Aging Mothers: A Life Changer….overheard in the Hair Salon

Sr. Advisor D

Sr. Advisor D

Meet D, our newest Sr. Advisor.  A former colleague and long-time friend, D has offered us aging insights for several years. Below she writes about a recent experience at her long-time “hair salon,” aka “hairdresser’s,” “beauty salon.” 

Regardless of name, it’s a place women go ostensibly to look better. But it’s much more than that for many older women. It’s socialization, getting out of the house, therapy of sorts. Indeed it’s one of the few patterns of younger days that can easily continue well into old age.

Where else can an older person relax and count on being listened to, being pampered, being treated well? The hair salon’s supportive atmosphere lends itself to sharing thoughts and feelings.  D takes it from here–

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“Each time you have a driver, you have to plan your trip. For instance, have him take you to the store, then to us to have your hair done, and then to meet your friends for lunch,” Karen explains.

Karen C., the proprietor of Magic Touch, a hair salon in the NYC suburbs, is advising Mrs. W, a bewildered 93-year old customer who has just stopped driving. Though she has long ago moved from the area, she has kept her weekly trips to Karen and wants to continue them.

A small, homey shop, Magic Touch has a large number of elderly women clients, many of whom have come to Karen since she, an enterprising 19-year old, bought the shop over 30 years ago. Some women have moved away from the immediate area but return for their regular appointments…with Karen for their hair; and with Karenʼs sister for their nails.

Mrs. L., still driving at 92, sweeps into the shop, her entrance a signal to Karen to despatch someone to feed the parking meter that Mrs. L. consistently forgets about. But she never forgets to give a warmly personal greeting to everyone. Her golden curls have remained unruffled since her last visit.

Karenʼs father has been a fixture in the shop since his failing eyesight forced him to stop driving six years ago. A good-looking man of 74, he spends most days sitting in the reception area, chatting with visitors. Heʼs fortunate in having his days pass in the company of his daughters and the many people, young and old, who come to the shop, but he says that the evenings are difficult. A widower, he lives alone and misses going out in the evening, to dinner or to see his friends.

Another customer, Mrs. S, stopped driving three years ago, at 89. “It changes your life,” she declares as Karen trims her boyish bob. “You can’t do anything on the spur of the moment. Before, when I wanted company, I loved jumping into my car to visit the library, where I could usually count on gossip with someone I knew. Or buy something I suddenly felt like eating, rather than what I had in my refrigerator.”

After her haircut, she settles in for more conversation. “So much of an older personʼs time is given to things she has to do – for herself or the house – Itʼs important to plan every day so there’s something you enjoy doing.”  She herself enjoys reading, especially memoirs and biographies. Not novels – she craves connections with people in the real world. She has just read Hilary Clintonʼs Living History.

Mrs. G, who stopped driving last year at 88, has found another solution. “I tell my family, ʻGrandma doesnʼt want any more things from you. Give me the gift of your time, and take me out to places I want to go to. Your time is the greatest gift of all.ʼ”

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Regular appointments at the hair salon provide several keys to successful aging: getting out of the house, socializing (connections with others), and no doubt ending up looking better (and thus, feeling better). The challenge may be finding a salon like Karen’s.


Seder: The O’Learys, the Steins, 99 1/2-year-old R, Us + 47 others–continued

The fact that R wanted to attend James’s family’s Seder was a surprise. It was made even more surprising because R rarely made plans to go out two nights in a row (and we had previous plans to have dinner together the night preceding the Seder). And Seders are intergenerational–children of all ages. So there’s lots of energy. That said, R wanted to keep our Sunday night dinner date and go to the Seder the following night.

The street by James’s son’s home was filled with cars. We were let out in front.  At the exact moment we closed the car door so my husband could take the car in search of a parking place, James came down the long walkway from the house as if on cue. Greetings and hugs all around and a lot of conversation preceded our walk to the front door.

