Category Archives: “Senior Moments”

Liz David and Eleanor Jaffe provide not only good reading material but also good thoughts about this stage of our lives.

NOVEMBER’S SENIOR MOMENT WITH LIZ DAVID: WHAT DO WE BECOME?

WHAT DO WE BECOME?

by Liz David

I have been “downsizing” my closets and dresser drawers–giving away coats, scarves, gloves, hats, sweaters.  I’ve been trying things on and then attempting to decide whether or not I will continue wearing that skirt, top, pant, sock, jacket, or shoe.  I have a medium-sized box stationed against the wall for objects that were on the bathroom window sill and around the Jacuzzi.  I’m eying things in our bedroom but haven’t made decisions yet.

Believe me, that doesn’t even touch the downsizing challenge.  The house is full of stuff that we’ve collected over the 45+ years we’ve lived here.  I’ve been told one has to be brutal about this process, and I’m trying.

Gradually, I’ve started cleaning kitchen cabinets, starting with the one under the sink and the rotating one next to it.  Eventually, I’ll get to the drawers.  The silverware drawer and the one that holds the “wraps” and “plastic bags” are okay, but don’t ask about the 3 junk drawers!   And now, I’m procrastinating about cleaning the oven.  Even with a self-cleaning model, the door has to be done manually.  Why bother? It just gets dirty again.  The carpets need cleaning, except for the one in the family room which should just be replaced.  The inside walls need painting.  Door knobs need scrubbing.  The dishwasher works but only runs the regular and heavy cycles.  Who needs light and china cycles anyway?  The clothes washer and dryer are fine, but don’t forget to turn the water faucet off when not in use.  I could go on and on, but you get the point. Oops!  I forgot to mention my precious books, Native American artifacts, and jewelry.

The exterior of the house is well maintained, thanks to the love of my life. It’s a “stately” looking house, gray with black shutters and a warm barn-red door which welcomes family, friends, pets, trick or treaters, and the occasional door-to-door salesperson. The lawn is a challenge. Some of the abundant trees have been cut down so they won’t fall onto the house in a hurricane or high wind storm.  Sad. I mourn when a tree is fallen.  Our back yard is bordered by acres of conservation land. I call it my emerald forest in Summer; glorious multi-colors in Autumn; newly fallen snow, fresh and clean, in Winter; Spring, well you know Spring buds–the world is born anew.

So, what does all this mean?  What do our possessions, our well-tended homes, and lawns become?  When we downsize, pare things down to a minimum, our abundance becomes the stuff of memory. When we move to a townhouse, condo, or lifelong living community, are we diminished?  What do we become?   What else is there to give away before we take up our final residence in a coffin or urn?

Ourselves!

We give generously of our wisdom, thoughts, feelings; we mentor the younger generation and our contemporaries. We argue, offer opinions, and listen attentively.  We volunteer.  We march for just causes. We meditate and pray.  We cry for and with our friends. We accompany them until they are no more. We love, and love, and love some more.

We give of ourselves to others and allow others to give of themselves  to us as we age, decline, and eventually melt back into the Universe from where we came.

Safe travels.

“Senior Moment” feature writers Eleanor Jaffe and Liz David

My passion is to help others to gain deeper understanding of themselves and the changes, losses, gains, and glories of aging. So, “grow old along with me–the best is yet to be.”

OCTOBER’S SENIOR MOMENT WITH ELEANOR JAFFEE: TAKE YOUR PICK!

TAKE YOUR PICK!

by Eleanor Jaffe

 I am looking at two articles from the NY Times printed this past August whose subjects both have to do with aging.  There cannot be two more different articles than these two.  One of them, published in the business section on August 19th, is entitled, “Coping with the Dread of Inching Toward Oblivion.”  The second, published on August 13 on a page called “Vows,” concerns a wedding:  “She’s 98. He’s 94. They Met at the Gym,.”  Each piece reflects a truly real aspect and possibility about aging, albeit 180 degrees different from one another.  TAKE YOUR PICK!

The first article, written by economist Ron Lieber, was prompted by the near collapse of Medicaid, a logical outcome if Obamacare had been nullified by Congress this past summer.  Fortunately, and for the moment, Medicaid stands–a bulwark for seniors who cannot afford long-term nursing care either in a facility or at home.  This care becomes a necessity when elders are faced with diseases like Alzheimer’s or any serious degenerative disease necessitating round the clock supervision and monitoring.   Lieber reviews several books written by caretakers and recommends them.  You may want to consult them:  The 36 Hour Day by N.L.Mace and P. Rabins;   A Bittersweet Season by Jane Gross, and Being My Mom’s Mom by Loretta A.W. Veneer.

