Vibrant Seniors Redefine Aging

Welcome to those of you who have come to this blog after reading my comment in the nytimes article “Every Older Patient Has a Story” by Paula Span, 10/16/18.

Feel free to look through the various articles about working with older people in a way that they feel listened to, taken seriously and respected.

I am  beginning by including an article that Paula Span has written previously about  my work with older adults.image.png

Therapy of a Different Sortimage.png

In Wendy Wilson’s living room in Massapequa, on Long Island, on a Saturday morning — five in person, one on speakerphone from Florida — were talking about dependence and independence, big issues for people ages 75 to 88.

“Am I lucky to have these kids who are aware of my frailty?” asked one member with Parkinson’s disease, whose children have begun to fill weekly pillboxes for her and her husband. “Yes. Does that make me dependent? No.” She sees herself as “allowing them to be kind to me, as I am kind to them.”

“Emotional maturity is not being independent,” said one of the younger members, offering an axiom she heard years ago. “It’s being interdependent.”

The group liked this notion; nods and murmurs traveled around the circle. “She’s smart, for a kid,” someone said.

Ms. Wilson, the clinical social worker and psychoanalyst who leads this monthly discussion (she recorded the most recent, with members’ permission, so that I could listen in), has never called it a therapy group. She refers to it as a workshop. Its official title is Vibrant Seniors, though participants have dubbed it “the oldies group.” Those from generations reared in a more reticent pre-Oprah culture can be notoriously wary of anything that sounds like mental health treatment.

But whatever its name, “I’m working as a therapist when I’m running the group,” Ms. Wilson acknowledged. “And the results are those you’d see in psychotherapy. People are talking about topics they otherwise never would have.”

She structures each 90-minute gathering around a questionnaire that explores subjects like longevity, friendship, finances, sexuality (the only subject members have trouble talking about), inheritances, family disputes and wisdom. Holding meetings in her home, serving coffee and danish, helps put people at ease, she thinks.

Initially, she invited people she knew to discuss their aging experiences as a way to help her understand the territory (and gather material for a book), so she expected a shorter-term experiment. “But when I asked if people wanted to continue, they all said yes.” In the group’s four-year history, people have grieved for one member (the only man) who died; another is recovering from a fall in Florida — hence, the speakerphone. But the group has endured.

“I have lots of friends to talk to, but not everyone wants to talk about things like this — accepting help, things starting to change,” explained Felicia Cohn, 74. Within the group, “there’s a kind of freedom, a we’re-all-in-the-same-boat feeling.”

Can this model be replicated in assisted living facilities and senior centers and therapists’ offices? Convinced that she’s onto something, Ms. Wilson will be presenting her experience at a conference of the National Association of Social Workers in Washington in July.

The need seems inarguable. “The stereotypes older adults are facing have harmed their self-esteem, their confidence, their mental health,” said Ms. Wilson, who is 70. Yet if they do seek professional help, older patients may find a shortage of those trained to work with people their age. They also often encounter an eagerness to resort to medication.

The efficacy of Ms. Wilson’s approach can’t be ascertained from one small Long Island group. Questions about payment might also arise; Ms. Wilson has led Vibrant Seniors without charge, but to have Medicare cover such services would require a diagnosis, an acknowledgement of the dread T-word.

But according to the annual evaluations that group members write, “people feel more self-confident,” Ms. Wilson said. “They’re happier. They definitely have more control over their lives. It’s hard to quantify, but that’s what I see.”

As one member told the group on a recent Saturday: “I’m realizing what a good time this is. The general consensus is you’re older and you’re slowing down and you don’t have wonderful things happen in your life anymore. But that’s not the case.”



I plan to talk to you about the responses that I have noted from older adults just like you as to the ways that they see themselves as they age, as they retire, as they redefine their lives.

Following that, I would like to hear from you, the experts, on entering and navigating late age, now living it. What has your experience of growing older been like? Not everyone wants to talk about things starting to change, but this is what Joe, a forthright former school administrator told me following his retirement,

“I feel lost to leave something behind. I don’t know where I am.   But I also remember how hard it used to be for me. I had to please my boss and to obey the rules. Now it is a relief that it’s gone. I don’t have so many difficulties any more. My successor can have those problems. I’m no longer equipped to do that job.

Will I ever get clear of it? I don’t know how I ever did that job. At the same time, leaving the job is like a death. A voice says to get moving, but I guess it takes as long as it takes to process it. I’m worn down.

I passed on the baton and did my lap in the pool. Now another person will do it. I will miss getting paid. It gave me an identity. But I don’t need the money. It’s matter of security. I used to need to please people so that they admired me.  How can you feel angry at a job you hated and you didn’t want anyone else to do that job.

Loss of his job was a personal setback, a comedown. This is a normal reaction. It expresses his feeling of regret for what had been. Even though his challenging job had problems, it served to identify him. It was a place for him to share his determination, to use his skills in doing good work. It represented an attachment that he had to which he had given many years of loyal devotion. Why wouldn’t he mourn the loss?  He knows he won’t retrieve the place it served in his life.

