Thanksgiving and the Circle of Life: Transitions–2016

Traditions and Transitions Impact Aging Parents
and the Elders We Care About

Last year my annual Thanksgiving post focused on turning over a tradition, hosting Thanksgiving dinner, to the next generation. For me it signaled a major transition. We had hosted Thanksgiving dinner for family and friends since the first year of our marriage–whether we were in the East, West, or Southwest. Little did I know that now, a year later, my husband wouldn’t be alive. But since I’d relinquished the Thanksgiving tradition last year, being a guest for Thanksgiving this year was easy and welcomed at a time of many transitions that aren’t always easy….or welcomed.

Last November and again this November I think of Eloise, often written about in this blog’s early years.. My mother’s age, she was incredibly creative and energetic. She was also philosophical about human behavior and generously offered me advice. Although valuing and perpetuating traditions, including her Christmas-tree tradition (featured in House Beautiful in the 1940’s or 50’s and continued another 40-50 years), Eloise emphasized that it’s good to break with tradition. Reason: we shouldn’t be saddled with–or bound by–it. That perhaps paves the way for gentler transitions as people age. Eloise, who died at 95, would have known that.

As the holiday season begins (granted Christmas displays seemed to spring up the moment Halloween ended, so perhaps it already began), I’m in a better position to understand how meaningful it is to be–and feel– included. Clearly major holidays that celebrate family and togetherness call for more sensitivity to older people’s emotional needs. For many–if not most at some point in time– social networks dwindle and families with whom to celebrate may no longer exist.

Early this October a letter from City Meals on Wheels arrived, soliciting funds for special Thanksgiving dinners for those New Yorkers who are alone and needy. My empathy and heightened sensitivity prompted an immediate response.

Tender times. Things change. I’ve chosen to forego air travel to the Southwest for Thanksgiving this year. My goal is to reduce stress and, when possible, avoid situations that make me feel sad. I plan to have a happy Thanksgiving and wish the same for you.

The twisting kaleidoscope moves us all in turn*
*       *      *

Related:  *From The Lion King: “Can’t You Feel the Love Tonight” Tim Rice (lyrics), Elton John (music). Click to watch and listen on YouTube.

Check out new article on loneliness from UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine in Newsworthy–right sidebar

Reflections on Thanksgiving and the Circle of Life–2015

This is one of the few times in decades that Thanksgiving dinner has not been at our home. Now that Sr. Advisor R has died the celebration has passed to the younger generation (in their 40’s). And they upheld the tradition beautifully this year.

I vividly remember the old days, working at the high school until noon the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, then scrambling to launch into preparations for the big dinner Thursday. The women–my mother, m-i-l and I– worked late at night in our bathrobes in the kitchen–enjoying special time together as we readied everything but the turkey for the next day.

Now the younger generation–(both husband and wife work as did my husband and I)–loves to cook. They prepare Thanksgiving dinner together–with a little day-time help from a mother and aunt. They have children (1 1/2 and 3 1/2).  Relinquishing the Thanksgiving responsibility was welcomed by me, probably a bit dreaded by them; but the result was a most successful transition.

Being with family, having no pressure, and having little kids who are entertaining and fun– not crying or having melt-downs–is a pleasure.

***

Things change. Our dining room table, decorated in past years with boughs, fruit, candles and autumn leaves–the latter with the names of those present and dearly departed–now displays yet-to-be-put-away memorabilia and small items from my mil’s (Sr. Advisor R’s) home.

Our houseguests leave tomorrow. For old time’s sake I will gently take the saved, dried autumn leaves from their plastic bag in the drawer and view the names of those who have passed on. They were family or friends who were like family and–as they came together for Thanksgiving at our home–created a special warmth that enriched our lives.

A new tradition begins.

Every twist of the  kaleidoscope moves us all in turn.–Elton John

Aging Parents~Thanksgiving: A Day to Give Thanks with Family and Friends plus…..

…..a Creative Way for Remembering Loved Ones

Again this Thanksgiving, tradition will meld with warmth and thankfulness as family and dear friends gather at our home. Like many families, our Thanksgiving is multi-generational. We span a century–the oldest is R at 101; the youngest not yet a year old. Also like many families, family and friends who once joined us for Thanksgiving dinner are no longer with us; they have died. Others now occupy their place at the table, but they do not take their place.

