Listen up 55+ People!

Over the past year I have been working hands on as a caregiver in a retirement home that has more long term care clients than retirement.  Retirement is most often linked with letting go of formal work and sitting back on the financial kitty you have and collecting the Canada Pension and Old Age Security checks.  Taking time to spend with grandchildren and taking up hobbies on a daily basis like painting or pottery, woodworking or cabinet building, making the choice of sitting on the couch and reading a book or watching an old movie.  All these choices sound like fun in "retirement".
We have all seen the advertisements for "senior community living" where smiling grey haired people are actively bowling, eating together or taking down a book from the library shelf.  The illusion that "retirement" is going to be fun and entertaining.  These ads can be so far from the truth.

My experience with 90 aging adults over the past year has been that maybe 10/90 are the ones in the ads that you see and they are bored stiff because their social capital has gone, the institution in which they live is pouring money and resources into looking after the 90% and not the 10% and it simply is not fun.

I sit at a table where four people reside for lunch and spoon feed them and talk with them event though they appear not to even know I am there.  The drool of lunch runs down their chin and so, for dignity, I wipe it off.  I watch across the room where three other caregivers do the same in a room with about 35 older adults.  The 10% are staring blankly out the window as their table mates are unable to carry a conversation so they eat in silence and wonder what the afternoon activity will bring.  I spend time one on one with many people.  Some tell me wonderful stories of life on the farm and the family they loved.  Some have crippled hands and feet curled up into a ball and have no voice, simply guttural noises escape from their lips.  I massage their hands with love and affection in hopes I am making a difference in their day, in their moment.  Moment by moment they exist.

In my heart, I wonder why we do this to our loved ones.  The moral and ethical dilemma of end of life care is a deep and challenging subject.  There are many opinions about how to deal with the human existence at end of life and what constitutes quality of living.
While I paint this picture, that which is frightening to me and should be to you as well, I do so in hopes of getting to you before you get here. How do you plan to spend the last 1/3 of your life? There are jokes about people getting "old and dying".  Many of the people I work for and with only wish they could do the "die" part.  The reality is you will get older however you may not die for many, many years.

Long term care environments are lost on most people simply because they choose not to really see it. Only when you work in it do you witness the reality of aging. The part that makes me angry is in my research and education, I am now "optimally" aging and fighting toward a good finish to my life. There are things you can do! Truly there is!  You just have to commit to doing them and come along with me for the ride! My passion is to educate and drag/pull/push anyone who is interested in hearing more about healthy aging to information sessions to learn more.  Let me come and teach you about aging well and how you can do it!  Let me share what 15 years of education and experience has taught me.  Let me show you how turning 60 will be exciting for me as I compete in triathlons and run 15 kms just to say I can do it.  Let me introduce you to others who are doing the same into their 70's and 80's and are aging well and living a full and abundant life.

Do not choose to simply get old and leave "how" up to fate ... contact me today.  Where two or three are gathered I will be there to teach, inform and educate.


Gail Sheehy, PASSAGES: Predictable Crisis of Adult Life
Chris Crowley/Henry Lodge YOUNGER NEXT YEAR
Paul David Nussbaum PhD SAVE YOUR BRAIN
Optimal Aging by Cynthia Breadner


To die with dignity ...

THIS is my greatest challenge. How do I make changes to support these kinds of directives? Working in aging adult care, my heart breaks, not only for those who are lonely, depressed and aged, but for those who are forward thinking and know, in right mind, how they want to end their life! This article may be written from the USA but don't fool yourself this happens right here in Canada. Every time I spoon feed a person I wonder, is this what they would have wanted for themselves. Being pro-euthanasia for aging and infirm adults who choose it in their earlier advance directives, how (oh please tell me how) can I advocate for this action to be respected and held up in a court of law or with family wanting to hold on?
Just this week, a woman sat with me and would not eat. She is choosing not to eat. Other caregivers say "encourage her to eat" and I do. She looks at me with deep, deep longing in her eyes and says, "you eat it then". I laugh. She takes a drink of Ensure (gut rot IMO) and smiles and then slowly spits it down her apron. She laughs and says, "awful stuff". She knows, SHE KNOWS what she is doing. Why, oh why, can we not choose to die without others telling us somehow it is wrong?
Choosing life is fantastic when life is worth choosing. When it is not it is a prison and torture to the one wishing to move on from this earthly existence.
"Nora Harris, 64, a former librarian, signed an advance directive after her diagnosis to prevent her life from being prolonged when her disease got worse. Now, her husband said, she’s being kept alive with assisted eating and drinking against her stated wishes." http://www.nextavenue.org/advance-directive-denied-last-wish/?utm_source=sumome&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=sumome_share