He said, “It’s still in me how it used to be for me, my younger self.  Those memories won’t leave me alone. You get scared.  You want to still be somebody.  I am somebody. I am still alive. My life is not finished. I want to show people what I used to be. What am I now, a ‘has-been’.

I still feel young and active.   But I have to think of my limitations. There are bursts of excitement.  Then I get scared. All these things I think are just my thoughts.  I feel crazy. That’s what keeps me from sleeping at night. It’s very strange. You know that life is moving on. How do you let go of your old self when you don’t know what your new self will be like?”




Joe’s self-perception needed to be reconsidered and replaced if he is to realistically move on. Just because he had given up his former full-time job doesn’t mean that he has lost his capacity for regeneration and development. One of the benefits that age bestows is that we become free to reassess our talents. We can learn to discover and affirm who we are, the wisdom we have to offer, and how to make it effective in the world.

As he examined his feelings about aging, Joe then was able to leave these feelings in the past.  He moved on to a volunteer position training childcare workers in a local preschool program.  They benefited from his previous work experience with children and involvement in classroom management.  He felt valued to be able to contribute to the preschool program and to be around children again.

For Joe, this plan was a simple, manageable and appropriate accommodation to change. He looked at the person he had been in the past and the way he lived life at that time. He measured this with the reality of the changed abilities, needs and expectations he currently has. This aided him in accepting a realistic identity he could feel proud of.  It redirected his personal strengths and talents toward goals that fit his age and stage of life.



We see the kind of courage it takes to change, especially in late life. Older adults like him are pioneers. They are owed a debt of appreciation and gratitude for showing us how to transition during aging.

We need to visualize new approaches to understanding and experiencing later life, gateways that emphasize development in the face of aging.  The more you tell us about what is important to you, the more we authenticate late age.  this will become the pathway to redefining old stereotypes.  We need to be able to speak about ourselves in a serious way, to be listened to, understood and taken seriously.

A stigma has been attached to talking about serious subjects with others;  friends, family, outsiders and professionals alike.  This is an unspoken agreement designating the need to appear in a certain manner.  Reviewing one’s life, considering what may lie ahead, bearing the complexities of physical aging, and craving personal attention is sacrificed if we are made to feel we can’t discuss these serious concerns.

If we can’t talk about our thoughts and feelings, we can’t normalize and validate our lives.  Talking helps us to know and feel the losses and gains that we experience. We can then adapt and compensate for the losses and be proud of our gains.

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Part of aging involves handling issues that we hadn’t anticipated and are not used to having.  Life in our 60’s, 70’s and 80’s is new territory.  We may need to adapt to life differently as we retire, live away from our children, adjust to changed financial circumstances, or manage our health.

We need to know our own thoughts as to what this new phase of life will mean to us psychologically.

You may ask,“What is there to think about?  I’ll take it as it comes along.  I know the way I want it to be. I plan to enjoy more time with people I love, have more convenience, travel, enjoy a ball game, learn how to use a computer, visit the gym and explore new  hobbies and interests.  My friends and I walk in the mall, we read the paper in the library, we watch the kids play soccer in the town league”

We are used to living life determined by the needs of bosses, family, finances, friends. How do we handle this new phase in our lives? Will we feel like we don’t fit in when we change the trappings of our work life, our former parent role, or our finances? We may wake up and see we are no longer in charge of anything but ourselves. Questions come up about adjusting to change.

It can be confusing.  We might notice that we are seen and treated differently as we age.  One woman told me, “I am 71, am loving the last chapter of a very successful life, and would say I have a great deal of self-confidence.  Yet, sometimes it’s as if I have suddenly become invisible — a short gray-haired woman of a certain age.  They just pass me by.  I’m not noticed.  I feel kind of temporary about myself.”

–Do you think your stage of life affects the way people react to you?

— Is your self-image affected by this change?

–Does your energy need to be conserved more as you age?

–Do you feel you have to remain the person who you had been in the face of aging?


Updated Thinking in Regard to Aging:

Not many years ago social stereotyping of seniors created barriers to involvement in life.  Ageist labeling of older people as being out of the loop is now being debunked and revised by seniors themselves who are working their way out of the those dark ages.  We are no longer bound by former expectations of what we should or should not do at a certain age.  Instead of  being discredited, we are now getting noticed.

Evidence of increased longevity is substantial.   Current social and economic advances have enabled us to set our sights higher, raising the bar to choose extended work,  elevated status and heightened visibility.This revision along with health care improvements, increasing mobility, vision, hearing etc  is providing expansion of opportunities for older adults.

We are the new breed of vibrant seniors.  We can help visualize our own original approaches to understanding and experiencing late life.  We can live an open and interesting life.  We can create our own blueprint to follow as we age. We will do this by defining ourselves in a new way, different from our parents.  This will help us to move things foreword for our children and our grandchildren.

