind and other living things than it was before and if I allow myself to pay closer attention, I fear I will never stop weeping.

It's obvious world leaders will not make the hard decisions about the only really important thing that matters anymore and so I do believe planet Earth is doomed.

I would love to be proved wrong about that but I don't believe I am and my heart breaks every day. Sometimes I cry.

Time is a weird one. I have never worked out a way to understand this: as my years on earth grow demonstrably shorter, I am willing to put “it” - whatever it is at the moment – off until tomorrow or next week or next month when something else intrudes.

That was never so when I was 20 or 30 or 40 but it is a great relief to be done with the “can't waits.” It saves a lot a disappointment.

One more: I make decisions more easily and quickly. Hardly any difficulties nowadays with wondering what if this happens or that. The greater difficulty, once a decision is made, is getting the project done but at least I decide a path forward for myself with a lot less fuss than when I was young.

Maybe I have finally learned – as I said for years but never took to heart – that aside from putting a gun to my head, there aren't many decisions that are irrevocable.

There are more instances of such kinds of change but that gives you a pretty good idea of what I'm talking about and now it's your turn. What beliefs or attitudes or behaviors have changed in your life as you have gotten older, maybe because you've gotten older.


A Good Death

For most of my life, talking about death and dying has been taboo.

Death has always been scary. For centuries, humans have tried to mitigate that fear with ghost stories, with goblins and skeleton costumes on Halloween and the popularity of vampires in books and film, all of which have in common the possibility of some form of continued consciousness of self after death.

Just recently, the taboo against death talk has begun to loosen and it appears to me to be connected, in part, with the realization that for the foreseeable future there are going to be a whole lot more old people, in relation to the entire population, than has ever been seen on earth.

That means growing numbers who are concerned with and want to know more about how to control their deaths.

Death cafes, a bit shocking only a couple of years ago, now commonly attract people to neighborly discussions of dying without too much flinching from anyone.

My favorite mortician, Caitlin Doughty, not only keeps a popular blog titled The Order of the Good Death which demystifies all deathly things, her Ask A Mortician videos on YouTube are as much a hoot as informative.

Ms. Doughty, who is wont to say such things as, “Maybe we need to look and say, 'Wow, let's look at this beautiful, natural corpse,'” published a popular book in 2014, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory that is fascinating, sometimes morbid and funny too.

I credit her continued efforts to explain the history, facts and details of dying and its aftermath with going a long way toward removing our taboo about speaking of death.

This all came to mind a few days ago when The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry in its April issue released a study titled Defining a Good Death (Successful Dying).

(My first thought was what in the world such an awful phrase as “successful dying” means. As opposed to what – unsuccessful dying? And what would that mean - sitting up after being pronounced dead and saying, “Sorry, just kidding”?)

Back to the report, the study is actually a review of 36 previous studies. Stakeholders in these studies included patients, family members and healthcare providers. Eleven core themes of good death were identified by the researchers:

preferences for a specific dying process
pain-free status
religiosity/spirituality
emotional well-being
life completion
treatment preferences
dignity
family
quality of life
relationship with the health care provider
other

A couple of these themes are obvious but how some of the others play into a “good death” is hard to know because I am working from the abstract and not from the study itself which is behind an expensive firewall.

The newswise website report tells us that lead researcher, Dilip Jeste, said the bottom line of their study is “ask the patient.”

(I understand that death is a touchy issue but I think I must be allowed to insert my response here: “Duh.” Jeste continues:

“Usually, patients know what they want or need and there is relief in talking about it. It gives them a sense of control.

“I hope these findings spur greater conversation across the spectrum. It may be possible to develop formal rating scales and protocols that will prompt greater discussion and better outcomes. You can make it possible to have a good death by talking about it sometime before.”

The doctor's heart seems to be in the right place but “formal rating scales and protocols” hardly sound like the care and thoughtfulness anyone wants when working out end-of-life issues.

And there already are at least two good services to help ease that conversation with family, physicians and other caregivers: The Conversation Project and Prepare For Your Care.

Over the next couple of months, I'll be discussing some practical information about end-of-life decisions that can help any of us to have a “good death” but anyone as old as most of us at this blog knows perfectly well how much can go wrong as the end approaches.

