Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A single person is missing for you

“A single person is missing for you and the whole world is empty. But one no longer has the right to say so aloud.” Phillipe Aries, (French medievalist and historian), Western Attitudes toward Death: From the Middle Ages to the Present, published in 1975
As I age I probably think about death more than my younger friends. I am nearer the end of my life than the beginning and I know this. It is interesting how over the years our society has changed in our attitudes toward death. In North America, death like sex is a taboo subject. We do not talk about death in polite society, just as we don’t talk about sex in polite society. We couch our talk of death by talking about longevity. Today my friends and I talked about how a 70-year-old today is as healthy as a 56 year off in the 1950’s. We also talked of all those Canadians who were reaching 100. We focused on longevity in our conversation. 
We talked about average life span and wondered at the fact that as a society people are living longer today than fifty years ago. Fifty years ago, a Canadian who lived to 100 was a news item and the recipient of a letter from the Queen. Today Canada has about 6,000 centenarians and their number increases by roughly 1,000 a year. They still get the letter from the Queen, but someone has to let the Queen know, so a form letter can be sent.
Our conversation touched on death, as some friends had died, and we thought about the fact that when an older person dies, it is part of life, but when a child dies it is a tragedy. How times change. A century ago, the death of a child was an expected part of family life; today we are appalled and outraged when it happens. Fifty years ago, suicide was universally abhorred and treated as a crime, if not a sin. Today the right to die, which means suicide for a good reason, is legal in several countries and some American states; it is now a part of Canadian life.
My friends and I say we don’t fear death.  But I am not sure that is true for me. To quote Robert Frost, “But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep” and I hope that when my time comes, I will still be looking for the next promise to keep. Our time in history is worldly, which means that it’s relatively easy to consider dying simply as the last page in our life story. Ideally, we would like death to visit us while we sleep, or when we are in a relaxed mood.
But dying can be horrible. My mother took a year to die and I watched her fade away. I don’t fear death but I want it to stay away for a long time. I’m however terrified of painful and boring months (or even years) in palliative care and watching those who love me watch me fade. I wonder will joy and wonder disappear, as another version of my life endures. My mother lost her ability to talk. I wonder what I would do if I could not exchange words with anyone? What if I can’t read? What if I can’t write? What if I can’t watch my grandson grow, and laugh with him? Will I truly be alive? But even then, I would not hasten death to my door although there are some who would do this. As the old joke goes, I don't want to die screaming as my aunt did, I want to die in my sleep as my uncle did when he was driving down them down the highway.
However, in our society where we don’t talk about death, jokes about dying are seen as offensive by some, dying people are often abandoned psychologically by family, friends and doctors. Compassion, honesty and reassurance can help the seriously ill adapt to the approach of death. Research shows that psychological distress diminishes if the person who is dying is not alone and is able to express feelings and concerns to those who care, and who will listen. Our society takes great stock, in putting a person who is dying into care, Palliative Care or hospital care. This allows those who are friends of the person dying to prepare for Bereavement but does little to help the dying face their own death. Bereavement is now perceived as a normal psychological and physiological reaction to death. 
We grieve for those who die. Grief is characterised as somatic distress, guilt, hostility, change in patterns of conduct. In our society individuals, after the initial shock, are typically left to grieve alone.  There are five stages of grief that a person might go through, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.
When a person dies, they are mourned by those who love them, but when they are dying there is no time them and their dying.  Our fear of death and the hope that we will live and enjoy our lives with interest and joy make it hard for some to be around those who are dying.
When a person dies, their passing becomes a community event, a celebration of life. Family members friends, and acquaintances band together with each other to share the moments of sorrow. This helps all, as we can share our emotions and be there for each other at a stressful time. A celebration of life is a good reason for being together and for an afternoon or a day we share our sorrow. 
However, in the days after the celebration of life, the closest to the deceased, still face the fact that for them, a single person is missing and their whole world appears to be empty. Take time with those who grieve, so that they know they don't need permission but have the right to say they miss their loved one aloud.