We can do this by talking to each other about how to take advantage of these new and open opportunities, not by reading some description of ourselves concocted  by younger people.

We need to upend our thinking about what it means to get older. It’s really not about aging. It’s about living. We need to own our age. We want to be defined by who we are, not how old we are.

This happens by being able to embrace our own aging, feeling good about where we are in life. We face different challenges and have different goals from people in their fifties.  We are motivated by different things.  We see life through a lens shaped by the ups and downs of life and the wisdom gained from those experiences.

Who better to tell us about the older adult life experience  than you, the real experts. The more you tell us, the more we can validate your authentic perceptions of what aging is like. I want to hear what you have to say about your thoughts and ideas in regard to your life now. You are living in unique times.  It is especially important to have a men’s point of view in regard to retirement and aging.  We may have to deal with weak knees, blurred vision, forgetfulness.  We may have to deal with lost or changed ambitions.  We may have to accept that certain hopes and dreams of ours won’t be realized.  By age 65-70-80, our choices have narrowed in regard to what they had been.

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A seventy year old adult talks about a dream that she had.

“I see  an image of a big open outdoor train station.  I want to go someplace on the train, maybe travel back in my life as I previously saw it. My family when everyone was alive and active and connected with each other—what I was familiar with.  That was life to me.

In the dream I am trying to figure out how to get to a new unknown place, looking for a train, a cab, asking people.  I can’t get back to my family as I knew it or as it is now or will be.

How did this happen to me, this change?  I am sitting shiva over the lost life and family.  I start thinking of my grandchildren, how they they be in the future, I think of the chain of life being broken, my parents being gone.  I will never be the same again after realizing this.”

In the dream she was looking at a change in perspective that she has about her life.  She sees that the present and the future will be a change from the past.

What was the past? What has it become?  What does it mean for the future?  You may have some of these questions. She might grieve for losing what has been, the image she has of herself.  She knows that she will never be the same again after realizing this. It illustrates the uncertain attitude that she has about her past and how to view it when planning the road ahead.

Positive attributes acquired as we Age:

We develop emotional maturity  and tools of the spirit that are infinitely more potent than the ravages of time. These enable us to deal with life and to adapt to its challenges.  We see life from a larger perspective gained from experience.  We readjust our attitudes.  We reorient our expectations.  Things that we used to think were urgent, we realize that we can now live with.  We can let some things go, and we come to realize that there are many responses to situations that we can choose from.

You have chosen to live in an over-55 community.  You can profit from watching people older than you navigating their elder years, and you can influence those younger than you by your experience.

One perk of living here is the opportunity to attend these educational and informational programs.  By coming here today,  it shows that you want to participate in life, to meet other people and think about new ideas.  You use your time to attend this talk, and you can use what you hear to then talk these issues over with each other.


Here are questions to consider:

-Do you get the same kind of recognition as you had gotten when you were younger?

-When you stopped working, did you miss the recognition you got from your co-workers,  your friends, or being paid a salary?

–What did you do to manage the transition from work to retirement?

–What did you do when you were living your life at a time when you felt you wee in control and satisfied?

Can you draw on strengths and coping skills that you relied on earlier in life?  Do you still have some of those goals and relationships?

–Do they help you out now?

–What does it take to adapt to the inevitable changes that aging requires of us?

–Do you think you might develop additional personality qualities to promote health as you age, like endurance, resilience, and courage?  How would you go about doing that?

–Would you be able to make trade-offs to meet future goals? (exam. Dietary precautions,  planning social activities, adapting to health restrictions, making some money?

–Would you be willing to try something new?  Will you be able to stick with a new plan?

The process of thinking about these questions involves looking at ourselves. We have to see what we’ve done, why we did it, and what we learned from it in order to think about what we plan for the next five years.

Perhaps the purpose of late life is to recover from the harried pace of earlier times in order to explore and discover new ways to spend our time.



Health Issues:

Our first obligation to ourselves is to manage our health.  It is inevitable that we have age related conditions.  At seventy, health impairment has already made some mark.We can’t enjoy the later years if we are stressed and sick. We can’t have fun unless we are healthy.  This involves recognizing health problems or risks involved in aging and taking them seriously.  If we ignore the way we feel, we aren’t as able to do something about it.

Vulnerability comes with aging – talking about it acknowledges the reality – yes, it causes sadness, anger, grief – but the more you feel it and tell someone and they tell you, the more tolerance and compassion you develop for yourself and others.

It isn’t shameful to forget, to need to slow down and rest.  It’s our bodies’ way to let us know that we need to be cautious, to ask for help if we need it.  The feelings that come along with this transition may lead us to feel regret that we can’t be the person we used to be.   We may think less of ourselves.  We need to adapt to being who we are now.  We may get remarks of impatience from others who are more active.  That doesn’t have to stop our independent activity but it may limit what we are able to do.