As I began setting the table the first Thanksgiving after Mom died, I got out the plastic bag that contains the place cards from Thanksgivings past. I was feeling sentimental. The wish to have Mom with us or at least honor her memory was there; yet I couldn’t figure out what to do without dampening the mood.

I was gingerly removing the place cards I always save. They were actually dried leaves with people’ names written in white ink–a creative Idea, learned from a Martha Steward demonstration decades before. The leaf with Mother’s name surfaced. So did the leaf with the name of the ex-husband of one of my best friend’s daughter. The latter leaf fell apart as I tossed it into the recycle. I delicately held mother’s. Then the memorial idea surfaced. Why not add it to the centerpiece.

Since then–13 years now–mother’s leaf has been integral to the centerpiece. I’ve since added the leaf of one of my best friends, of her mother, and my Dad’s leaf. I turn them upside down, the name doesn’t show, so they blend in in a natural way. We all know they’re there. That’s what counts.

“Friends are Family We Get to Choose”
Wishing you and your family Happy Thanksgiving

     Note: Fallen, dry autumn leaves and a white pen are all that’s needed for the place cards
     

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

 

 

Aging Parents: Control and Respect–Do We Inadvertently Mess Up at Thanksgiving (and other times)?

                                        You may have received the Thanksgiving forward below–or not…

In any case, I share it. Supposedly it’s from a grandmother. Disregarding its length and the possibility that a non-grandmother created it, it conveys an important message–irreverently highlighting elders’ values–exaggerating basic, irksome things younger people, whether adult children or beloved grandchildren, do. Even if we don’t get caught up in the specifics or the humor, the need for elders to have control and respect comes through loud and clear.

I’ve become even more keenly aware recently. For Senior Advisor R, now 101, life has become hard work. There may be no other 101-year-old in this country who still lives alone in her own home of 65+ years, getting regular help only 4 hours a week from a cleaning person. Admittedly neighbors on both sides and across the street discretely watch out for her 24/7. I’ve written about this previously. They treasure her.

Maintaining control–basically of her well-being now, is her occupation. She wants to do things her way and resents what she considers interference from us or anyone else.The elasticity of her younger years is gone. Yet her appreciation of and concern for others continues and has always endeared people to her.

She is frazzled by anything that disrupts her routine–no deviation unless necessary; no unasked-for gifts (clutter); no surprises or unannounced visits–even from her 2-year-old great niece (her home is not childproof, she values her possessions); or from her son coming unexpectedly to do an errand she requested.

She considers it disrespectful.  She calls it “thoughtless” for people to take it for granted that she’s home so they can just drop in; or they talk too long on the phone, tiring her out because she can’t gracefully end the conversation; or they leave a gift on her doorstep that’s heavy (for her) to lift or requires additional care on her part. (Avoid giving any box filled with styrofoamish “peanuts.”)

Self-esteem. Dignity: so important in aging well. Being respected reinforces self-esteem. With a shrinking network of contacts, as people age, there’s a loss of the positive feedback from others that most of us regularly get often without even realizing it. We do a job well (we know and so does our boss or the people we do it for); we get the compliments; our dog greets us as if we’re the best person in the world.

And of course there’s the need for control, for feeling independent. ‘Nuf said.