A number of us are all too familiar with the subject of long-term care.  We have nursed our husbands or wives  or parents through long, painful demises and know what it is like to have our loved ones change and diminish before our eyes.  There are compensations for care-taking, and  mixed blessings do accompany caring for a beloved one during a downhill course, but care-taking, nevertheless, is one of life’s heaviest burdens.

AND ON THE OTHER HAND!  Here’s a vibrant story of a lively romance between two fit 90-year-olds (she’s almost 100).  Their courtship and marriage makes me smile and gives me hope that life can continue to bring joyfulness, unexpected good times, true companionship, and even romantic love – no matter what your age.  (We have even seen some of these romances at BOLLI!)

IS THERE A COMMONALITY HERE?  I have searched my mind for one,  and this is what I think:  we have a lot of love to give.  And we also have a great need to be needed and loved.  Caring for your loved one, no matter what degree of pain or suffering we may experience as the caretaker, certainly lets us know that we are needed at the most fundamental of all levels.  At the other end of the spectrum, romantic love allows us the full expression of our desires.  We are needed.  We are loved.  We are fully alive,  giving and receiving.

It is one of life’s great puzzles that some of us are given heavy burdens to carry, sometimes over long periods of time.  Others of us seem to dodge the bullets of protracted illnesses, hurricanes (of all sorts), financial trials, and losses of many kinds. 

If only we could TAKE OUR PICK!

“Senior Moment” writers Eleanor Jaffe and Liz David

As I grow older, I am more interested in the conditions, changes, culture, and even politics affecting me, my husband of 53 years, my friends–and my 104 year old mother.  What does it mean to grow older in today’s society?  My experiences as a social worker, as a high school English teacher, doing a lot of reading about aging and loss, and living to 80 (so far) have prepared me to write this blog.

Leave comments, more suggestions for further reading, etc. in the box below!  Our writers so appreciate knowing that you’re out there!

 

SEPTEMBER’S SR. MOMENT WITH LIZ DAVID: LEARNING TO FALL

LEARNING TO FALL

By Liz David

I was six years old when my family moved to a two-family home on Athelstane Road in Newton Center. A few years later, my Father bought me a blue and white Schwinn two-wheeler.  I learned to ride quickly, never fell, and was allowed to ride all over the neighborhood,  including all the way into town.

Over the years, Barry and I rode bikes locally as well as on the streets and trails of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.  After we built a summer home on the South Shore, we and our children all biked the Cape Cod Canal.  By then, I had taken up jogging and spent much of my time running and preparing for running events like the then Bonne Bell 10K for Women now sponsored by Tuft’s Health Care.  My bicycle took a back seat.

At 80, I decided to take up biking again.  At the bike shop, I insisted that it had to be one that was small enough and with a seat low enough that I could put my feet on the ground when I stopped.  We bought a state-of-the-art Trek bike.  Helmet and all, I rode up and down the driveway.  Then, we drove the bike to Lincoln Sudbury High School where I rode around the parking lot until I thought I was comfortable.

But, since then, my beautiful bike has been sitting in the shed.  Why?  I’M AFRAID OF FALLING!  At age 81, our orders are clear:  DON’T FALL.

SWITCHING GEARS

And yet, on a more serious note, I realized that being afraid to fall doesn’t preclude learning to fall.

Philip Simmons, in his book, Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life, describes how he thought he had to learn the art of dying after he was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 35.  What he really ended up learning was the art of living until his death ten years later at 45.

The book is written, in his words, “with the urgency of a man whose days are numbered.”

Simmons writes, in the context of dealing with loss, “Life, after all, is a terminal condition. Each individual soul is, as the poet William Butler Yeats says, “fastened to a dying animal.”  We’re all engaged in the business of dying, whether consciously or not, slowly or not.”

Simmons writes that the work of learning to live richly in the face of loss, such as we elders experience every day, whether consciously or not, is the work that he calls “learning to fall.”

He states that his book’s central theme is “born out of a paradox: that we deal most fruitfully with loss by accepting the fact that we will one day lose everything.”

Here are some quotes from his book that move me as I hope they move you.