There may come a time when a change has to be made to accommodate to a health problem, it doesn’t mean that the whole of a person has to be  altered. But it can feel that way.  Adjustments and adaptations, physical and psychological, may be necessary.  We may need help, referrals to good doctors, car rides to medical appts.

Many seniors are influenced by the notion that becoming ill when old indicates irrevocable decline. However, because seniors are living longer, healthier lives, new ideas about expecting inevitable serious illness and downward slide are being reconsidered. The conventional view inextricably linking disease with old age must give way to a newer idea that good health characterizes the lives of large numbers of elderly people.Self-reliance becomes less reliable as we age. Health setbacks increase the need for help. This situation escalates fear and anxiety when any change in health is suspected.  We feel they must maintain a facade of independence and are likely to see 0urselves as failures when our independence declines. This may diminish interconnectedness with others, increasing isolation. The cycle of giving and receiving help is necessary.

We need to find, in spite of reduced energy and stamina, a way to contribute. It   focuses our goals, increases hope for the future and connects them with life.  We need to feel appreciated for what we can Making changes requires letting go a former part of ourselves. If an older adult can surrender to the new reality of aging, the wish to be a replica of a previous self is replaced with an expanded and illuminated perspective of life more in line with current age and ability.



Example: Recognition and Adaptation to Change

The plot of Dustin Hoffman’s movie, “Quartet” begins with the entrance to the home of a well-known former opera singer. She realizes that her voice is not what it had been.   An invitation to sing in a gala at the home disturbs her because she has long ago decided to give up singing.   She speaks about her loss of youthful idealism and energy, “You don’t understand. I was someone once. I can’t insult the memory of who I was.”

Her friend responds with gift has deserted me.”

Her friend says, “It’s deserted us all.  It’s called life. Old age is not for sissies.  Just let go.  What does it matter now what anyone says or thinks? You might even enjoy it. Take part. If you can’t sing at the gala, do conjuring tricks. The only alternative is to be guest of honor at the crematorium.”

“The soprano says sarcastically,  “You’re not telling me to smell the roses?” Her friend responds, “Oh, the roses are long gone, but the chrysanthemums are magnificent!”  (The Weinstein Co, 2012).

This vignette illustrates the potential available in late age. The soprano felt her life was over because she couldn’t continue singing in opera as she had. However, with help from other performers in the same situation, she agreed to perform again at a reduced level. She didn’t have a worldwide audience at her feet, but she had the comfort and pleasure that came but she had the comfort and pleasure that came from performing for friends as well as the pleasure of continuing to use her talent, although changed.

“The doorway to this new stage of life is not filing for Social Security but thinking differently and continuing to learn. Adulthood is characterized by the wisdom culled from long lives and rich experience, the most acceptable and positive trait associated with longevity, but combines it with energy and commitment in the context of a new freedom from some kinds of day-to-day responsibility, a freedom that challenges expectations and may even be frightening. Together these produce active wisdom that older adults have to offer”. (Bateson)

P1220445.jpgThis is a talk given to a men’s group living in an “over 55” older adult community.


Does aging and declining affect the need for love?

Does it lessen or increase your wish for love?

Do you feel more or less loved as you age?

What caused that to happen?

Do you need more love from other people especially when you feel that you are declining?

Have the reasons that you want more love from others changed?

What is the reason that you feel you need more or less love?

Does the fact that you are weakening influence your wish or need for more love?

If you receive more caring, appreciation, protection, how does that affect you?

Does reassurance and encouragement help to face the realization of decline?


Does the fact that you are weakening influence your wish or need for more love?

If you receive more caring, appreciation, protection, how does that affect you?

Does reassurance and encouragement help to face the realization of decline?


What form does your wish for love take?

Is it a wish to be physically loved, close physical contact, sexual contact, verbal contact?

Do you feel lonely? Do you withdraw from others? Do you have energy to search for contact?

Can you tolerate not having these wishes to be loved met?


How do you handle that?

Do you try to gratify yourself by sleeping, watching TV, eating, making attempts to increase social contact, talking and complaining to others, etc., reading, getting sick headaches, crying?

Do you talk about this with other people?

Do you read love stories? Do you write stories of love?

When to Retire From A Career

Retirement age is in flux.  Older adults are in good health and have a longer prognosis of survival than a few years ago.  Some are delaying retirement.  Some are taking part-time jobs, some are self-employed and others are using skills learned in earlier jobs to retrain themselves.

Benefits from work  activate the brain and expand social networks.   Continuing to work keeps older people mentally and physically active.  Some people stay at home initially and then feel disillusioned and bored.  The author found that these negative results didn’t change with different educational and occupational backgrounds although most  gains were found  largely  to women and older people with post-secondary education. Volunteer workers got physical benefits  and cognitive gains from interacting with children.

Work provides a routine and purpose, a social environment and a sense of community.  This article  presents testimony from people who have stayed working and benefited from income, engagement and social connections.

