Programs

 How To Be A Burden to              Your Kids

      The Gift of Years

    Thank God, We're              Miserable

 The "Oy" and Joy of Caregiving

   Didn't My Skin                 Used To Fit?

          Aging with Humor

I've Survived Damn   Near Everything

Strong At the Broken Places

 When the Heart                 Weeps

     Making Loss Matter

 Too Soon Old, Too              Late Smart

   When am I Old Enough to Know    Better?

Quotes for Meshuganas

Bring Me a Sane Man and I will cure him for you. Carl Jung

A sane response to an insane situation is insane. R.D. Laing

God is a comedian playing to an audience that is afraid to laugh -Voltaire

The only fool bigger than one who knows it all is the one who argues with him

 The only people I know who are happy are those I don't know well.

The monkey may be off your back, but the circus never leaves town. Anne Lamott


Tools for "Suffering In Style."

Resign As General Manager of the Universe

Live in the Moment

Schedule Joy in Your Life

Think Like an Optimist

Think about Thinking

                                    Life Changing Books

A Gift from the Sea - Anne Morrow Lindbergh

If You Meet the Buddha On the Road, Kill Him- Sheldon Kopp, MD

Man's Search for Meaning -Viktor Frankl, MD

The Road Less Travelled - M. Scott Peck, MD

When Bad Things Happen To Good People - Rabbi Harold J Kushner

Less is More the Paradox of Choice - Barry Schwartz

The Search for Momma and the Meaning of Life- Irvin Yalom, MD

Flying Without Wings Personal Reflections on Being Disabled - Arnold Beisser, MD



Wednesday
Feb162011

The Greatest Love of All

“To love is to suffer, therefore, in order not to suffer one must not love, but then one suffers from not loving, to love is to suffer, not to love is to suffer...” once again, Woody Allen captures a universal paradox. Our most important need is connection and, yet, it is the source of most of our pain. We often pick partners because they have qualities or a quality that we don’t have. I remember in graduate school the professor saying we “marry our worst nightmare.” So we try to change the very characteristic that attracted us in the first place.  “If only you were more like me we wouldn’t have this problem.”

Every time I write an article about love and relationships I feel that I have add the disclaimer that my longest relationship has been with my bearded collies. In fact, I wrote my Masters’ Thesis on the psychological benefits of growing up with a dog. I found that having a dog gave you more confidence in your own ability to cope with life’s challenges - it’s called ego strength. It’s not just the unconditional love (which you can only get from a pet or before age 4), I think,  it’s the feeling of being listened to - I’m important enough! 

M. Scott Peck in his book “The Road Less Traveled” says the work of love is attention and listening is one of the main ways we show attention. Sadly, often what passes for communication is not talking and listening but talking and waiting. Waiting to make your point or dispute the other’s so we don’t really hear what’s being said and until someone feels heard they will continue to try to make their point. Virginia Satir, one of the icons of family therapy, said all communication are “validate me” messages. Do you see the world I see? Not possible, but what is vital is “do you see that I see the world the way I do? 

Our only hope for connection can come if we feel safe enough to be our authentic selves.  If we live for the approval of others we always need to be somebody’s something so we get our identity from others. With age we lose so many of our roles that we must learn to enjoy our own company or we experience loneliness rather than solitude. Enjoying solitude requires the belief that we are loveable and positive self-talk for reinforcement. Once again we are reminded that the most important communication, outside of prayer, is the conversations we have with ourselves.



Wednesday
Jan052011

My Year Of Living Imperfectly

January is like opening day in baseball -we can all go to the World Series. We start with a “clean slate.”  In reality, we bring all our baggage into each new year.  With the wisdom of age I’ve accepted that of course, I have baggage- but it’s cute and it matches.

 “There is a tale of an elderly Chinese woman who had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole.  One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water; while the cracked pot arrived only half full.

The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection. After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, one day it spoke to the woman, 'I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.'

The old woman smiled, 'Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side?' 'That's because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them.' 'For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.'

Each of us has our own unique flaw. But it's the cracks and flaws we each have that makes is who we are.”

Shame drives “never good enough” and keeps us from connection which is why we’re here. We can’t appear vulnerable so we can’t be authentic - we cover our flaws instead of embracing them.  According to Brené Brown, PhD, a leading researcher on shame we need the courage to be imperfect.  With age we can make fools of ourselves and do it with enthusiasm - we’ve done it so many times by now.

 I’m reminded of the chorus of Leonard Cohen’s poem “Anthem”

                   Ring the bells that still can ring

                   Forget your perfect offering

                   There is a crack, a crack, in everything

                    That's how the light gets in 

So, to my crackpot friends, have a happy new year and remember to notice the “flowers on your side of the path!”