One kind of control is physician-assisted suicide. Four states currently allow what is also called “death with dignity” under very strict rules and California, later this year, is likely to join Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana with such a law.

Many people oppose this kind of legal suicide as a slippery slope that can lead to pressure on people, the old in particular, I suppose, to hurry along their journey to whatever comes next.

Recently, a TGB reader emailed to tell me of attending a talk at a senior center by a state employee who first discussed the importance of such end-of-life documents as advance directives and then, apparently, described in some detail the experience of dying by physician-assisted suicide.

Further, the speaker implied, according to the reader email, this is to the good because such a death would save the state money. Dear god. Has the id of Donald Trump already devolved onto the petty bureaucracy of state government?

Unlike the person who wrote to me, I welcome death with dignity laws and I even think the rules are too strict (a good conversation to have here another time). But the idea that anyone would suggest that a person end his/her life to save the government some money is disgusting and dangerous. Worse so coming from a state employee.

I'm not sure this incident actually goes well with the main discussion above about what are successful or unsuccessful deaths, but it's a good lead-in to a clip from the 1973 science fiction movie, Soylent Green I've been wanting to show you for awhile.

You remember that movie, don't you? It became notorious for what soylent green is revealed at the end to be. If you don't know, go find the movie or read the Wikipedia entry. I wouldn't want to be the spoiler.

The clip was sent to me by my blog/internet friend, John Michael Spinelli, a long-time independent reporter in Ohio who also contributes to the Plunderbund political blog that focuses on Ohio and national politics (hint: he knows a lot about John Kasich some of which you can read here).

John and I had been emailing about death with dignity laws when he included a link to this Soylent Green clip titled, “Levi Goes Home,” in which Edward G. Robinson (in his last film role) goes, as John explained in his email, “to the futuristic service center that caters to people ready to say goodbye.”

There are a lot of links above to a variety of websites about death and dying and end of life issues that I hope you will find useful or worth your time in other ways. And I know we are all eager to read what you have to say in the comments about good and bad deaths, physician-assisted suicide and related issues.


Lighten Your Life Before You Kick the Bucket - Book and Contest

That headline is only part of the title. In full, it is Seven Ways to Lighten Your Life Before You Kick the Bucket and the first thing to know about it is that it is not about bucket lists. (Whew! Had it been, I would not have paid attention.)

Instead, Lighten Your Life... is, as the two authors explain on page 1,

”...our reaction to the idea of making a list of things to do before you kick the bucket. A bucket list is a list of things to do before you die. Our ...ucket lists are ways to live before your die.”

I'll get to those “...ucket lists” in a moment but first, meet Walt Hopkins and George Simons, two old guys in their 70s who are decades-long friends, one of whom lives in the south of France these days, the other in Scotland although both grew up in Ohio.

WaltandGeorge

They remind me (non-U.S. readers might not get this reference) of Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers who hosted the long-running PBS radio show, Car Talk.

Walt and George have a similar joie de vivre, love of life and a good laugh, aren't afraid to be silly and are equally expert in their fields as Click and Clack were at theirs. Here is how they described their ongoing careers to me:

”In more than 30 countries for more than 40 years, Walt Hopkins has been leading courses on influencing skills and life-designing skills for all sorts of organizations—including the UN’s World Food Programme, the European Space Agency, Shell, Statoil, and Unilever.

“George Simons is an independent intercultural consultant, trainer, game designer and poet, who facilitates a worldwide virtual consulting network. Clients he has served include: Alstom, Olympus, UNHCR, The Asian Development Bank, Michelin and Deutsche Post."

SevenWaysBookCover200With generous examples from their lives and the lives of people they have known, along a multitude of wise quotations from the ancients to the moderns and a lot of laughing along the way, Walt and George explain how they have come to savor their late years by making time and room to enjoy “that which is most precious to them.”

Although there are “Learnings” throughout the book, it is not necessarily an instruction book or a how-to or a primer about growing old. As they say up front:

”Pluck what works for you and duck, chuck, or fuck the rest.”

Which brings me to those seven “...ucket lists.” Fortunately for me, Walt and George have provided something any long-time TGB readers know I'm no good at: succinct explanations. Here are their short versions of the seven “...uckets.”