Once inside the house James’s daughter-in-law’s mother introduced herself and warmly greeted us. Then James’s wife appeared–another warm greeting as we were ushered through the house and out the back door to a patio and yard filled tables. (We’re obviously in a warm part of the U.S.) Our table had a red table-cloth–and one white straight-back chair for R.  (All other chairs were the rental, metal collapsible kind.) R’s seat was at the side of the table closest to the buffet and also offered a view of all tables. Obviously extra efforts had been made for R.

After being seated at the table well before the Seder began, R never got up and was never alone. I think we knew three of the 54 people there. But everyone knew James, who immediately sat down across from R and introduced her to everyone who came over to greet him.

While seated, but before the meal begins, Seders follow a prescribed script with guests–children and adults–taking turns reading certain passages in the traditional Haggadah (Passover prayer book). While the host (who was the leader) explained no one was required to read, neither R, nor any other adult, nor the children missed their turn–and R’s voice came through appropriately loud and clear (and she wore no glasses).

Throughout the meal R was constantly engaged–listening attentively, really interested and, as usual, sharing wisdom interspersed with up-to-date knowledge and always-interesting olden-days memories. During dessert and after, R was involved in thoughtful conversation with people she just met. And when we finally said our “Goodbyes,” (my husband and I were exhausted, not R) only  James, his wife, his daughter-in-law and his son remained.

4 Lessons Learned and 1 Observation will follow Saturday

A Head Start on Valentine’s Day–2: Caring and Connections Sent Snail Mail

When it comes to helping parents age well, my friend Monique is one of the best daughters I know. While its contents can be priceless, turning Monique’s Valentine idea into a reality takes as little or as much time as we want to spend. It’s handmade (a card or small booklet) with as many pages as we wish. What’s inside, is the key.

A poem, a saying, a quote, a photo, a shared memory, a note fill the page(s). No artistic talent necessary to write or glue these onto a piece of paper.  Example–a photo of a treasured, shared time together with simply, “I Love You.” One piece of paper folded in half makes the card.

Monique sent this kind of “card”–with some meaningful photos, a little saying and some heartfelt words–to her far-away-living mother a few years ago. Her mother said “it made her cry.” No doubt tears of joy for having such a considerate, loving daughter. And possibly tears of sadness because her daughter lives so far away.

When adult children and grandchildren make the effort to send something special, thoughtful and loving on Valentine’s Day, aren’t they filling aging parents and grandparents with feelings of love, thus lifting their spirits?

Connections to others are important in helping people age well. It’s proven; we realize that. We also know many older people enjoy the old-fashioned excitement of seeing there’s something from someone they know– in the mail box. Isn’t sending a Valentine a perfect connection?

Seeing in writing that someone loves and truly cares about us is as meaningful to our elders as it is to us. Perhaps even more so, the older they are–when connections with others are fewer and opportunities for caring, loving words and shared memories are in short supply. The Valentine fills this void–whether we handcraft or buy it–adding anticipation and a bit of excitement when found sitting in the mail box.

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Getting A Head Start of Valentine’s Day–1  (with Monique’s unique Valentine)

Valentine Poems from the internet (scroll down for “mother” etc.)

Hearts on the card photo above come from an inexpensive hanging decoration sold at Michaels  Crafts, cut to desired size, then glued onto sturdy paper.

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.

Making Aging Parents Happy: How A Good Friend Helps–and Why

Ready for New Years Eve

Ready for New Years Eve

It’s January 2. The day after New Years.  A good friend calls with thanks for our New Year’s Eve Dinner Party. Being together was great. We talk about our plans for the day and rest of the week. My friend is playing bridge today and Friday.

“Are you playing with your friend’s elderly mother today?” I ask.  “Not today, but I’ll be playing with them Friday. You know, her mother’s 90, doesn’t hear well–really doesn’t hear well and a lot of our group doesn’t want to play with her because of that– but she’s a good bridge player.