My father said, two weeks or so before he died, at the wake of my uncle "he's the lucky one" referring to my uncle laying in the casket. There are worse things than death and until you work with the dead and dying in an aging adult care home, do not judge someone for wanting to die. Dying with dignity should be an option instead of the shame of suicide that is placed upon one who choose to die as they age. Let's talk about dying with dignity more and more and more until we all understand what it is to have choices in life and in death!

Psalm 23:5 "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows."   You being the spiritual being we are in our hearts.  As our own spirit prepares a table to sit at during our lifetime, there is the presence of enemies prying into our life, dictating and tellings the spirit what it is it should do.  Let the self/spirit/soul anoint your head with oil and let your cup overflow with self desire and authentic voice.  Speak your authentic truth about your own life, make it known what the spirit wants.



Finding Spiritual Community and a place to call 'home'.

In a culture and world were people are spiritually bankrupt we travel so far, either by foot, car or internet to find connection. As we age, this connection grows more and more important as the harder questions start to be asked. Why am I here? Have I accomplished what I want in life? Why am I so lonely? Where are my true friends and social capital I will need as I age?
Yesterday your writer visited West Hill United Church. This community is in the news often for those who watch "church" development and are watching how the changing times manifest into gathering places. This vibrant community, West Hill UC is lead and fostered by Gretta Vosper a beautiful, kind, loving and caring human being. I first met Gretta over 15 years ago, long before I began my personal journey that has carved and shaped me into who I am today. WHUC is a welcoming community of faithful people seeking justice in the world and a community where 'people are more important than beliefs'. This philosophy and Gretta's personal journey have caused much conversation and created awareness around what it means to be in community together and following the call to be faithful to the spiritual essence of all things.
One of Gretta's writings goes, "In a breath, life comes to us, drawing into us the world and all we know, experience, love. In a breath, life leaves us, our hopes, dreams, possibilities exhaled into a vast and unknown eternity. Breathe deep the residue of what has been. Breathe deep the essence of what now is..." (from We All Breathe, c. 2012 Gretta Vosper)
Just this week, one of the residents where I work breathed his last. His spirit was then released to soar into the place where spirits go when the body is shed. This death of body is as natural as the sun rise, the sun setting in the west and the winds that blow change. Fear of death is a terrible dis-ease that plagues so many. Befriending our own death and the death of those we love make the journey so much easier. How can you befriend death, you ask? It is by understanding our connections to the earth, sky and other life on this planet. We are not simply here as human vessels or as Teilhard de Chardin has said, witnessed and lived, "You are not a human being in search of a spiritual experience. You are a spiritual being immersed in a human experience." understanding your own spirituality and who you are, spiritually, is one of the questions most people begin to ask as they age.
Working with over 200 aging adults in any given week I see a wide range of spiritual understandings of self and others. Most people, when asked about their spirituality, respond "I don't go to church". My quest is to detach spirituality from the traditional church and to free it from the grasp of doctrines and dogma.
My quest is to bring along those who are questioning and seeking to find peace with this life, the life of those they love and to find a peaceful understanding in daily living. Optimal aging can be achieved and it is through personal growth and questing you will find it.
Let me help! Come quest with me! Open the door to your heart!


Hungry for something...

I am so hungry for something I cannot seem to find to feed me.  It is a place of spiritual resting where the presence of love and peace allows for the fulfilment of my dreams to seed into my soul. A weekly or monthly place to rest and listen.  My races help with this journey and empty my cup of past practices and allow for the filling of new and white light and energy. Well ... the day is done!  The Sprint is now checked off on my bucket list.  A Sprint is a 750 m. swim, 30 km. bike ride, and a 7 km. run.  It was a brutal wind today and we woke up to 4 degrees.  Headed to Guelph by 6 AM with little Owen packed in with the bikes!  He didn't mind, he goo'd and ga'd all the way to Caledon when we stopped and fed him! He is a trooper.