  1. Chucket: Dump things you no longer need in your life

  2. Shucket: Shuck the wrappings and keep the gift

  3. Ducket: Dodge demands that don't fit your values

  4. Fucket: Dump what you're fed up doing or being

  5. Plucket: Reach for what you still want to do and be

  6. Trucket: Keep on truckin' by doing what you love

  7. Tucket: Appreciate what you have gained and given

Within each of the seven are many kinds of suggestions on how to “lighten your life” - some of it advice along with wise observations, reflections, how to laugh at yourself and give yourself permissions you might not have done in the past. Now, they tell us, with great, good nature throughout, is the time to do this.

You can easily guess that number one, Chucket, is about getting rid of the stuff we collect over a lifetime and they provide a list (yes, a list of seven) questions to help decide what to keep and what to “chuck.”

The Shucket section is all about peeling off “the unneeded, distracting, the useless” and it's not all physical. George writes this chapter and he quotes the Italian poet, Cesare Pavese:

”Take off all your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness and fears...the closing years of life are like the end of a masquerade party, when the masks are dropped.”

I'm tellin' ya, if there were nothing else in this book, the many quotations about growing old would be worth every penny. Before this book, I thought I had a rich and extensive collection of age-related quotations. I was mistaken. But they and I do share this, Raymond Carver's last poem titled Late Fragment:

And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so:
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on this earth.

Walt writes the Fucket section which is, to some degree, exactly what you think it would be, but wider, broader, deeper. One of the things on Walt's fucket list to leave behind is fear and in explaining, he quotes James Lipton:

”I am speaking of the kind of risk-taking that seems to be involved in the conspicuous abandonment of safe physical, emotional and intellectual redoubts, in favor of new paths where dragons may lie in wait.

“I am sacrilegiously equating a state of fear with a state of grace, if the fear is evoked by testing treasured beliefs and established patterns – one's own, not someone else's.

There are so many wise and wonderful delights in Lighten Your Life that I could quote endlessly. Instead, I'm going to hold a drawing to give away three copies. But first, two more things. The seventh way is the Tucket List and George explains that it's a real word. Who knew:

”To tuck is to play a drumroll. A tucket is a fanfare – a trumpet blast with a roll of drums – that originated in Elizabethan drama. So your tuckets are your fanfares...

“Choosing to Tucket is choosing to toot your own horn and sound your own drum, possibly to others but mainly to yourself.”

This thoughtful guide to living our late years well is something to keep nearby as there is much to learn from these guys. Get out your highlighters – it's the kind of book you'll want to mark up.

Seven Ways to Light Your Life Before You Kick the Bucket is available at the usual online book purveyors. You can also order it from the U.K. publisher and you can follow Walt and George at the book's Facebook page.

The authors have made three copies of Lighten Your Life available to give away to TGB readers. As in the past, we will do a random drawing. Here's how it goes:

Leave a message in the comments section below (no emails). That's it. If you have something to say about the book, that's good – we like lively discussions here - but not required.

The only requirement is that you state your interest in winning one of the books. “Please enter me in the drawing,” works. Or typing, "Me, me, me" will do it, too. I'm not fussy.

The contest will close tomorrow night, 17 March 2016, at midnight U.S. Pacific daylight time. The three winners will be chosen in a random, electronic drawing and their names (as they appear at the bottom of their comments) will be announced on this blog on Friday 18 March 2016.

I'll leave you with one more of the many well-chosen quotations Walt and George have scattered throughout their book. This one is from the American mythologist, Joseph Campbell:

”One great thing about growing old is that nothing is going to lead to anything. Everything is of the moment.”

Electronic Home Monitoring of Elders

After the story here last week about the Two Matts that includes a video they produced for an elder home monitoring system, a TGB reader in Tallinn, Estonia, left a comment with some concerns about such services:

"I'm working for a company that designs a product for older people and I've thought about these types or products a lot..." explained Mariliis Jõras who works at Sentab which, she says, does not yet have a home monitoring product but is considering it.

“Is that something you would enjoy as an older person yourself?” her email continues. “An app that notifies your children or grandchildren of literally every move you make and every step you take?

