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“Getting On,” A Poignant HBO Comedy about Aging & Death?

Friends, HBO has a new show, called “Getting On” about the women who care for elder women in a facility. It is a comedic drama. Has anyone seen it? Is it laughs at the expense of elders? I tried to upload the home page to see a preview and it crashed my computer, so I don’t have a review.

However, after hearing the Fresh Air interview with the creators, I now know that it is based on their experiences advocating for their mothers as they aged in institutions. And the ways in which they talked about the beauty of time spent caring for them moved me, as well as their attempts to honor the work that care workers do. And I like Molly Shannon, who is in the show. So there it is.

If you’ve seen it, I’d love to see your review!


Gratitude and Sadness, Gramps is Gone

May-July 2012 016Dear readers,

I have had a hard time writing, because the elder who inspired my research and so much more, my last remaining grandparent, and one of my best friends in life, is gone.

This week we – Gramps’ family – will gather in his home one last time for Thanksgiving. We travel with hearts full of gratitude and heavy with sadness.

A line from my Gramps’ favorite Streisand songs runs over and over in my head: “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”

I now see that I really needed my grandfather, and he was there for me. I feel so lucky to have had 40 years of unconditional love and support from Gramps. I have learned so much about politics, movies, well-being, kindness, and generosity from this man. And I am convinced that Gramps made it his primary goal to boost the confidence of those he cared about. So I always felt needed and loved by him. How cool is that?

I am thankful for the closeness of the family he left behind.  In many ways, Gramps fostered and sustained family togetherness and ritual that we will always treasure. Like modeling gratefulness. One funny Thanksgiving Gramps announced how proud he was that his family wasn’t into drugs. In fact, our success (above and beyond being drug-free) was largely his doing – he ensured that we all had the the college education he wasn’t able to afford. And there he was, cheering for us the whole way.

There is so much left to say, but I will leave it here for now.

I feel deep gratitude for the many gifts my grandfather shared, and the memories…

We will leave a big piece of pecan pie out for you, Gramps.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.







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Older & Bolder Campaign in Ireland

index“I want to grow old at home.” That’s Irish citizen Mabel Gargan, age 90, representing the “make home work” activist message coming out of the Older & Bolder coalition.

A friend saw this poster in the UK and sent it along – thanks Kate!

A quick google search and I see that the Older & Bolder campaign in Ireland was about stopping state pension cuts and cuts to home health care. The campaign wrapped up in July with these words to its supporters:

It has been an absolute privilege to campaign with so many enthused individuals and groups on important issues relating to growing older in Ireland. Despite what has been a tough period for advocacy we have, with your energy and action, had positive influence and success. We offer a heartfelt thanks to everyone who signed a petition, engaged their local TD, contributed to a workshop, partook in media interviews or attended a demonstration.

Your passionate and persistent campaigning defended the State Pension; ensured pre-election promises became Programme for Government commitments; convinced politicians of the absolute need for the soon-to-be-produced National Positive Ageing Strategy; pushed for Make Home Work and the right to age well at home to be made a reality; and resisted the cuts to home care services.

Congrats to elders across the sea fighting for an age-friendly society! 1

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Grandparents’ Invisible Work

ist2_2897117_scribbles_grandparentsDuring a recent family vacation, the grandparents were busy as usual. They were working in the background, so their labor was mostly invisible. But their efforts made for a successful trip. Without them, I’m not sure what we (adults and kids) would have done.

*The rental kitchen was stocked with foods we all like (including the picky grandkids).

*Kids had library books to read, piles of them.

*Local restaurant menus were available on the counter. (Who do you imagine picked them up?)

*The youngest kiddos had playmates and general supervision at all times, even while slumbering.

*And believe it or not, the grandparents had even more to give – including compliments, hugs, and intelligent commentary at all times – even when you knew they must be exhausted.

Try to thank them for their efforts, and they’ll likely turn it back on you, saying they thoroughly enjoyed themselves. But this is my attempt to value that work – the work they do on a regular basis for us, their kids.

Grandparents Day is Sunday, September 8th. So let’s honor the fact that:

According to the Census Bureau, growing numbers of children in the United States are living with a grandparent. In 2010, about one in 14 U.S. children (7 percent) lived in a household headed by a grandparent—for a total of 5.4 million children, up from 4.7 million in 2005.

Whether they live with grandchildren or not, grandparents are more involved in their grandchildren’s lives than ever before, whether they live close or far.

Let’s take time to acknowledge the important impact these inter-generational relationships can have.

Thanks to you, grandparents!



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My Summer as Doula for the Dying

imagesA friend described the situation perfectly. “You are pretty much a stranger, walking into a home situation that can be so personal and vulnerable.”

This is what I, as a home hospice volunteer do. And hopefully, in that context of stress and sadness and pain, I can offer some solace through listening and just being a consistent presence.

My personal project this summer was to deepen my understanding of death and dying, and by association, living. As a medical sociologist and social gerontologist, I had taught the courses, but did I really know anything about dying, from reading books and grieving my own losses? And what could one learn about living, through comforting those in the end stages of their lives? This wasn’t a formal research project. This was just me, going deeper.

As the summer comes to a close, I have no idea how to sum up this experience. I have rubbed feet, held hands, recorded memories, and mostly just sat and listened, to everything from changes in breathing, to tearful stories of parents lost, gratitude for a life lived, or frustration for not having answers.

Being a hospice volunteer enables me to work at being present with myself and with others. To value human connection and vulnerability. And, of course, hospice is about life transitions, for all involved. (In many ways, my research on how people cope with retirement as a life transition is not so different from coping with the unknown at the end of life.)