HENRI MATISSE, renowned French painter


Henri Matisse at age 77-82 designed the Vence chapel on the French Riviera (1949-1951). When not working from bed, he stood on suitcases and boxes in the chapel as he completed it. images-1.jpeg  Many regard it as one of the great religious structures of the 20th century.



Development in the Face of Decline


When we recognize problems and risks involved in aging, we need to take them seriously. This is a big issue for us in America. We admire our ability to choose, and we want our independence. We equate this with health and success. We see ourselves as failures if our bodies threaten us with disability. We must  realize that our image of ourselves as being able to always act independently might need alteration.

This becomes prominent when we have less strength and resistance than we used to have. Caring for ourselves becomes more necessary and predominant when we become more vulnerable. We may need to call for help to improve. Our view of ourselves will be altered.

Interdependence becomes the watchword when we feel frail  and weak. We recognize  that we may not be able to be as active or as balanced as we had been.  Using caution in our decisions becomes highlighted. Accommodating to a new reality can bring fear and gloom into our self-perception.

If we can talk about the highs and lows with others in a context of warmth and understanding, we will be rewarded with tolerance, compassion and support. This can reduce the feelings of embarrassment and isolation that we face when considering the struggles of aging alone.




ults in late age need to confront and work on the challenges which result in severe life changes.   Juggling declining health with wishes to be younger and more agile helps to reassess our functioning.

Adaptations in order to transition to new options may be necessary. This process is unlike resignation or surrender which has a quality of giving up attached to it. The new adaptations or readjustments are geared to alleviate pain and dysfunction and to enhance productivity.

People feel, “I want to still be somebody.   I am somebody. I’m still alive. It’s ego, vanity. I want to show people what I used to be. What am I now?”

Self-perception needs to be considered and replaced in order to move on realistically at this time.   The capacity for regeneration and development is still there.

Our eyes have opened to the road ahead. There is no question of turning back. We have come along to a place where we are willing to consider facing late life realistically.

Making changes requires letting go of a former part of ourselves. The wish to be a replica of a previous self is replaced with an expanded and illuminated perspective of life more in line with what is doable now.




We discover a revised version of ourselves. We can look at the person we had been in the past and the way we have lived life at that time.

We then measure this with the needs and expectations that we currently have. This aids in an acceptance of a realistic identity that we can feel proud of in order to live life. We can redefine ourselves by redirecting  and adapting personal strengths and talents to goals that fit in with our current abilities.

Denial of a problem is replaced with acceptance.  This frees up energy. Experience gathered over a lifetime can be called upon to make appropriate redefinitions based on what is doable now.

We develop increased determination to get back to a reasonable level of health and functioning in the face of problems. We develop flexibility in our ability to accept the reality of the change. A common reaction is, “This is the way my ability to function to function is now. I accept it. I can’t be the person I had been. I’ll live with it”.

Personality traits strengthened in this struggle are determination, resilience, courage, patience, tolerance and an ability to negotiate solutions.

Instead of feeling humbled at the reduction of these abilities, older people need praise for their endurance and frustration tolerance in making the best of an unalterable situation.


These transitions can be navigated with determination and dignity, enhancing late life and reducing bitterness. Accepting downturns and returning to an adjusted and comfortable place can move us into a position of accommodation to reality.


-In the face of aging, do you feel you have to remain the person who you had been?

-What does it take to adapt to the inevitable changes that aging requires of us?

-Can you figure out when to ask for help?

-Can you draw on the strengths and coping skills that you relied on earlier in life?

-Would you be able to make trade-offs to meet future goals (exam: adapting to health restrictions)?

-Can you redirect your personal strengths and talents toward goals that fit your age and stage in life?

(Google News chose this article to appear on their web site.  It drew many responses. Development in the Face of Decline « Vibrant Seniors
Feb 6, 2017 – When we recognize problems and risks involved in aging, we need to take them seriously. We must alter our image of ourselves as …)

Being Mortal

Being Mortal:  Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

The information below has been taken from reviews of this book:


Bestselling author Atul Gawande tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending.  Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession’s ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families.

Oldsters who face neglect of institutionalization may feel they must put their life decisions in the hands of their children.  The other choice might be a controlled and unsupervised institutional existence, giving them a life designed to be safe but empty of anything they care about.  They are left bored, lonely and helpless.

Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person’s last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.

Gawande tells us how it is possible in some cases to choose less treatment rather than more when faced with life-threatening illness and to experience a better quality of life in our final days.

This is pretty grim stuff but Gawande is graceful, as graceful as he can be when the choices are so limited and so frankly horrible. Our hierarchy of needs changes when we face a life threatening situation. When a loved one (or we ourselves) must make choices, it is wise, he counsels, to ask ourselves a few questions:

What do we fear most?

What do we want most to be able to do?

What can/can’t we live without?

What will we sacrifice so that we can accomplish what it is we want?

Gawande addresses some of the most difficult questions we have to decide in a lifetime. It is not easy to read. But it helps, I think, to know what choices we can make when the time comes for someone we love or for ourselves.