“It sounds a bit too intrusive to me. Just because someone is old, doesn't mean that they don't have the right for privacy anymore. Am I being paranoid?

Mariliis is not referring to PERS devices (Personal Emergency Response System), those medical alert buttons that many elders wear around their necks or, sometimes, on a wristband to summon help by pressing a button.

(You would recognize those from the “Help, I've fallen and can't get up” television commercials.)

Instead, Mariliis is asking about remote home monitoring systems for elders that allow adult children, other designated caregivers or health professionals to know minute-by-minute, around the clock what the elder is doing and if he or she needs help.

Some are sensory monitors, others are live video from cameras placed around the elder's home that feed the information to a computer or smartphone app. As Mariliis indicates – and I share her concern – these systems are highly controversial for many good reasons.

However, home caregiving and help with household needs are expensive. Couldn't cameras and sensors be a big help while saving the family a lot of money?

Also, wouldn't these systems save adult children a lot of worry about their parents? And wouldn't the elders feel better knowing someone is checking in on their well-being throughout the day?

Yes, no and maybe or maybe not to all of those questions. As Mariliis indicates and I agree, monitoring someone in the home is, and should be, controversial particularly because the issues are hardly ever discussed.

I've pulled some quotations from the websites of several monitoring companies, chosen at random, that sell these systems. Some provide sensors, others provide cameras, or both. Note that they all speak to the adult children, not the elders themselves.

Brickhouse Security promotes “live video” from anywhere over the internet.

”Easy-to-use hidden cameras from BrickHouse let you ensure that the elderly or those with special needs get the care and respect they deserve...'Granny Cams' are far less expensive than most alternatives and can help save money and preserve assets.”

LiveVideoMonitor promotes wireless, easy, do-it-yourself installation that sets up in minutes.

”Monitor elderly loved ones with an instant visual connection

Anytime from anywhere!” touts the headline. “See and hear what’s happening…day and night!”


Alarm.com is mainly a security company that also provides an “Alarm.com Wellness” service to monitor elders.

”Family members and caregivers can monitor their loved-one’s activity, such as how much time is spent in bed, in a favorite chair or out of the house. And, with intelligent sensors to track and learn the home's activities of daily living, Wellness can identify anomalies that may signify a problem.”

iWatchLife has several levels of service.

”If you need a solution that does more than make sure your parents are taking their medication, BeClose allows you to outfit their home with sensors (bed, toilet, fridge door, etc.) that track routines and activity and report back to you through a web-based portal or text messages to your phone.”

Watchbot, which like the others provides cameras to remotely “monitor friends and relatives, providing you with total peace of mind.” But here's where it gets weird, especially if you buy the notion that it is okay to spy on your elder parents:

”If you’re worried about privacy, you can relax - with WatchBot, your elderly relative can simply switch the camera off.”

Really? It seems to me that having it both ways defeats the purpose. How can the adult child know, when checking his or her phone app, if the camera is broken, if it has been turned off temporarily or if mom has decided she doesn't like being watched all the time and smashed the camera?

Further, none of the websites I visited gave one sentence's consideration to the elder's thoughts or desires about monitoring, only the adult child's.

So who decides when these monitors should be installed? Is agreement from the person being monitored required? Who gets to see the data? What constitutes an alert? Sleeping in one morning? Staying in my pajamas all day? Skipping lunch?

I understand, once the technology was created, how and why the idea of elder home monitoring systems came to be.

As the number of elders grows in the next decades, it is doubtful there will be enough caregivers to go around, not to mention that many families cannot afford help.

Even with caregiving costs, it is generally less expensive for elders to remain in their homes than move to a retirement or continuing care community but capabilities can wane. Even with that, we elders can be a stubborn lot about things we don't want to do – like leave home.

With many adult children living far away from their elder parents, isn't home monitoring better than not?

Personally, I can't get past the idea that someone would know when I go to the toilet. Or how often I go to the refrigerator. What I eat. Who I speak with on the phone or Skype - and every single thing I do all day.

That someone can look at me any time they want. In my own home.

Here's another thought: does home monitoring serve the adult children more than the elder? Does it salve their consciences for not being there?