“Think of falling as a figure of speech. We fall on our faces, we fall for a joke, we fall for someone, we fall in love. We fall from ego, we fall from our carefully constructed identities, our reputations, our precious selves. We fall from ambition, we fall from grasping, we fall, at least temporarily, from reason.  And what do we fall into? We fall into passion, into terror, into unreasoning joy. We fall into humility, into compassion, into emptiness, into oneness with forces larger than ourselves, into oneness with others whom we realize are likewise falling. We fall, at last, into the presence of the sacred, into godliness, into mystery, into our better, diviner natures.”

“In the act of letting go of our lives, we return more fully to them.”

“As I see it, we know we’re fully grown up when we stop trying to fix people. All we can really do for people is love them and treat them with kindness.”

“If we can’t laugh, we can’t properly be serious.”

“Life is both more or less than we hoped for, both more comic and tragic than we knew. Comedy ends in happiness, while tragedy yields wisdom.”

“We have all suffered, and will suffer, our own falls. The fall from youthful ideals, the waning of physical strength, the failure of a cherished hope, the loss of our near and dear, the fall into injury or sickness, and late or soon, the fall to our certain ends. We have no choice but to fall and little say as to the time or the means.”

“In fact, I would have it that in the way of our falling we have the opportunity to express our essential humanity.”

“When we learn to fall we learn to accept the vulnerability that is our human endowment, the cost of walking upright on the earth.”

SWITCHING GEARS AGAIN

In the final chapter of Simmons’ book, he takes us even farther.  “We all have within us this capacity for wonder,” he says, “this ability to break the bonds of ordinary awareness and sense that, though our lives are fleeting and transitory, we are part of something larger, eternal and unchanging.”

“You see, we really are all in this together.  There are times when the fact that we are in different bodies, or have lived in different centuries, or that some of us have died while others live on or are yet to be born, seems a trivial difference compared to what unites us and abides.  Our journey takes us to suffering and sorrow, but there is a way through suffering to something like redemption, something like joy, to that larger version of ourselves that lives outside of time.”

TRAIL’S END:  The last paragraph of the last chapter includes this passage…

“Some of us go willingly to the edge, some of us are driven to it, some of us find ourselves there by grace.  But all of us get there at some time in our lives, when through the gateway of the present moment we glimpse something beyond.  And when we do, may we open ourselves to wonder, may we surrender to the mystery that passes understanding, may we find ourselves at the threshold of this eternal life.”

So, I’ve decided that, at my age, it’s time to let go of trying to ride my bike and risk falling–physically.   Instead, paying attention to the words of wisdom that Phillip Simmons has to offer, I’ve committed myself to something much more important:  “learning to fall” into the life I have left.

Metta, Elizabeth David

“Senior Moment” feature writers Eleanor Jaffe, left, and Liz David, right.

My passion is to help others to gain deeper understanding of themselves and the changes, losses, gains, and glories of aging. So, “grow old along with me–the best is yet to be.”

Share your comments with Liz–and fellow BOLLI members–below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AUGUST SENIOR MOMENT WITH ELEANOR JAFFE: Do You Plan on Growing Old?

This month, Eleanor muses on the recent “skinny repeal” Senate vote, and her thoughts remind all of us, regardless of our politics, to be extremely mindful–even vigilant–in terms of how our health care might be affected by changes to our current system.  Thank you, Eleanor!

DO YOU PLAN ON GROWING OLD?

Information about Medicaid and what it provides to so many of our citizens emerged in recent weeks as the revisions to Obamacare or its potential cancellation bubbled to the surface in the Senate.  In a July 1st NY Times article by Ron Lieber, I read that:  “One in three people who turn 65 end up in a nursing home at some time.”  And, “62% of those people cannot pay the bill on their own.”

We cannot predict our own futures.  We cannot know whether we will need nursing care over a longer period than we can afford to pay.  Even when we have planned for a financially solvent old age, unexpected illnesses and costs may develop.  Even long term care insurance may be insufficient.  We cannot know how long we will live (my mother, for example, is now 104 years old) nor who will be there to care for us.  Family members often live great distances from one another and cannot disrupt their lives to sufficiently care for their elders. This creates a lot of uncertainty, many “unknowns.”  We like to think that we will be healthy and self-sufficient until our deaths, but that is often not the case – as we know, as we can see around us.