 

 

 



Sunday
Dec262010

A Gift of Lovingkindness

As this time of year triggers the “remembered happiness” of holidays past, Gretchen Rubin’s quote that “the days are long but the years are short” is powerfully true. Our “experienced happiness” is often very different as we are caught in our private “Groundhog Day” with the same family struggles and disappointments over and over. Remember holiday blues is the feeling of loss you have when you can’t be with those people who matter and holiday stress is when you have to be with those people.

 I’m reminded of the story of 2 children who are playing in the sandbox and they get into a fight and say “I’m never going to be your friend” they run to their mothers are comforted, then return to play - friends again. One mother says “how do they do that?” The other explains they’re more into happiness than they are into righteousness. How many times have we chosen to be “right” rather than happy? One of the best definitions I’ve heard for forgiveness is giving up our need for a happy past.

 According to the Talmud, repentance was among the first things God created; even before God created the physical universe. Think about that - before the world was created God knew we would need to repent.

 This year when my house fell apart I began studying Jewish mysticism and Buddhism not just to understand life but to “stand life.”  I’m now grateful for my floors, ceilings, plumbing, etc. It is the little things - there are no ordinary moments. The worst thing would be to be happy and not know it.

 So this year give yourself the gift of mindfulness - living each moment with awareness and without judgment . We need to learn to forgive ourselves over and over and over and over and over. God knows.  

Friday
Dec102010

Thank God, We're Miserable The Joy and Oy of Caregiving

Bring me a sane caregiver and I will cure him/her for you - to paraphrase Carl Jung. The Greeks viewed madness as a gift from the gods - the divine release of the soul from the yoke of convention.  The voices in my head my not be real but they have some good ideas. Caregiving challenges every belief you have about life and yourself.  It is that kind of boundary experience where one life ends and another begins - where every map about how things should be gets us more lost.  It's been said it's another country. We think we know what that means; we know our life will change but we have no clue. It shows that until you experience something it's all hearsay.  My caregiver group knows on a visceral level the helplessness we feel coping with this horrible disease where our loved one dies twice.  There's actually a diagnosis - caregiver syndrome.

Although each relationship has different issues - parent-child reversals push one set of buttons, a wife caring for a previously dominant husband pushes another.  There's a universality to the ways we deal with our pain. There are actually two modes of the heart - struggle or surrender to what is. Surrender is not giving up but rather letting go. A common denominator in all emotional pain is the need to change current reality. Our only is choice is meaning management - what story can we tell ourselves to ease the burden - so as not to ..."come back from hell empty handed?"

 Alzheimer's constantly reminds us that this moment is the only time any of us have and we want to make the most of it. The practice of mindfulness - an awareness of the present moment without judgment releases us from the neurotic pain we add to the real existence pain of life.  Culturally, this is difficult for me. The Jewish joke of the year was "two Jewish women were sitting quietly together minding their own business."

Paradoxically, the exhaustion and the grief that is the constant companion of the caregiver as more and more of the person is lost, is often transcended by those moments of grace when we feel blessed to be able to give to this stranger who loved us once - we have a sense of purpose.  Caregiver's live the most important lesson "meaning is all we need and relationship is all we have."

As the poet Tagore expressed:

I slept and dreamt that life was joy

I awoke and saw that life was service

I acted and behold, service was joy.

*And for those meltdowns when meaning and purpose don't help - forgive yourself, over, and over, and over and over again.

 

 

                                    

 

 

 



Saturday
Oct092010

I've Survived Damn Near Everything

October is my favorite month; I get to buy lots of new pink things commemorating Breast Cancer Awareness.  As a survivor I use that as a pretense to take my collecting from hobby to obsession.  I started collecting T-shirts after the Northridge earthquake (they held up better than my glassware.)  We all had the “I survived the Northridge Earthquake,” then Fires, then.....  The longer we live the more things happen to us, finally, as elders we can wear T- shirts that say “I’ve Survived Damn Near Everything.”  I’ve made it my life’s work to find out how survivor’s “suffer in style”. I am awed by the courage, strength, and humor I witness daily. I recently attended a “Positivity Party for the “mother of all survivors”, Heather Warrick.  The “cancer princess’ “has had 11 recurrences and her life has inspired hundreds if not thousands. The lessons are age old - she lives one day at a time sometimes one moment at a time, she expresses gratitude for the incredible blessing of her loving family, and she lives her motto to “Choose Hope.”  Emily Dickinson says "Hope" is the thing with feathers—That perches in the soul—And sings the tune without the words—And never stops—at all.”  We must never stop at all.