As the costs of these systems are becoming less and less expensive, they become an increasingly viable choice for many. But there are control, privacy and other issues that are not being discussed.

Now it's your turn. Tell us your thoughts on home monitoring and know that Mariliis in Tallinn will be putting them to good use.


The Two Young Matts

This is a different kind of blog post for me today so let me start with this:

For more than a dozen years, turning out this blog about growing old has been and still is more than a retirement hobby. I devote as much time, interest, love, care and learning to it as I did any of the jobs I held in nearly 50 years of employment.

What I miss, however, are 20-somethings. When I switched from TV production to the internet in 1995, I was 55. Most of my coworkers were only three or four years out of college and some had only just graduated.

It had to be that way in the early days of the internet; they were pretty much the only people who knew how to program, design and develop websites and it worked out well. They had the computer chops and I, the managing editor, had the journalism skills. We learned from each other and together we built one of the first news websites, cbsnews.com.

As a matter of fact, a good case can be made that without my years spent with those talented young people who showed me so much about a brand new medium, I would never have started this blog.

But there was more to it than that. In slow moments, over lunch or after-work drinks sometimes, we learned about each others' worlds. There were many differences but we had a lot in common too and in one important instance, we – the young and the old – teamed up to intervene with a colleague who had a serious drug problem and together, we got him into rehab.

With that background, you will understand why I sat up and paid attention in January when I received an inquiry from a young filmmaker named Matt Law.

Mentioning one TGB reader in particular, Darlene Costner, he told me about how this blog

“...inspired us to make time to spend with our grandparents outside of the house. The fragility of the moments we have and the priceless nature of the love we share is evident in most posts on your site, so I thank you for that.”

He sure does know how to get an old woman's attention, doesn't he. The “us” in that quotation is Matt Law himself and his business partner, Matt Thompson. With a mutual interest in filmmaking, they became friends while attending Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

LawThompsonFinal

Matt Law is a recent graduate, Matt Thompson has a few more months to go for his diploma and they have already launched their video production company named – what else? - The Matts Productions.

Matt Law explained in his first email that

”As part of our recently launched business, we created a video for a company who was looking to have their 'app' be a staple in elderly care. However, we wanted to make sure that we told an actual story about love, and the reciprocal duty of a generation to give back to those who raised us with love and adoration.

Of course, I'm going to show you that video but first, I want you to know something more about the Matts and they have given me permission to quote from a later email about taking this difficult path of entrepreneurship rather than perhaps cushier corporate jobs:

”...we realized we have chosen to start a very daunting journey where we can only see fifteen feet down a very twisty, misty path to success.

“Our only guide being an incessant curiosity and devotion to excellence in what we do, all the while taking it one clambering step at a time. Step by step, brick by brick, job by job[...]

“Matt and I are also two young men who have immense love and respect for our elders. Mostly testament to our upbringing of respecting those whose shoulders we stand on.

“In our family we both have grandparents, as well as other family members, that we were close to and that we lost. For me, it was my grandma on my father’s side who I saw slowly deteriorate from cancer. Breaking down the strong, independent and often times hilariously crass woman that I called Baba into another victim of that faceless enemy.”

There is much more to the Matts' letter and worth your time to read it all. You can do that here [pdf].

It's been terrific these past few weeks to once again listen – even long distance - to two talented, dedicated and caring young people whose chosen work dovetails with how I spent so many of my working years.

Here, then, is The Matts' first professional video. The client, Reassure Analytics, Inc., said in part about it:

”...the Matts were very organized; they set the dates, asked us for what was needed and when, and ultimately delivered an awesome video that was exactly what we were looking for.

Matt Law and Matt Thompson clearly put a lot of important work into that short video. They thought about being old, about being young, about generations needing one another, about how to present those ideas.

Just a couple of days ago, Matt Law told me that since that first video, they are gradually acquiring new clients. You can find out more about the two Matts at their company website where you can also watch some of their other video productions.

My 20-something colleagues from the mid-1990s have all gone on to more professional success along with marriage, children and (can it be so already?) middle age around the corner for them.

For the very talented two Matts, Law and Thompson, who already have such a strong understanding of how people of all generations need one another, I can only wish the same.

Perhaps they will stop back here now and then to keep us up to date with their progress.