Medicaid is our safety net.  It is the same Medicaid that cares for the young, the poor and sick, and those with disabilities.   Medicaid still supports the elderly in nursing homes who need assistance.  I read that, on average, the annual cost of a semiprivate room in a nursing home is $82,128.  Medicaid also currently pays for home and community based care for older adults.  Most people cannot afford the high nursing home costs, especially if their retirement funds have already been reduced by the protracted illness of one of the partners in a marriage, leaving the widowed (usually woman) with insufficient capital for their own care.

This fact (and the multitude of safeguards provided by The Affordable Care Act for most of us in the U.S.) is why we all probably breathed a great sign of relief when the Republican Senate plan to wipe it off the books was defeated.  People all over the country had rallied to support the admittedly imperfect Obamacare, but most Republican Senators turned deaf ears to their activist constituents.  Only three: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, and John McCain were able to hold the line against the attackers.  Good thing for us!  Great thing for us — to date!

I learned that each state has its own requirements to determine qualifications for Medicaid.  Lieber recommends a “plain-spoken guide,” How to Protect Your Family’s Assets from Devastating Nursing Home Costs. He also writes that many people hire elder-law attorneys to help them navigate state Medicaid rules.

The proposed Republican changes to health care legislation that would have affected us directly as we age and possibly become infirm are real and very, very significant.  This recently defeated plan to eradicate Obamacare would have directly affected all of us seniors, some in devastating ways.  We need to stay alert to possible/probable further actions which could significantly alter health care benefits.  We all need to be vigilant.  We need protect our self interests by advocating for universal health care in whatever forms appeals to us–but certainly not by eliminating it.  Become an advocate!  Your health care–and mine–may depend on it.

BOLLI Matters “Senior Moments” writers Eleanor Jaffe (left) and Liz David (right).

As I grow older, I am more interested in the conditions, changes, services, culture, and even politics affecting me, my husband of over 50 years, my friends — and my 104 year old mother.  What does it mean to be growing older in today’s society?  Please share your thoughts below!

JULY’S SENIOR MOMENT WITH LIZ DAVID: OUR 60TH ANNIVERSARY

OUR 60TH ANNIVERSARY:  THE ARC OF OUR LIVES

Liz and Barry – Our 60th Anniversary

 

IN THE BEGINNING

At Cynthia Richmond’s sweet sixteen party, I was wearing a form-fitting aqua top and a cinched-waist taffeta skirt.  Barry was wearing what must have been the teenage boys’ uniform of the day, but what stood out was his Elvis pompadour.  It was not love at first sight, but it was attraction

We never would have met if Barry’s family hadn’t moved to Newton as he entered his junior year in high school.  He says he spotted me in the tunnels we walked through to get from one building to another at Newton High.  After Cynthia’s party, we dated, we broke up, and we dated some more.  We went to the Senior Prom with different partners.  We got together again, and when Barry was attending Northeastern in the 5 year work/study program, we became engaged.  I was 19, and he was 20.  We decided to get married when he finished his 4th year.   His parents, though, had other plans!  As a result, we waited another year.  I graduated from the Chandler School for Women as a secretary, and we were married on June 23rd 1957 after he graduated.

Barry decided to go on to graduate school and enrolled in the MBA program at Cornell.  During those two years, my secretarial skills came in handy–I worked at the Chevrolet dealership in Ithaca.  Dewey, the handyman at the dealership, often had to pick me up at graduate student housing on the hill due to the “mountains” of snow that fell during the winter months.  Those were challenging but good times.  We were a young couple among other young couples who had little money but lots of energy and enthusiasm.

After graduating from Cornell, Barry fulfilled his 6-month obligation to the National Guard at Fort Sam Houston in Texas where he trained as a medic and came out thinking he could cure anything from a scratch to the bubonic plague!   I stayed home, living with my Mother and working, except when he came home on leave when we stayed with his parents.  Not ideal, but it worked.

THE MIDDLE

After completing his military obligation, we moved to Shaker Heights, a tony suburb of Cleveland, Ohio where Barry began his professional career working for U.S. Steel.  We rented a not-so-tony apartment in a two-family house owned by Mrs. Parisi.  We were fortunate that she took us under her wing, and she was thrilled when I became pregnant with our first child, Jonathan.

We decided to settle down and buy a bungalow in Northfield, Ohio. The deal was that we had to finish the house; we—or, I should say, mostly Barry–painted it inside and out, laid floors, and planted the lawn. It was a gray house with black shutters and a yellow door.  I still love that color combination!  The neighborhood was just right for a young couple.