Ashton Applewhite  a well-known activist and writer recently spoke at an Institute for Ageing event, on Ageism, here is a bit of what she had to say:

There are a lot of reasons to be an activist these days; it can seem like battling ageism is just something else on the list of things to fight. But Ashton said that today’s rising consciousness is actually the best time to organise. People are riled up against prejudice and bigotry like no other moment in the last 50 years. This isn’t the time to deal with one later; it’s the time to take on everything.
So, what can one do? In her discussion, she talked about ways to be an anti-ageism activist, including:

  • Promote consciousness: When talking with acquaintances and community members, promote the idea that ageing is a “dynamic, interesting, and unchartered territory.” It isn’t something to be feared. These are interpersonal conversations you can have, which make a difference. Changing individual minds is a great place to start. You can do this online, as well, by sending out uplifting and accurate messages.
  • Organise education seminars: Participants were encouraged to get out and host classes, meetings, and more. Whether at homes for small groups or gymnasiums with the neighbourhood, these are ways to raise more awareness of the issue.
  • Train the trainers: This is activism 101. Make sure that people in your circles go out and educate and organise more people. Teach them the issues, so that they can teach others. Intersect with other activists, and see how your missions can work together (for example, older members of the LGBTQ members [link to LGBT Laws article] tend to be worse off than their counterparts, and the same goes for older minorities). As Benjamin Franklin said, hang together, or we’ll hang separately.

  • Stay involved: Challenge Assumptions on Aging, Every Day Stay focused, stay organised, and stay involved. Activist groups are always looking for people to join.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Fun Way to Keep Your Mind Active After Retirement

You have been a hard and dedicated worker your whole life. You worked with your family on the farm or in the family business and then moved on to your career and your own family. In fact, you have worked for so long that it is all you have really known.

You have dreamed of the day when you could hang up your working boots and retire to a life of leisure and possibly travel the world with your spouse. However, you have been retired for awhile now and the travelling thing is fun but tiring. And you cannot sit around the house and just watch soap operas and fishing shows all day.

In short, you want mind stimulation and you would really like to meet new people while you are at it. How can you do that without taking up gambling or playing bridge every day in the park? Well, the best way to do that is by signing up for some continuing education classes.

Continuing education classes can help keep your mind sharp and help you learn a new hobby or subject all the while meeting new people who share the same interests. Many community colleges, recreation centres and universities offer a wide variety of continuing education courses throughout the year.

The easiest way to find these classes is to call up the colleges and recreation centres in your area to find out more about their upcoming class offerings and how you can register. For example, you can take a class to learn how to make jewellery, learn how to sew or knit, learn how to throw pottery or write the next great American novel.

Or, you can take more of an education type course like a Spanish language class or a literature course. The choices are only limited by your imagination and drive to learn.

The best part, you will probably find like-minded people in your courses that you can become friends with. More than likely, they are probably in the same boat as you and are looking for a way to occupy their time in retirement. You can form a friendship with these people and build new relationships. And who does not like having a lot of friends and acquaintances?

The most important thing, it helps you continue to feel like you are doing something productive. You have spent the majority of your life doing things for others: your parents, your spouse, your children and your employers. Now it is your time to take up a hobby that you have always wanted to try but did not have the time for. Why not! You have worked hard your whole life and completely deserve this time.

So pick up the phone and find out more about the upcoming courses in your area. By this time next week, you could be creating the next blockbuster novel or painting a masterpiece that will eventually land in a famous museum. If you dream it, it is possible and continuing education can be the missing piece to make that happen.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

When will your flowers bloom?

When you reach retirement it is time to explore new adventures, but many are afraid of change and want to stay in their comfort zone. 

Think about your life as a garden, In your garden, some flowers bloom in the spring, some bloom in the summer, some in the fall, and some in early winter. We are the same, some people bloom late. Some very late. And some, very, very late.  But, they all bloom. 

And the longer it takes, the more spectacular it is. Quite the deal waiting for you, just around the corner if you only have the courage to take the first step.