Follow Your Bliss


If you follow your bliss,

you put yourself on a kind of track

that has been there all the while waiting for you,

and the life you ought to be living

is the one you are living.

Joseph Campbell ca1980

I have simply grown to know

that I must fill the lead

stay in the flow as best I can

and rest in the reasoning

Balance is a fine line

Lillian Rumfeld Bryson 1995


Moments, give me pause to stay,

for I have grown to walk the walk..

to recognize that should I veer

there will be balance..and to know

not to stretch the oh so fine line

beyond its measure

And on this day, this very day,

wakened to the path long followed;

its light seeping into my morning

brought a moment of bliss

Lillian Rumfeld Bryson  2016

Susan Sontag

images-2.jpegimages-1.jpegGrowing older, Susan Sontag wrote, in a 1972 essay called “The Double Standard of Aging,” is “much more a social judgment than a biological eventuality”–an “ordeal of the imagination”that “afflicts women much more than men.”

This is precisely what “stamina” pokes at:  an American subconscious that stereotypes older women as sick, weak, unattractive and useless.

Going Back to School Chap 1———-Stranger in a Strange Land Chap 2—


CHAPTER 1.                 (Chapter 2 has been added following Chapter 1)

My sixteen year old granddaughter and I sat talking in the back seat of her parent’s car. She was taking a college prep course at Barnard College. A vague impulse came to my mind as my thoughts drifted to my lifelong wish to take a course at a prestigious university.

I wondered if my age, now 75, would hamper the ability to return to school.  Would I be able to do coursework? Should this wish remain a fantasy of repeating an experience that I had enjoyed at age nineteen?  When I asked my granddaughter how she would feel if I took a course there, she exclaimed, “Well, I guess so,  grandma, but you can’t be in my class.”

I asked an advisor, age 90, about it. He said confidently, “Do it! Aging is terrible. It will open doors for you.” So I did.

After doing some investigation, I found that I could audit a course in the Lifelong Learner’s Program at the same school.

Registration was the first hurdle. It had to be done online, and the directions were intricate. Online navigation of security intricacies and multiple passwords reminded me of the difficulty I had in learning French in high school.  It was a foreign language to me.

After many attempts, I finally gained access to student libraries for course requirements and academic papers. Setting up an email account for correspondence with teachers and other students within the university system was finally completed. Even though I hadn’t yet met a single professor or fellow student, a sketched skeleton path toward student status appeared.

I blanched upon receiving a health directive to list my vaccination history. They laughed out loud when I told them it had occurred seventy years ago.

I emailed the professor of the course, History of American Women in the 20th Century, to see if there was room for an additional auditing student.

“Dear Prof. Thompson:   My name is Wendy Wilson.  I have just received confirmation of my acceptance as an auditor into the School of Professional Studies.  I saw the course that you are giving in the Fall, 2016 semester bulletin.

It has been my wish for years to take a course relevant to women’s studies at  Barnard/ Columbia.  To my happy surprise, you are giving such a course.  I am  a feminist personally   and in my work as a psychoanalyst and author. I would hopefully request inclusion in your class.”

“Dear Wendy,  Thanks for your inquiry.  The course is already pretty full. I would suggest you come to class.  After the first few sessions I will know if there are enough seats for auditors.  As I am sure you understand, priority will be given to students taking the course for credit.   Professor Thompson”

Well, maybe I’d have to bring my own chair! I was half in and half out.

I stood in line to get my student ID photo card. With a wide smile, I took a selfie for my card. The expiration date on the card read 10/01/2021. I wondered who would expire first, my student card or me.

In preparation, I asked my granddaughter how I should dress for class. She pointed to my jeans and t-shirt explaining, “Just like that, a college student”.

I thought about it and decided that I had to find attire appropriate for my age, so I bought a pair of slim slacks and a woolen jacket. I didn’t want to dress as a young adult, yet my usual professional clothes were ancient for school. That was the start of redefining myself even though I had little idea of what would come next.

When I was younger, the custom was to buy your “school clothes” in late August in preparation for the real thing.  I decided that I would wear my new school jacket the first day of school.

I wanted to match the elite status of the college so I chose a jacket which was on sale that was described as ‘high end’. It had a shabby chic distressed look about the seams.

I got off the subway on the first day of the course. A young woman whispered to me, “You have your jacket on inside out.” I looked down at the front of my jacket and checked it.

I went swanning around the school grounds in my jacket.  As I stood at a café drinking coffee another woman whispered, “Your jacket is inside out.”  I told her in a superior way, “ This is a high end jacket. It’s supposed to look this way”. She retorted, “No, the price tags are hanging down your back”!

We had a good laugh at my  predicament as I turned my jacket around and marched confidently toward my class.

I found myself as one of two older people in a class of fifty young women. The course was held in one of the old unpretentious classrooms crowded into an historic building. The room was filled with small desk and chair seats, and a video screen hung from the blackboard.