FAST FORWARD

After moving back to Massachusetts to be closer to family, we rented for a while before buying a house in Waban.  We had 2 more kids, Larry and Marc; moved to Wayland; had 2 more kids, Ted and Betsy; moved to Sudbury and invited my ailing Mother to live with us in what I thought was going to be our spare guest room.  She lived with us for 7 years, eventually moving to a nursing home.

Along the way, we bought a 2nd home overlooking the ocean in Manomet, South Plymouth. Barry bought a sundial that he mounted on the deck railing. It was inscribed with the saying, “Grow Old Along With Me The Best Is Yet To Be.”  As the children grew and were no longer able to spend much time there, we sold the house and bought another, all-season home, in the Ellisville section of South Plymouth with the idea that, possibly, we’d retire there. The sundial travelled with us.

Meanwhile, the children grew to adulthood and, over time, along with their spouses, gave us 7 glorious grandchildren.

PRESENT

So, here we are in our large home in Sudbury, having sold the Ellisville home.  We decided that being closer to family trumped moving to the South Shore.  The sundial is now mounted on a wall that borders our driveway.

Barry, the love of my life, and I are in good health.  We are active and engaged in numerous activities. We are having the off and on continuous discussion with ourselves, family, and friends about what our next steps should be when it comes to living situations and care as we age. We made a deposit on a continuous care community in nearby Concord.

When I am not looking in the mirror, sometimes I forget my age, 81. There are other signs—like not running anymore.  I walk. I work out regularly but not as obsessively. Occasionally, it takes me a while longer to remember a name or recall a word. On the other hand, my spiritual dimension has taken a front seat, deeply and joyously.

So, I’ve been thinking about the sundial Barry bought years ago, the one with the saying on it that sustained me for quite some time. GROW OLD ALONG WITH ME–THE BEST IS YET TO BE, it says.

The Sundial (photo by Barry)

And now, I’m wondering.  Is the best still yet to be?  Maybe we should think about another line–

THE BEST OF TIMES IS NOW–IT’S ALL WE HAVE!

“Senior Moments” feature writers Eleanor Jaffe and Liz David

Eleanor and Liz provide monthly items focused on topics of interest shared by all of us–the transitions, issues, celebrations, and more–about this important stage of our lives.

A SENIOR MOMENT WITH ELEANOR: WARNING…

     WARNING:  THOUGHTS OF A LIBERAL DEMOCRAT

Women’s March, Boston

In my opposition to President Trump, I am not “old,” or “elderly,” or even “senior.”  In my opposition, I have joined millions of Americans of all ages–and others around the world–who see Trump’s ideals and policies as anathema to our long held beliefs about democracy, fairness, honesty, and liberalism.

I see this opposition in the print newspapers that I read  (The Boston Globe and The New York Times), on the television news that I watch (CNN, CNBC),  in the marches in which I have participated (the Women’s March, the Science March, and the Climate Change March), and in the conversations I have had with grandchildren and men and women across the age spectrum.  What unites us are sincerely held, foundational democratic beliefs that are now being so aggressively challenged, mocked, and threatened by the actions and speeches of our president.

I recommend marches!   Truth to tell, most do not involve marching, or even walking.  They involve driving or taking the “T” to a site like the Boston Commons and then standing.  Standing and listening and watching and, of course, talking to like-minded other demonstrators who carry vivid signs representing their own unique points of view.  Signing petitions is also part of the demonstration.  At the climate march, a variety of well-attended indoor workshops (with chairs for sitting) encouraged more direct actions.  These workshops took place immediately following speeches. 

People of all ages (babies, college students, families, healthy young men and women, old folks – some with canes) attend.  Music, balloons, petitions, hand=made signs abound!  And like-minded citizens rally for causes in which their strongly held beliefs are shared with a multitude of others.  I thought and felt, “I am not alone;”  “Many others are here who will carry this fight forward.”  “Are there other actions I can take?”  (Like writing letters to the editor — I just had one published in the Globe–so can you!)

I keep thinking about one statement of Ms. Sarsour, one of the four co-chairs of the Women’s March in Washington.  She said, “Being disgruntled on your couch in front of your t.v. is not helping anybody.  This is a moment when we need viable activism, and now is the time to be bold.”  So–Think! Read!  Share ideas with friends, and then, Be Invigorated and TAKE ACTION! to insure that your dearly held principles remain a part of the legacies you leave to all our grandchildren.