Grandma’s Letter

Dear Family,

I’m not dead yet. Thanksgiving is still important to me. If being in my Last Will and Testament is important to you, then you might consider being with me for my favorite holiday.
Dinner is at 2:00. NOT 2:15. NOT 2:05. Two 2:00.
Arrive late and you get what’s left over.
Last year, that moron Marshall fried a turkey in one of those contraptions and practically burned the deck off the house. This year, the only peanut oil used to make the meal will be from the secret scoop of peanut butter I add to the carrot soup.
Jonathan, your last new wife was an idiot. You don’t arrive at someone’s house on Thanksgiving needing to use the oven and the stove. Honest to God, I thought you might have learned after two wives – date them longer and save us all the agony of another divorce.
Now, the house rules are slightly different. This year because I have decided that 47% of you don’t know how to take care of nice things. Paper plates and red Solo cups might be bad for the environment, but I’ll be gone soon and that will be your problem to deal with.
House Rules:
1. The University of Texas no longer plays Texas A&M. The television stays off during the meal.
2. The “no cans for kids” rule still exists. We are using 2 liter bottles because your children still open a third can before finishing the first two. Parents can fill a child’s cup when it is empty. All of the cups have names on them and I’ll be paying close attention to refills.
3. Chloe, last year we were at Trudy’s house and I looked the other way when your Jell-O salad showed up. This year, if Jell-O salad comes in the front door it will go right back out the back door with the garbage. Save yourself some time, honey. You’ve never been a good cook and you shouldn’t bring something that wiggles more than you. Buy something from the bakery.
4. Grandmothers give grandchildren cookies and candy. That is a fact of life. Your children can eat healthy at your home. At my home, they can eat whatever they like as long as they finish it.
5. I cook with bacon and bacon grease. That’s nothing new. Your being a vegetarian doesn’t change the fact that stuffing without bacon is like egg salad without eggs. Even the green bean casserole has a little bacon grease in it. That’s why it tastes so good. Not eating bacon is just not natural. And as far as being healthy… look at me. I’ve outlived almost everyone I know.
6. Salad at Thanksgiving is a waste of space.
7. I do not like cell phones. Leave them in the car.
8. I do not like video cameras. There will be 32 people here. I am sure you can capture lots of memories without the camera pointed at me.
9.Being a mother means you have to actually pay attention to the kids. I have nice things and I don’t put them away just because company is coming over. Mary, watch your kids and I’ll watch my things.
10. Rhonda, a cat that requires a shot twice a day is a cat that has lived too many lives. I think staying home to care for the cat is your way of letting me know that I have lived too many lives too. I can live with that. Can you?
11. Words mean things. I say what I mean. Let me repeat: You don’t need to bring anything means you don’t need to bring anything. And if I did tell you to bring something, bring it in the quantity I said. Really, this doesn’t have to be difficult.
12. Dominos and cards are better than anything that requires a battery or an on/off switch. That was true when you were kids and it’s true now that you have kids.
13. Showing up for Thanksgiving guarantees presents at Christmas. Not showing up guarantees a card that may or may not be signed.
14. In memory of your Grandfather, the back fridge will be filled with beer. Drink until it is gone. I prefer wine anyway. But one from each family needs to be the designated driver.
I really mean all.
Love You,
Grandma

“Many a true word has been spoken in jest”–from an old adage

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

Sense of Purpose: A Gift for Aging Parents–at Thanksgiving, Chanukah and Beyond

Thanksgivng 2013

I think everyone would agree: having a sense of purpose is essential to feeling good about life. The big question: How do we instill a sense of purpose in aging parents who no longer have it?

Do remember, those who never had it will no doubt never get it–
People Change, Not Much.

I recently read a short blurb about the importance of having sense of purpose. While there’s a chapter in my book about it, I haven’t addressed it directly in my posts. They have focused more on the positive feelings that come from being needed. So here goes–

First, when older people are married, there is someone in their life, whether healthy or sick…there’s purpose. So we’re talking about elders living alone. And it may take more than superficial thinking to instill a sense of purpose in aging parents who have lost it.

Next: Think about parents’ strengths/talents– objective and touchy-feely: eg. dexterity (talent fixing things), cooking, knitting, gardening, musical ability as well as patience, empathy, caring about certain things…. We may need to go back in time, remembering what they enjoyed/cared about when younger.

Then decide: can we renew and/or support sense of purpose?–or does it need to come from somewhere else?

Now: Think creatively and in a macro, big-picture way–for example:

The most universal sense of purpose (the macro) for many will be wanting to maintain independence. What can they do towards that goal?

Example: For Sr. Advisor, R, it has been to keep herself healthy enough to be able to remain in her home. There’s purpose in exercising daily and shopping for her own groceries. The shopping cart provides stability and confidence when walking. Although her shopping takes forever, the entire experience is win-win for her and for us. R gets exercise, uses her brain, makes decisions about needed/wanted food and its cost, and has connections with others…the cashiers know her (told her she was so amazing yesterday, reinforcing self-esteem and good feelings.