I was appreciative of anything that made my mother happy (she died at 94) and if I can do this for Marcia, I’m happy to. Playing bridge gives Marcia’s mother something to look forward to and gets her out of her house. I play in the foursome with her at least every other week.”

(Over a year ago Marcia lined up a few friends so that her mother had at least one bridge game a week to look forward to. Lunch is always a part of the afternoon and they trade off homes to play in. Marcia arranges the lunch when the foursome plays at her mother’s apartment.)

I was appreciative of anything that made my mother happy.”  These words resonate. When we are trying to help our parents age well, especially as they get older and older, most likely fewer opportunities exist to make them happy. Indeed we may need to be creative and resourceful, which could involve recruiting a few friends. Obviously helping aging and old parents stay involved is a key to making them happy. Feeling accepted by younger people makes them happy. Getting out of the house for something fun and/or entertaining makes them happy.

And it makes my friend happy. She’s doing something that enhances an old person’s life; it’s bridge and she enjoys that too. A win-win for everyone.

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.

Aging Parents: Family Photos Link Generations

IMG_0162Family Photos Link Generations

Photos connect us– to each other, to our families, to our heritage, to our gene-pool. They remind us of our younger selves. They rekindle the ties and feelings we have for those who’ve gone before us….grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, those we held dear and those we hold dear. Indeed, we may have inherited some of their features, some of their traits. On the other hand, some in the photo album are unnamed. We wonder who they are.

These feelings enveloped me the other day as I began cleaning out my parents’ home of 60+ years. They were accompanied by feelings of frustration as I struggled to recognize people in photos that lacked both name and date. Then it dawned on me:

Invite my cousins and one of their children (total age span about 27 years) to come for lunch, bring family photos, and look over each other’s pictures. We can each help identify unknown persons and–at least in my case because I’m cleaning out–give some of the old family photos to the cousin whose family member is in a particular photo. Fortunately one of my cousin’s daughters is fascinated by genealogy–only hesitates to go on because she fears she won’t surface from her computer for at least 2 weeks.

I phoned her first to test my idea.  She was enthusiastic–(surprise, surprise!) Result: she volunteered to make a salad–the party’s on.

Older cousins, well into their 80’s, sound excited about coming. We know connections are important in helping older people age well; and isn’t looking forward to something  always uplifting? Meanwhile, the younger cousins are coming with energy and enthusiasm.  Is this is a good idea or what??? (We’ll know Tuesday night when I do my next post.)

This coming Tuesday at noon  boomers, elders and those in between on Dad’s side of the family will reconnect. There will be lunch. And we will share pictures and memories from our younger years as we look at and lovingly recall, those who came before us–mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, and grandmothers and grandfathers. They, of course, contributed to who we are today. 

Broken Hip Recovery Jan. 2011; Flying 2,000 Miles Alone to Visit in May

Are Today’s Old, Old Amazing–or What?
A Lesson for Us, No Doubt

My husband and I still have one more aging parent, his mother (click Sr. Advisors tab above, hover over “R.”) who continues to age well at 98 1/2. You’ve read her thoughts (she reiterates it gets harder every day) and suggestions for helping older people age well (most recently about eating and purchasing food). The latest: R just told us she has one more trip (plane flight) to NY in her and will be coming the end of May if it’s OK with us. We’re delighted. How do we age well and even become amazing?

I realize how much I’ve learned from R and my other Sr. Advisors (and some of you) about discipline, instincts, knowledge, energy–combinations of those plus health and initiative. Let me share four givens–lessons if you will from them–applicable to us and to our aging parents age.