APRIL SENIOR MOMENT with Liz David: “OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES”

“OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES”

By Liz David

The World’s Greatest Grilled Cheese Sandwich

 

A few months ago, my 11-year-old grandson Ben and I were in the kitchen. He was sitting at the table, patiently waiting for lunch. I was preparing to serve him the world’s greatest grilled cheese sandwich ever.

Out of the blue he looked up and said, “Nana, I hope you live a long time.”

“I hope so too,” I said, moved.  I thought all he was interested in was his X-box, play station, texting, and winning at Monopoly.

At the time, I was 80. Now, I’m 81.  I’ve already lived a long time.  I don’t know what living a long time means to an 11-year-old.  I didn’t probe or ask questions, but I’ve been thinking about this question off and on since then.

So what does living a long life mean to me?  Is it the fullness of years or just another number to strive for?  So I’m 81. Will I reach 82 and, if so, what difference will it make?  What difference will I make?  Is being here enough? Or am I just existing? Does my continued existence matter? Of course, my family and friends would say yes.  And I say yes too!

But is my yes important? Will I live to see my oldest grandchild—and also my youngest grandchild who is 7—graduate 6th grade, 8th grade, high school, college.  Will I see them have careers, get married, make me a great-grandmother? Unlikely.  Very unlikely. Impossible. Do the math!

For me, it’s important to not only live well into a “ripe old age” but also to live a meaningful old age. Yet, a very wise person once said to me that all God wants us to do is to “be.”  I ask myself, “How can I ‘be’ as I do?” A conundrum that gets me into, may I say the word, spiritual stuff.

Grow old along with me. The best is yet to be.  Really?

So, how about a conversation?

SENIOR MOMENTS Feature Writers Eleanor Jaffe (left) and Liz David (right)

Years ago, when we were in our 40’s, my husband and I bought a sundial with the saying “grow old along with me–the best is yet to be.”  I’m not sure whether or not I believed it then, and I’m wondering whether I believe it now. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MARCH SENIOR MOMENT with Liz David: Legacy Letters

LEGACY LETTERS

by Liz David

As we age, we begin to think about legacy.  We write health care proxies which may or may not include ”do not resuscitate” orders. We may designate  a family member or independent person as having our power of attorney.  We write wills as to how we want our financial assets distributed and include lists of those we wish to receive our personal items such as precious jewelry, family heirlooms and special, meaningful, possibly sentimental items.  We may agonize about who should get what and how much, who should receive this or that item, or who even wants anything!

Some of us offer our children and grandchildren these items as we age, before we die.  “Thank you, Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa–but we don’t have any room.  It just doesn’t fit.”  Or, worse, “it isn’t our taste.”  Or, even, “You still have a lot of years ahead, and we want you to continue to enjoy the item” of the moment while you still can.

There is another legacy, though, that may be even more meaningful than the above and doesn’t depend on legalities or whether or not anyone wishes to receive the item.  It is a “Legacy Letter,” or, as described in ancient times, an Ethical Will.  A Legacy Letter is a letter we write to our loved ones, either to be opened after death, or shared whenever you decide the time is right.  It is a way to synthesize our thoughts and feelings in a meaningful  and loving way. It is a way to transmit our love, our special stories, anecdotes, and the lessons we have learned over a lifetime.

As older adults, we consciously, or not, are models. Our behavior, attitudes and values are transmitted to those around us.  We teach by our lives, our examples, our deeds, our spoken and unspoken words. It is normal for us to think about what is important for us to transmit to those in our sphere, our family, loved ones, closest friends.

Don’t get me wrong.  Keeping our relationships “current” should be a top priority, either through confronting difficult subjects or, simply, giving a peck on the cheek as we walk out the door, knowing that, given life’s unpredictability, we may never see that person again. It may sound dramatic, but it’s true!

Here are some guidelines that I’ve used  when helping Legacy Letter participants through the process.

  1. Are there specific things you wish to say to specific people?
  2. What are the important teachings, messages, etc. you would like to leave as your legacy?
  3. What qualities in the people you are writing to have given you pride or pleasure? What do you want to affirm about them?
  4. If you have a life partner, would you want to give him or her encouragement to re-couple?
  5. What acts of charity would you like survivors to do in your memory? Do you want money donated? To a specific cause
  6. Discuss funeral plans. Remember funerals are for your survivors.