Us volunteers are trained to be present with those who are dying. To become more comfortable with death, we write our own obituaries, and participate in an extended meditation on our own death. We learn how to help a patient transition from couch to chair, how to work an oxygen tank, how to think through ethical dilemmas (like gifting). But the real training is in the doing. Because dying is as complex as living.

The wife of a dying man told me she tried so hard to “lick it” – his terminal disease. That was her training, she said, to work hard and focus on the problem, and you can solve it. But it didn’t, and now she must accept this, and wait for the end.

A dying woman only spoke to me in Romanian, I in English and rudimentary Spanish. I think we managed to connect.

A man slept in a hospital bed, positioned in former dining room of his home. “I will shop and he will sleep the whole time,” his wife said. “He is at the very end stages.” But minutes after the garage door closed, he came alive, reaching for something elusive above his head, mumbling to himself, and then he slept again.

Another hospice patient sat watching the Food Network, munching on spice drops. “This is my only addiction,” she admitted. Later, her husband and caretaker reminisced about their travels, and wondered if he would ever travel again.

My role during the 2-3 hour shift is to sit with folks. But the hospice team involves many, including chaplains who talk to patients of any background, helping them to forgive, to right past wrongs, to let go (one even performed an informal divorce ceremony at a patient’s bedside!); social workers who get to know extended families, life stories, and bucket lists; and nurses and doctors and psychologists trained in grief support, pain management, and comfort care.

An ongoing life lesson for me is accepting the unknown. I feel like I learn this over and over as a parent, and now as a doula for the dying.

My summer project is really a life project. So I will continue doing hospice work, and see where it takes me.

Nursing Assistant in Training: The Importance of Touch

evan 1This is the third in a three-part series written by Evan Chartier, a Colgate student spending his summer training to be a nursing assistant (CNA) and preparing to write about this for his senior thesis.

One of the most important senses in my life is touch. I love the feel of wind tickling across my ears as I stand on top of a mountain, the heat of a warm shower, and the sparks that fly when I grasp my partner’s hand after a long time apart. It is an essential aspect of my favorite life experiences, and a significant way in which I interact with the world around me.
In Professor Loe’s class “Sociology of the Life Course” we learned that the importance of touch does not disappear as we get older. In fact, it may get more important with age. As friends, family, and partners move around the globe and eventually pass away, and as we adapt our lives to live in changing bodies and circumstances, opportunities to explore touch can become increasingly rare. I witnessed this theory in action during the clinical internship portion of my home health aide and certified nursing assistant training class. The resident in my care –we’ll call him Steve– did not have a single visitor during my shift the entire week. Most of his siblings have passed away, he was never married, and he had no children. Therefore I was also the only person to touch Steve between the time he woke up, 8 AM, and 2 PM, when I left each day.

When I interviewed my classmates, the vast majority of them were anxious about providing a bed bath to their elder. I certainly was as well (just see my previous blog posts!). The bed bath is one of the first things that must be done for each resident, and it is a procedure that is repeated every day. Beyond the necessity to smell nice, a bed bath prevents infection, skin breakdown, and falls that often happen in the shower. We learned these important aspects of a bed bath’s preventative care properties in our textbook.

I was surprised to discover that the bed bath was also a unique touch based experience. A proper bed bath is a cooperative effort between the nursing assistant and the elder. The water should be “just right”; not too hot, and not too cold. The entire event is a repetitive process -wash, rinse, dry- that moves predictably from the face to the arms, chest, legs, back, perineum area, and buttocks. The speed and intensity of each touch must take into account both the elder’s preference and the nursing assistant’s abilities like a cooperative dance that, if too fast, robs both of a unique bond yet, if too slow, ruins the perfect temperature of the water.

I could always tell that the resident in my care enjoyed his bed bath. Although my clinical instructor quickly became frustrated with my slow pace and the hour long process, I believe that my elder appreciated the extra care. He rarely spoke, and never mentioned the bed bath. However each time that the washcloth touched his face, he would nuzzle into it the way that a puppy wiggles into a quality head rub. Steve’s appreciation of my care could be seen easily on his face, and we developed an unspoken connection as we experienced the power of touch.


See the other posts in the series here:

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The Illusion of Separateness: Connections across age and generation

Illusion_of_SeparatenesshccRobert Altman, one of my favorite filmmakers, is gone, but the idea of telling a story about interconnected lives lives on in the new novel, The Illusion of SeparatenessSimon Van Booy takes this type of storytelling into new global and inter-generational territory. The result is a slim, beautifully-written book made up of seemingly discrete chapters focused on a handful of unique, compelling, and lonely or isolated characters, all somehow intersecting and providing clues to another life.

There’s the young man who works in a retirement home, an injured veteran, a blind twenty-something woman, a 10-year-old child, a grandfather. Most of the characters are men, but women play a major role in their lives. So does the legacy of war, and memory, and romance. Not since Nicole KraussHistory of Love have I read of such profound connections across age and history. This is a book about little miracles, or random acts of selflessness, and about our search for interconnection.

Parenting is a key theme that runs throughout these lives and generations. Perhaps this is no surprise, as this is a universal life theme, and the book was largely written while the author was a single father.

The book was inspired by true events, recounted by Van Booy in an interview with Diane Rehm.

I finished the book, and then started again. The combined story of these lives was breathtaking and uplifting, and I couldn’t get enough.

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The Author

Meika Loe

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