Famed Clinicians: Prepared but Not Ready for Death

In Memoriam page at the National Institute on Aging

In Memoriam page at the National Institute on Aging – Click to enlarge.

When we think about dying, about the end of our lives, we may look to the experts for guidance — to those people who have long experience with various aspects of aging and the medical issues that complicate the process of dying. We assume that these people have their own end of life details all worked out.

This week a New York Times article by Alexandra Butler, a poet, helped us gaze into the experience of the well-prepared.

Robert N. Butler, M.D., the founding director of the National Institute on Aging, and his wife, Myrna Lewis, a social worker who specialized in support for older women, had all of the details worked out, and they shared all of this information with their daughter. Their preparations, so well conceived and worked out, assumed that Dr. Butler would pass away before his wife, but this did not happen. Just like anyone else, these two experts were confused at the unexpected turn of events. Moreover, when his wife was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, it became clear that while they prepared and saw to the arrangements for the end-of-life, being prepared for death is a lot different than being ready to die.

In her article, Alexandra Butler writes that despite the uncertainty and challenge of watching her parents die, she was very glad that they had made the preparations for palliative care with no extraordinary interventions.

No one wants to die. Some people handle this by avoiding the topic — and the preparations. Others handle it by speaking incessantly about the expectation of dying. Still others, work hard to ensure that each minute detail is in place, so that family members spend time saying good-bye. Dr. Butler, who is also the individual who coined the term ageism, was prepared, but as his daughter points out, he was not ready.

When Dr. Butler died in 2010, I wrote this post for AsOurParentsAge.

Best Quotes

  • Our deaths are the last message we leave for those we love.
  • In a world where so many of our fellow human  beings live with threats of terror and destruction, if you are lucky enough to imaging you might have any measure of control over how you die, that is a privilege that would not go to waste.

Alexander Butler’s perspective offers support and encouragement to those of us — adult children and aging parents — as we navigate the the final years of aging.

Elder Perspectives on Life and Love for Younger Generations

book-cover-305x450Those of us lucky enough to have aging parents who live long and remain nominally healthy are often struck by the wisdom we hear as they ruminate about relationships and love in the past. To really understand what they are getting at we must toss away any notions that our parents are merely clinging to the “good old days” and instead gaze through a prism that acknowledges their wise and long-term perspective.

Karl Pillemer, Ph.D. writes, “What elders have that young people don’t is something special: the view from the end. For them it’s no longer a mystery as to how everything will turn out — it’s already happened.”

Dr. Pillemer is the author of 30 Lessons for Loving. I wrote a short Valentine’s Day post, Elder’s Share Wisdom About Love, sharing a Next Avenue review of the book, and was intrigued. I bought the book and posted it here on this blog as my current read. Now I’ve read the book and have more to say.

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Watching Ourselves Age With the Brown Sisters

Visit the Museum of Modern Art to learn more about the exhibit.

Visit the Museum of Modern Art to learn more about the exhibit.

Those of us with elder parents spend a lot of time thinking about age and change. As adult children, we observe the aging of our parents, but not infrequently we wonder aloud how they got so old. At the same time we don’t always notice how we, too, are growing older.

In October 2014 the New York Times Magazine published a feature by Susan Minot, Forty Portraits in Forty Years, that described the remarkable photographs of the Brown sisters. The photos, shot with the four women in the same order and with somewhat similar poses over 40 years, demonstrate with singular clarity how we grow older. Photographer Nicholas Nixon took the pictures, which were recently displayed at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City.                       Continue reading

Elders Share Wisdom on Love: A Valentine’s Day Treat!

Adult children learn a lot from elder parents.

book-cover-305x450Take a few minutes to read Love Lessons From the Wisest Americanspublished over at the NextAvenue.org site and a great Valentine’s Day treat. The article, published on February 12, 2015, will help to clear up quite a few misconceptions about our aging parents.

Written by Suzanne Gerber, this piece describes research interviews with around 700 elders documenting what they say, looking back, about love and life. Cornell University gerontologist Karl Pillemer, Ph.D conducted the research and wove it into a book, 30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationship, and Marriage.

At his Vimeo video website, Dr. Pillemer has posted some of the interviews. You can also visit Dr. Pillemer’s Legacy Project website. Check them both out.

Best Quotes From the Article Continue reading

Thanksgiving: A Time To See Older Relatives

Yes, Thanksgiving is a time for adult children to pack up and pay a visit to parents, where ever their homes may be.

Today’s Washington Post, it’s the last Sunday before Thanksgiving 2014, features an interesting article, Thanksgiving: A Rare Holiday That’s Isn’t All About Kids. The short piece, appearing in the Post’s Outlook section, points out that although Thanksgiving celebrations include lots of multigenerational activities, the holiday itself has not become as kid-centered or commercial as other holidays such as Christmas and Easter.

01-Jan-2012_to_31-Dec-2012-1According to author Jack Santino, a folklorist at Bowling Green State University, the holiday is geared toward important concepts like giving and thanks, but it also recognizes our need to go home — and sometimes considerable distances — to reconnect with parents and other relatives. Thanksgiving Day celebrations emphasize traditions of families, extended families, and country.                              Continue reading

Cyber Seniors Documentary: Well Done!

This afternoon at the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) conference in Washington, DC, I saw clips from a documentary, Cyber-Seniors, about teenage volunteers in Toronto who work with elders — people in their mid to late 80s and older — and the rich clarity of their interactions. Many of these people retired before computers appeared in any significant way into the workplace.

The movie, which travelled around film festivals, has already screened in more than 80 viewings around Canada and the United States — with more to come. It shares special moments, difficult moments, looks of wonder, moderate shock (usually at what grandparents see on their grandchildren’s pages), and the excitement we all feel when we learn something new. And yes, sometimes it’s funny. Cyber-Seniors has garnered lots of good press. (I do wish, however, that people in the media would stop calling elders “cute.” You media folks will grow older some day andhttp://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_26931356/magid-exclusive-amazon-fire-phones-fight-ebola-west-africa you WILL NOT appreciate being labeled as cute.)

Here’s a clip of a teenage mentor teaching a woman to take a selfie.

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