1. How we spend time on this earth–ends up being 24/7 for everyone. That doesn’t change. What changes is how we decide to fill those hours. We can make a life for ourselves or not.
     Specifically: R, widowed at 51, decided she couldn’t lie around feeling sorry for herself. Not that it was easy to get out of bed every morning, she admits. Nevertheless she says she gave herself a little pep talk that went something like “I can control what I do– succumb to being miserable or try to make something of each day–just put one foot on the floor and then the other. Then get up and keep putting one foot ahead of the other. Get cleaned up. Get going

2.  Connections with others–so important to aging well. We hear it, we know it. Easier said than done, especially when old or recently widowed.
      Specifically: When R was widowed, she realized for the most part couples no longer included her. If she was to “get back into circulation” she knew she would need to take the initiative…hard to contemplate, harder to do, she says. But it was her only option.  We live thousands of miles away so weren’t there to fill in her empty hours. Perhaps, looking back, it was good. R got herself together and made a life for herself.

3. Taking the initiative“Joining” clearly brings connections and interest into one’s life.
Specifically: While it takes initiative to make that first call and appear at the first meeting knowing no one, joining has been a life saver for many. Sr. Advisor M, says it saved her life after she was widowed. But joining isn’t for everyone. It wasn’t for R, who looked for new ways to reconnect with people she had known and liked. She learned that if she invited someone to lunch, she was never turned down (“a free meal,” she says laughingly). And slowly but surely she gained a group of friends, some younger than she. And she was introduced to their unmarried friends. As the decades passed she found the younger friends energetic, interesting and interested. Now most of her contemporaries have died. Her young friends value her wisdom and enrich her life.

4. Family–“Friends are family you get to choose.” Understand this, especially in problematic families or in families where children live far away. It enriches quality of life.
     Specifically: Very few family members live near R; and R has chosen friends wisely. Many are like family and that feeling goes both ways. As readers know, R has been like a grandmother to some of her neighbors’ children. She has gone to countless Grandparents’ Days, been interviewed about WW’s I and II etc. And like a very good grandmother, she sent a turkey dinner to her neighbor’s son at college back east–for him and his friends who couldn’t make it home for Thanksgiving. Genuine caring and generosity–priceless–and seemingly repaid again and again in R’s case.

These are the best examples of the warm, touchy-feely aspects we want incorporate for aging parents–and for ourselves when our day comes. Next–part 2: the objective, practical, important foundations for aging well.

Note: We just sold our home. Need to empty out what’s left beginning today. It’s more of a challenge than moving (which you read about last fall). No longer any internet access so I must go to the library. Life gets in the way when we make plans (and have a regular post-writing schedule). Will  publish part 2 when I can–hopefully by week’s end–so keep checking.

Aging Parents and Thanksgiving

Pretty table
Thanksgiving=Tradition….warmth, togetherness, and ample food. It’s a time-out from the fast-forward, headline-a-minute pace of today–a reminder of olden days, Pilgrims, Plymouth Rock…a celebration to give thanks for what we have and, in today’s unstable world, for those who keep us safe.

Perhaps the tradition means even more to older people who always dress for the occasion. I’m now out here in the West where “come casual,” “it’s casual,” “don’t need to dress up” seem to be the norm for some–or possibly more than I think.

Thanksgiving Turkey

Based on what I see in the super-markets, turkeys–whether fresh, frozen, or brined– hold onto their traditional status as the featured food, although vegans would understandably hope otherwise.

I think it’s safe to say the majority of aging parents aren’t vegan although they may learn from a child or grandchild what a vegan is this Thanksgiving, if they don’t already know.

As we all know and have seen documented so many times, “connections with others” is one of the most important factors in aging well. Thanksgiving connects the generations by just being together as well as through conversation. It also provides opportunities to contribute–in large or small ways–which especially makes older people feel worthwhile, needed. And isn’t that a priceless gift.

I’ve mentioned in past Thanksgiving posts that the oldest guest with a half-steady hand, always gets the job of stringing the cranberry necklace to drape over our cooked turkey before its presentation to the assembled guests.

Dad could never make the pumpkin chiffon pie that Mother continued to make in her mid-80’s. But Dad could string that necklace up until his last Thanksgiving at age 94. With warm wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Turkey w/ Cranberry Necklace

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.