When a teacher arrived I asked the student next to me the teacher’s name. It was then that I realized that I was in the wrong room. She handed me a map to another building as I skittered out and around the campus, up elevators and down stairs. I feared there would not be room for me in my appropriate classroom.

I was told that I should have read my internal email where the change of class was noted. Why would I look for an internal email if I hadn’t met anyone yet? Navigating these changes challenged my resolve.

I remember starting first grade at age six, excited and scared. My mother had given me a shiny penny for good luck to hold in my hand as I went in. This time I entered empty handed, not having any idea of what to expect.

Eventually, I got into the right class and found a seat among fifty 18 year old girls who were assembled.  They looked serious, studious and worried and seemed nerdy and passive, not vibrant and expansive. Both seats on either side of me remained vacant.  I felt like a reserved sign had appeared over my head.   Reserved for whom?

Uh oh, this wasn’t going to be an “all in together girls’ moment. ” It was an “ew…What are you doing here?” moment.

As my granddaughter had predicted the millennials were wearing flip flops, shorts and  t-shirts. They were makeup free and wore tank tops looking  as if they had just returned from the beach. They looked as uneasy as I felt. I tried to adjust knowing I was standing out like a sore thumb.

The professor spoke clearly in an interesting and well prepared manner about women’s historic struggle for gender equality and political justice.  We learned about our  responsibilities  in terms of class readings and tests.

The generational difference between the students, the professor and me floated through my mind in dream-like confusion. I wondered about her age when it came to me  that she was younger than I was. It disoriented me to realize that we would be hearing her  lectures about events that occurred when I was in my twenties and before she was born.  How could she be lecturing me about being a woman in the 20th Century?  I lived the history.  Shouldn’t I be lecturing the students and her about the subject?

There was another woman my age in the class. She filled me in on the specifics of auditing classes as we strolled down to  the West Side market where we sampled her favorite pizza which cost $4.00 a slice and was delicious.  I hoped that we would become friends.

As we talked I began to accommodate myself to the reality involved in the need to meet deadlines, adhere to travel schedules, and find appropriate parking.  I used a backpack to carry books,  pads, laptop, rain gear etc.  All in all it was an invigorating but tedious beginning.

I thought about the young women in the class. They looked  younger than springtime.  I sensed that they had been drawn to Barnard because they wanted a place where they could be serious learners and develop personal and professional expansion. They looked hopeful about being where their goals could be nourished.

I recognized these goals  as my own although I was fifty years older than the class.  Age differences melted as I sat among these interested students. I absorbed their curiosity, felt the warmth of their  youth, and was invigorated by their commitment. Because it was a class about the history of women’s struggles, the age difference evaporated.

As the professor continued her lecture, I felt my earlier anxieties begin to diminish and to be replaced by a feeling of personal courage and triumph.

Following the class, I cheerfully walked to the elevator.  An older woman came toward me gesturing toward the gray hair we shared.  Signaling a thumbs up sign as the students whooshed by,  she laughed, “We have to show them how to do it.”

images1.jpgChapter 2


Looking back, I remember walking to my class and feeling like I was carrying a stranger on my back, a very heavy big person with  arms around my shoulders weighing me down. I didn’t know this person. I had to bear carrying her. Stranger, stranger, stranger. This new unfamiliar burden required all my energy with no reward in sight.

I felt as if I had become a five year old child.  I had dismissed my adult self.  Nothing was  familiar to me, yet I had taken it on.

I felt scared and angry that I had to pretend to fit into this class. I have trouble with this charade of appearance. I had to disguise myself in artificial clothes trying to be perfect and to match something directed by requirements outside of myself. This costume had to be perfect.   It wasn’t like wearing self-selected clothes that reflected my taste and identity. I couldn’t be myself.

Recently, while departing the train on the way to the course, the zipper in my coat got stuck with material from the coat. It strangled me at the throat. I imagined that I would never be able to get my coat open. Maybe I would have to use scissors to cut off the arms and neckpiece.

Instead I boldIy stopped and asked a policeman to try to undo the snag. With a serious look as if he were solving a crime, he leaned down and fought with the zipper until it loosened. An authority figure had come to the rescue.

I remembered the first day at class when I inadvertently put my jacket on inside out. Again I was acting like a child who had put her clothes on incorrectly. I got help in straightening out this situation by two people who told me the price tag for my jacket was hanging down my back, proving that the wrong side of the coat was exposed.

What was alienating  me about returning to school?   The students were so much younger than what I had expected. The age span of fifty years came into play. If they had been my grandchildren visiting my home, being in the family would have  normalized things.

Attending this university class called for much more accommodation since we were also listening to a professor speaking about a complicated subject and struggling to take in the facts of this detailed academic course. I felt like a character in the Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris”.