Do’s and Don’t’s

  1. Do include your favorite jokes and memories of the good times you’ve shared.
  2. Don’t scold, criticize or use this as a guilt trip to punish people.
  3. Inform loved ones where you have stored your Legacy Letter.
  4. Update periodically

Regarding whether to write your Legacy Letter on the computer or handwritten–I suggest you do both. There is nothing so precious as receiving a handwritten letter,  and it will reflect your style and personality in ways that will be appreciated beyond measure.

May you go from strength to strength.

Senior Moment feature writers Eleanor Jaffe (left) and Liz David (right)

When we were in our 40’s, my husband and I bought a sundial with the saying “grow old along with me–the best is yet to be.”  I then felt a “calling” and, at age 45, earned my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and became a bereavement counselor.  Later, a friend encouraged me to join BOLLI where I began to offer courses in which we discuss our aging–from the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of our lives.  My passion is to help others to gain deeper understanding of themselves and the changes, losses, gains, and glories of aging.  So, “grow old along with me–the best is yet to be.”

FEBRUARY SENIOR MOMENT with Eleanor Jaffe: My Aunt Sally

MY AUNT SALLY

by Eleanor Jaffe

     My Aunt Sally died a few days ago.  Today was her funeral.  She was 95 years old.

      I am not sure if she really is my aunt any more because, you see, my “real” Uncle Sam, my mother’s kid brother,  divorced her about 5 years ago.  They had been separated for 20 or 30 years by that time, but Aunt Sally would never let him go.  She refused to divorce him.  They lived separately.  He supported her.  He dated other women and began living with Jane at least 20 years ago, and Jane finally became his second wife about 5 years ago. Still, Sally took her rightful place at all family functions, luncheons, Thanksgiving Day dinners, birthday parties.  I even invited her to my son’s wedding 18 years ago in New Orleans along with Sid and Jane.  After all, she was still my aunt, and she and my Mom had fun together, despite the fact that Mom always considered her an airhead.

     Sally and Sam were a gorgeous couple when they first met in their early 20’s.  Sam was a decorated war hero.  He’d been shot out of the sky with his crew and was one of the two out of twelve who survived.  Ronnie was curly haired, pretty, and very curvey.  I was about 8 or 9 years old when they were engaged and came to visit my family.  I was enthralled by their movie star gorgeousness and glamour.  They married and lived together in Florida for about 30 years — far from our home in Brooklyn.  They had 3 children together.  My cousin Sarah, their oldest child, died from cancer a long time ago.  Sam searched everywhere with her for a cure–all over the U.S. and Mexico to Germany–and was broken by her death.  He still seems broken.

     I understood, I thought, why Uncle Sam no longer wanted to live with Sally.  He was a complex man–intelligent, well traveled, well read, an athlete, interested in Chinese art.  Sally was simple.  She liked buying $2 and $3 “tschochkes,” according to some who eulogized her today, and then giving them away.  She never recognized a rebuff, so she went through life perpetually cheerful and resilient.  Most people, it seems, went out of their way to help her, and they liked her.  Was she insensitive?  obtuse? or loyal and forever loving?  She lived with her son and his wife, both of whom adored her.  Her daughter-in-law wept from the pulpit as did her son, her grandson, and two other grandchildren.  Clearly, Sally lavished her love on them, and they cherished her.

     People are complicated.  We can’t know what is in their hearts and minds.  We guess.  We tell ourselves stories that we believe.  Some of us are quick to judge others.  We become locked into our own opinions (or are they the opinions of others?).  We overlook, we simplify, and we think we know.  We take sides.  And yet, we can never know the whole story.  How can we?

     I felt very sorry for my Uncle Sam today.  I love him and respect him.  He sat next to Jane, his second wife, and listened to almost everyone in his family speak of their love and praise for their adorable and adored mother and grandmother—without a word about the father and grandfather who sat two rows behind his first wife’s coffin, which was blanketed by an abundance of roses. 

“Senior Moment” feature writers Eleanor Jaffe (left) and Liz David

As I grow older, I am more interested in the conditions, changes, services, culture, and even politics affecting me, my husband of 53 years, my friends, and my 102 year old mother.  To satisfy my ever growing curiosity about what it means to grow older in our society, I created and taught three BOLLI courses on this topic.  My experiences as a high school English teacher and social worker plus a lot of reading about aging and loss (and, of course, living, so far, to 80) have                                               prepared me to write this blog.