This was a hard race for me!  It was hard work, simply said.  I did finish however my lack of commitment to training showed in a big way.  It took me 3 hours and one minute to complete.    It was the first triathlon swim I have done because the two shorter tri-a-tri races I was in the swim was cancelled.  Once because of lightening and the second time because of bacteria levels in the water. Today, this hefty swim of 750 m. was my first.  I did the swim in 22 minutes.  Coming out of the water with no glasses on and having just worked your way through 17 degree water with other swimmers around you, it feels a little disorienting.

At this particular venue, you then run uphill to the transition zone.  It is challenging to say the least. Family will know this term, Raynaud's (ray-NOHZ) disease causes some areas of your body — such as your fingers and toes — to feel numb and cold in response to cold temperatures or stress. In Raynaud's disease, smaller arteries that supply blood to your skin narrow, limiting blood circulation to affected areas (vasospasm).  I suffer from this so at this point, my feet were like little stumps!  So I took the time at the transition zone, massaged them before I put my socks on to continue and changed into riding gear over my wet bathing suit.

The bike ride was so beautiful and the day was lovely.  Even in the challenge of biking against a strong wind I kept taking the time to marvel at the beauty around me. However, the wind was fierce and I found even down hill I was peddling like a duck trying to swim up Niagara Falls!  I never got out of the easiest gear sequence for the whole 30 kms.  I walked a couple of hills to conserve my strength.  My old Raleigh is truly not meant for this kind of riding!  It took me 1 hr and 35 minutes to complete and I got a police escort at the turnaround!  Pays to be last of the hardworking racers.  I found myself meditating in the moment and simply thinking about one step at a time.  Listening to Pema Chodrun and simply staying in the moment.  Thinking not about if I was tired from the swim and thinking not that after this hard physical journey I would then need to strike out on foot for a further 7 kms.  Spiritually I was strong and in the moment listening for messages while exhausting the physical energy out of the way to let the spirit come through.  It was invigorating.

The run was awesome!  7 kms through the park.  I loved every minute.  I was tired however optimistic as each time I passed the base/transition there was my daughter, Danielle and my wee Owen, cheering me on!  The run took me 55 minutes.

It was a great day and the first of many as now I have the job of getting stronger, faster and better! How about you?  Did you do something today that will make you stronger, faster and better?


Gifts of life ...

Working with aging adults is truly one of the best jobs in the world.
Just this week, this writer had the blessing of bathing beautiful women, well into their 80's (maybe 90's). It is such an intimate time for a care giver to bath a grown person, soaping up the cloth, holding the shower head just right, weighing in on how much help to offer all while preserving dignity and self-pride. Honestly, stand in your underwear in a bathroom, and imagine a person, who is not your family, tucking fingers into the top of your underwear and dropping them to the floor, causing, without fail this caregiver's face to be level with all that is the most private part of your body.
Just this week, I sat at the bedside and spoon fed a woman whose breast is leaking fluid and the brain tumour confuses her words. Her blue eyes sparkle when you tell her "dinner is spicy tonight".
Just this week, I helped a woman to the bathroom while trying not to drop the stroke monitor hanging around her neck into the toilet. As she told me, "I am not in pain anywhere, I just can't get the words out." So she counts the words on her fingers as she says them.
Just this week, I watched a woman tear up as she told me the story of being separated from her son because he is mad at her for something that happened years ago. He cannot get past it. She cries for her boy.
Just this week, I watched a man who has been told yet again, "you will never walk again", and so has made it his mission to prove them wrong and, just today, I watched him stand at his wheelchair and transfer himself to another chair.
Just this week, I had a man ask to see his brother, to say goodbye, before the ambulance took him away because he knew he was done and dying. His wife wanted to take his razor to the hospital. He said, "don't worry about it. Lock the door and come back after its all over." He hugged me, we prayed together and he left for the hospital. He died three hours later.
Imagine, laying in bed and having a person come in and pull back the covers open the brief where you have been forced to let go of your waste and watch from the bed, flat on your back while this person turns you to get into the intimate parts of your body, to ensure you are clean and washed all while discussing the weather or the storyline of Dr. Phil! It is rarely talked about because it is one of the hardest things for any person to do. Be dependent on another for care.
This week I personally engaged with over 200 aging adults from all walks of life. This is a normal week for me! All stories, all challenges, all spiritual engagements welcome.
As I say it is the best job in the world. I say this because this work creates a bond between two people. A bond of trust and compassion, and when done well, is enriching for both people involved. Sharing life's realities and the grief and bereavement aging adults suffer through becomes the work of the front-line caregiver.
As sure as the sun rises in the east, next week will be more of the same. Daily miracles and blessings ...