Best for us, we can support this–driving R to the grocery store and waiting for her to get what’s on her list–and do our own marketing at the same time. We use our cell phone to take care of other stuff if there’s extra time. If your parent feels, like R, that being on a cell phone is rude, once you know how long a parent’s shopping takes, you needn’t hang around as if they’re not independent enough to be on their own. Ask if they need help, do what’s needed, then wait in the car and go back when you think (s)he’s about finished.

R’s shopping is followed by her putting the groceries away (if they’re heavy, we help) and ultimately cooking for herself and eating healthy.

Additional ways that instill feelings of purpose:
1. Doing for others–volunteering–but it must be meaningful. Old people being with young children in a daycare or school setting can be wonderful. That said, children spread many germs so this won’t work for elders with “ify” immune systems.

2.  Having a pet to care for; but this is can be tricky for older people. A veterinarian offers good information in a past post.

3. Having plants to care for offers an easier alternative to #2 (check out Easy Care Plants)

Thanksgiving is tomorrow as is the first day of Chanukah. Give aging parents a sense of purpose by giving them a task and/or asking for help. I’ve written about the oldest guest stringing the cranberry necklace for the turkey at our Thanksgiving dinners. I’ve written about bringing those in rehab or care facilities home for the holiday meal, including some specific ways aging parents can help.

Lastly, after Thanksgiving brainstorm with friends who have living-alone aging parents for new ideas.

Restoring a sense of purpose is an intangible gift. It helps aging parents feel better, and that makes us feel better.

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Chanukah

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

Help Aging Parents–Who Don’t Eat Properly: A Centenarian’s Advice

Thanksgiving Leftovers Go Home

Thanksgiving Leftovers Go Home

SOUP, FROZEN DINNERS, FRESH VEGETABLES/FRUITS, TREATS, LOW SALT, LOW FAT

With Thanksgiving/Chanukah just a over a week away, I’m thinking about our dinner, older family members, their eating habits, and what special contributions I can make.

At age 97 and 98 Sr. Advisor, R, previously shared thoughts and advice on my posts about nutritious food older people like, can prepare easily and quickly, and where and how she buys it. (Links below)

Now–at age 100–she shares her philosophy as it relates to life and food, and reiterates the quick, easy, no-mess, healthy food preparation that has helped her age well.

“I always say ‘Take Care of Yourself or You Can’t Take Care of Anything Else.’”  Inference: (…and you’ll end up needing to have someone take care of you). To this end, what you eat is clearly important.

1. SOUP–Most, if not all, older people love soup. It’s comfort food that is usually very nourishing. Dad also loved soup in his later years. R still goes to the grocery store with neighboring women–a Gen x (to Trader Joe’s) one day;–a Boomer (to Safeway) the other day. She always has soup on hand. Why? “It’s delicious, it’s nutritious, and it’s easy preparation and clean-up.” Items: Trader Joe’s soup w/ vegetables, and chicken, vegetables et al.

2. FROZEN DINNERS–nutritious, anchor a meal, easy preparation. Frozen food isn’t new to R, who was widowed at 51. Dinners alone–for one–propelled her to check out the frozen food main course offerings years ago. After some trial and error, she selected 2 brands based on taste and nutrition (she reads ingredients). Although a very good cook in her younger years (I hear), preparing dinner for one lacked appeal. Remaining independent had utmost appeal however. In R’s mind it included eating healthy (before that was popular). At age 100 she feels secure with a week’s supply of frozen dinners in her small freezer. (She doesn’t drive of course).

3. FRESH VEGETABLES/FRUITS–knowing their importance. Bananas, orange juice and Trader Joe’s “Healthy 8 Chopped Veggie Mix” are mainstays. As stated in a previous post, she puts a salad-size portion in a plastic take-out box, adds salad dressing, secures the lid, shakes, and has a salad ready without messing up an extra dish. The veggies can also be steamed for cooked vegetables (but then an extra pot must be used).