Please share your own thoughts and feelings by commenting below–

JANUARY “SENIOR MOMENT”: The Superagers!

“Use It or Lose It—-THE SUPERAGERS”

by Eleanor Jaffe

“How to Become a Superager,” (a recent NY Times article) gives added credence to the well-known phrase, “Use it or lose it.”  The author, Lisa Feldman Barrett, recommends that we elders work HARD at intellectual and physical challenges.  She writes, “If people consistently sidestep the discomfort of mental effort or physical exertion, this restraint can be detrimental to the brain,” since, “all brain tissue gets thinner from disuse. If you don’t use it, you lose it….so work that brain.” What is more, she says, “The discomfort of exertion means you’re building muscle and discipline….superagers excel at pushing past the temporary unpleasantness of intense effort.”   (To access this article, click here)

This is great advice that we BOLLI members follow in our course work—right?  But we are, after all, “seasonal learners” with long  interruptions between semesters.   When I started to think about how to keep building brain muscle during BOLLI’s course breaks, I discovered that even vacation can keep us superagers going.

EXERCISING MY SUPERAGER BRAIN WHILE ON VACATION!

I’d like to think that the luxury of being able to purchase and outfit a new vacation condo in Florida has given me and my husband a multitude of opportunities to exercise our superager brain muscles. The challenges of setting up a new apartment are multiple, even to experienced hands like us.  Here’s what I mean:

Let’s see.  First of all, how shall I equip my now empty condo?

I start by making a floorplan and a color chart.  Next, I decide what furnishings we need and make a master list. It doesn’t take long before I have to look for the often misplaced list, but when I find it,  I tend to revise it.  Then, I take it with us when we go shopping.  Back home in Boston, I dig up unbreakable furnishings (linens, trays, small rugs, etc.) that we could use in Florida. I pack them up and ship them down.  (I should have made a list of them…)

Next, I explore the resources my new surroundings have to offer.  What stores carry the things I will need?  How do I find those stores and websites that reliably provide “stuff”?  I consider the advice of the other newcomers we meet about how they achieved the same goals.  I learn about “consignment shops” where “lightly used” used items of often good quality are sold.  Sarasota has about 35.  And this kind of shopping offers adventure!  You never know what you may find—or how quickly someone else will spot that terrific bargain.  I’ve learned to be prepared to purchase on the spot.  I’ve also learned to schedule deliveries so that I will be at home when these purchases arrive.

But furnishing a new space isn’t all that this kind of relocating involves.  Our superaging brains get lots of exercise as we memorize lots of new code numbers: beach locker number, house entrance number, security number, cell phone number, etc., etc., etc.   I have to write them down. (And then look for this list later, too.)  We also have to learn directions: east, west, north, and south–especially difficult for me since I am–and always have been–“directionally challenged.”  We have to learn the names and locations of new streets, highways, restaurants, movie houses, parks, beaches, etc.

And, of course, probably most important of all, we need to think about how to create a new social life.

We make lists of activities that seem like they will be fun or worthwhile.  We locate the best lifelong learning center in the area so we can continue to do classroom learning.  And all along the way, we make new friends.  (The challenge, of course, is to remember their names.)  And, of course, we make sure that we stay in touch with old friends—they are the best.

We also need to schedule visitors.  And that takes special planning—how many and how often is too much?  Of all my tasks, this one seems to be the most challenging to me.

I am reminded of a hint from the renowned psychologist, B.F. Skinner.  He said that as we age, we forget a lot, and we ought to routinely equip ourselves with a pad that we wear around our necks that contain our “lists.”

Do you think pads around the neck could become the new fashion accessory for us “superagers”?

 

Eleanor and Liz
“Senior Moment” feature writers Eleanor Jaffe and Liz David

Eleanor says that, “As I grow older, I am more interested in the conditions, changes, services, culture, and even politics affecting me, my husband of 53 years, my friends — and my 102 year old mother.  What does it mean to be growing older in today’s society?  To satisfy my growing curiosity, I created and taught three different classes about aging issues over the past several years at BOLLI.  My experiences as a social worker and as a high school teacher of English–plus a lot of reading about aging and loss—and, of course, living to 80 (so far)–have prepared me to write this blog.