Lose the Word “Spying”

made_at_www.txt2pic.comCan we please not use the word spy when we discuss the needs of aging parents?

Each year, during the two-month holiday season, I see an article or two urging adult children to use the holiday visits as an opportunity to spy — discretely, of course — during family gatherings. The goal is to discover how well parents are doing.

When it comes to the instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) and the activities of daily living (ADLs), the trick is to observe how well these tasks are accomplished and share those observations with a parent. I know that writers are using the word spy in a puckish manner — trying to add a bit of levity to a serious and potentially stressful family situation, but I’d still like to lose the word.

As we go about helping our parents find ways to maintain independence while aging gracefully, we need to be honest and direct — as much as possible. Sure, it’s difficult to speak about extra support and less independence when a parent who has lead a successful and fulfilling life feels a great sense of loss.

However, the concept of spying, no matter how discrete, just complicates the communication.

Goodbye, Jessie: A Remembrance

My friend Jessie died about a month ago. Though I had not chatted with her for over three years, I  counted her as a much-loved friend and colleague.

I met Jessie in August 1984 when she dropped into my second grade classroom to introduce herself. I was new at the school, and she was a warm, welcoming, and experienced colleague, always helping in any way she could. Countless times she came through the door to chat, offering support and listening to me describe a problem or challenge. Actually Jessie was a magnificent listener, never ever jumping in too quickly with advice. And nearly 20 years later at another school, she played the same role with my daughter who was then a new teacher.

Jessie knew how to live and to age well. Despairing events happened or health issues intervened, but she coped with fortitude and then moved on with grace. When her husband died, she mourned, as did we all because he was amazing, too. Yet despite losing a soul mate, my friend got on by living her life fully with family and friends.

Even as she aged, she did not want to retire from teaching, so Jessie found a school, led by an extraordinarily wise administrator, where she could teach part-time and where she continued to work into her 80s, mentoring other young teachers, just as she had mentored me.  Jessie knew exactly how she wanted to structure her retirement.     Continue reading

Removing Racist and Hateful Comments: A Simple Relevancy Test

Tyler Clementi's dad reading the family's statement after the jury's verdict.

After the jury announced its verdict in New Jersey I watched Associated Press video statement read by Tyler Clementi’s father. Sad and clearly with a heavy heart, he nevertheless looked to the future in a way that most of us could not have done had we lost a child the way he lost Tyler. Then I glanced down at the YouTube comments — just about every one included a gay slur or offensive language, and I was disgusted. The comments were not relevant.

Racist and hateful online comments demean writers, video-makers, and people who thoughtfully share digital content. It’s becoming tiresome. Masquerading as run-of-the-mill responses at the end of articles and videos – they are actually cyber-bullies’ remarks left here and there with the goal of offending and hurting others. The time has long past for comment and blog editors everywhere  — but especially at Google’s YouTube — to set up and enforce guidelines.

I know that the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of speech; however, it’s not freedom of speech we are observing but freedom to run off at the mouth and bully others in ways that are not relevant to the content. As a result we are teaching all sorts of silent lessons — the kind we don’t really intend to teach to young people as they grow up.

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Jane Gross on NPR’s Tell Me More

If you missed the Michel Martin’s Tell Me More on Monday, January 23, 2012, head over to the program’s website to hear Jane Gross talk about her book, A Bittersweet Season: Caring For Our Aging Parents and Ourselves. Her conversation covered a broad range of aging parent-adult child topics including Medicare, financial problems, end-of life issues, unexpected aging parent needs, and the need for caregivers to take better care of themselves.

Most Interesting Quote:

… I thought as a reporter I was capable of finding out everything I needed to know. I didn’t realize that the systems were so complicated, that they were coupled with the sort of emotional baggage of it being your mother and your brother, that you couldn’t just pick up the phone the way you did when you were a reporter and get an answer.

Listen to the whole program.

4 Anti-Rudeness Lessons From My Mom

Mom, Dad, and me on their 60th anniversary.

It seems to be in vogue to be rude.

From media and shouting television personalities, to drivers, to people’s online behavior, to members of the House of Representatives, rudeness seems to be a part of our daily life. Some people seem to be proud of it. Trouble is, the behavior is mean, nasty, and downright disrespectful. Not something to be proud of…

I’m grateful, during these days of behavior confusion, that years ago my mom insisted that I understand that it’s NOT all right to act this way. It’s OK to be assertive and sure of your point of view, and it’s even OK to ardently disagree (and even irritated), but it’s not OK to be mean and rude. Now age 84, my mom continues to follow these rules.

Four Lessons Mom Insisted that I Learn

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Aging Seniors: What a Difference a Word Makes #2

Words matter, especially words that describe people who are aging. In every day conversation, disrespectful phrases such as “old people” or “old folks,” are commonly used. My parents and many of their friends detest these comments.

This week I listened to a podcast of a panel discussion, produced by a well-known media outlet, and buried in the interesting content were comments such as “too old” and “not all there.” So many of these words emphasize the gap between older and younger people. The problem is ageism, plain and simple.

Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community Supportive Language Card, Side 1

Growing old is a normal part of life, and while it can be hard work, most people manage it quite well with intellects intact.

Yet keeping a sense of self, not to mention pride, is a daily challenge so rigorous that perhaps it should even be added to the activities of daily living (ADL’s). Older seniors navigate a minefield of unintentional (my dad calls them tacky) comments and references designed to trivialize. The International Longevity Center, founded by the late Dr.Robert N. Butler (NY times Obituary), posts this short article, Old Age has Value in Today’s Youth-Oriented Society by Ithaca College Gerontology Professor John A. KroutDr Krout also heads the Ithaca College Gerontology Institute.

Some communities are trying to address the problem. Continue reading