4. TREATS–who does’t enjoy them and need them. They add fun to eating! For R, at home, they could be a cookie or two, a piece of candy, a dish of ice cream, or a frozen dessert. She believes in moderation, and buys low-fat if available. Neither cholesterol nor sugar has ever been a problem; but she’s cautious none-the-less. The day we had lunch together she ordered a completely different treat: a main course–fish and chips, salted and fried of course. This elicited the “I don’t abuse myself” quote (meaning in this instance, eating recklessly), first mentioned in an earlier post. She reiterates that she eats “simply” at home, but treats herself when she’s out…and she discusses “salt.”

5. SALT– Using common sense. R has been careful about salt intake for decades–long before it was popular. In her 50′s she realized her ankles were swelling and she decided to cut down on the salt which, it turns out, eliminated the swelling. “No doctor ever told me to cut down,” she says, ”it was just common sense….”

The dinner we prepare next week certainly belongs in the “treat” category. Do we all send leftovers (if we have them) home with our guests from this dinner when we host it? Leftovers are no doubt extra special for aging parents who don’t prepare big meals and those living alone.

This year I’m going to remember something else: put unused vegetables (eg. celery not used for stuffing, extra lettuce from salad making, and parsley–which R. loves–) in zip-lock bags, along with any other unused extras that she wouldn’t buy for herself. And–oh, yes! Add some of the centerpiece flowers, fruits, or vegetables. One more thoughtful way we can help parents age well.

Related:
What Food Should A 97-year-old Eat Breakfast and Dinner Ideas
What a 97-year-old woman cooks for herself And how she grocery shops
Aging Parents: Eating Healthy. Can We–Do We–Help? Quick, Easy, No-Mess Meal preparation, Dessert ideas

Changing weekly: “Of Current Interest”(right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities, plus some free and some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

A Nontraditional Thanksgiving Day for Aging Parents This Year?


HOW DO WE CELEBRATE WHEN CHANUKAH AND THANKSGIVING SHARE THE DATE?

ARE BLACK FRIDAY SALES BEING ONE-UPPED BY THANKSGIVING SALES?
ARE AGING PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS FLEXIBLE?

Menurkey menorah

The last time the first day of Chanukah and Thanksgiving shared the same date was in 1888. Since it won’t happen again for over 75,000 years–give or take a few thousand years (depending on which math genius does the figuring), this is the only year in our lifetime that these holidays overlap for Jewish families. Creative ideas for food and some fashion are already out there. Yet there’s another overlap–

Have any of us missed the ads (or other media discussions) of the “12 top retailers” who will be open for business on Thanksgiving? Some Thursday night; some all day.

Getting a head start on the shortened holiday selling season (when most retailers make most money) may need to be a priority. The economy isn’t great, as we know. Likewise breaking with tradition isn’t great for old/older people when connections at this time are important and eagerly anticipated.

Businesses need to pay their rent/overhead and their workers. Workers may want to take on extra work at this time of year to earn additional money. People want to take advantage of brick and mortar stores’ early sales, to help stay within their budget.  (Who doesn’t like a bargain?) Probably everyone understands the reasons for retail stores deciding to remain open this Thanksgiving –even if they don’t like it.

Older people find change more difficult than those younger. A traditional Thanksgiving is a fond, warm memory for most of us. Can we adapt our Thanksgiving celebration to what looks like a new reality in retailing?

I can only speak for our rather small group–age range 18 months-100 years-old. We are sticking with tradition. We’ll have our traditional Thanksgiving meal as always. Same time; same place. While younger family members may wish to make purchases and take advantage of the sales that day, they can do it–before or after our late-afternoon meal–at brick and mortar stores or online.

Yet “after,” from our experience, is usually a special time to sit around and talk, a time when elders enjoy reminiscing. A time when elders can share and we can learn. A time of togetherness and connections with others–the latter an important factor in helping parents age well.

And so, in spite of religions and the attraction of great bargains, I will make the Thanksgiving meal for family and friends–staying with the traditional once again–for probably the 40th time. What about you?

Related:
http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/11/12/retail-thanksgiving-store-opening-times/3504503/

 http://www.kansascity.com/2013/11/11/4614193/this-year-thanksgiving-hanukkah.html

 http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/eats/kutsher-tribeca-celebrates-thanksgivukkah-   feast-article-1.1471942  Food

 http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/830273895/the-menurkey   The turkey menorah  (menurkey menorah) pictured above –video        

Note: “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected others–to help parents age well.