The film was about a hack screenwriter visiting Paris on vacation. At the stroke of midnight he was picked up in a Ford roadster and magically transported to Paris in the 1920’s where he met Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and other legends. They invited him to join their party. He became swept along in their wake and found himself plunged into the Jazz Age and all its legends.   After a time he returned to present day Paris renewed by his adventure.  He had internalized the beauty and talent of these legends and could begin to realistically work at actualizing his own dream. Maybe that is what I wish for as well, youth and inspiration.

Perhaps these university students were wishing to discover the beauty and talent of historic and academic legends.  They could use these legends as models of motivation in pursuit of their own dreams.

They were housed in dormitories or apartments. It was their place.  Many here were privileged, intelligent, conscientious and self-possessed. They were busy racing around as special people in a prestigious school.  I felt envious  that I never had and never would have what they are enjoying now. They were beginning a excursion toward a long road in life whereas I was beginning future late in my life.

Strolling toward this class I felt confident and intelligent. As I sat down  in a tiny school chair, I felt like a mannequin, a piece of cardboard posing as if I belonged, a 5 year old who couldn’t talk or react or take any chances.

A feeling of spontaneous understanding overcame me. The articulate professor begin her lecture.  She described the way that women of varied race and class had struggled with discrimination. They were disenfranchised economically and  discriminated against  socially.  Hearing about how brave and difficult it was to upgrade the status of  these courageous women brought home to me a deeper perspective of their  enormous struggle.  I had never put that together before. My focus as a feminist was on individual search for independence.  Now I took in the cooperative camaraderie that was necessary for world wide awakening of women’s plight.  I repeated to myself, “Wow, now I see”.

The professor faced us from the front of the room where I sat with the other ‘kids’.  As she spoke, I received her words as gifts.  I squirreled away  these morsels of knowledge in my brain, treasuring the ownership of the prize. I was overcome with gratitude.

My eyelids drooped into a brief spell of relaxed  sleep. I felt so tired. It was so hard to manage this strange lonely experience.

I awoke, feeling five years old again, unable to think at all.  Then my curiosity and imagination began informing me it was aware of what the teacher was saying. I felt exhilarated, excited, addressed, and connected.

I made a comment in class. The professor listened for a brief minute, then signaled with her eyes that I should stop talking. I should say no more.  I retreated, telling myself that I should be teaching the class.


Does Aging & Decline Affect Our need for Love?


IMG_1032 (1).jpg

1.—–Does aging lessen or increase your wish for love?

2.—-Do you need more love from other people especially when you feel that you are declining?

3—– What is the reason that you feel you need more or less love? What causes that change to happen?

4—–What form does your wish for love take?

5—– Does the fact that you are weakening influence your wish or need for more love?

6—–Do you want more caring, reassurance and encouragement?

7—–Would that help you to adapt to the realization of aging and decline?

8—— Do you want to to be physically loved; to have more close physical contact, sexual contact, verbal contact?


How do you handle these wishes and feelings?

Do you feel lonely? Do you withdraw from others?

Does feeling less necessary influence a wish for more love?

Do you seek love and support when you feel this way?

Do you have energy to search for contact from others?

Do you try to gratify yourself by:

(a)   sleeping, watching TV.

(b) eating, crying , reading.

(c ) talking about this with other people.   Whom do you talk to?

(d) getting sick (headaches, falling).

(e) keeping busy, volunteering.

(f) remembering meaningful moments with people and things you have loved.


Can you tolerate not having these wishes to be loved met?

I hold these truths to be self evident

Untitled 2.jpg

The rose of sharon alongside the garage

catches my eye as we see the last of summer,

and there in the driveway, still announcing the arrival of spring,

a robin is doing whatever it is that robins do before they leave.


I watch from the doorway recollecting a time

when myrtle carpeted the woods across the street,

and now small patches call me to gratitude….


Lily of the valley standing fast where the rock garden was.

The time when Mama’s purple clematis climbed the rain spout.

The dogwood that my father planted,

the mothers day geraniums, pansies on the stoop

and the trumpet vine… proclaiming


Continuing to prod my memory with sprouts

generations walk the path with small bouquets

of violets and myrtle for kitchen window sills,

with fragrant fresh cut lilacs… and daisies in June.


When dis-ease first worried its way into our lives,

denial came to the rescue, easier not to accept…

but balance is a fine line and there was no net.


What about me!! What if I were to fall!!!


There is a place between yes and no,

a place where there are no answers.

Acceptance is a process, and doses of reality

doled in starter pieces are bearable


But when the full dose came! I was gasping for relief..

a starving piglet flailing for a sows teats

until the reality became acceptable.


But there are times when I wonder how it can be real.

And inside the house, the air conditioner,

having hummed its way through summer

is barely heard these waning days…


Lillian Rumfield Bryson, August 2016

What Sustains Us As We Age?

Older adults need sustenance in order to push onward in the face of aging.


Earlier goals during younger or middle years may have to be altered and accommodations to be made to adjust to decline.

How do you sustain yourself in late life?

1. What would you tell your younger self about your life now?

  1. What has helped you to survive until now?
  1. Do memories of past successes come into your mind now?

a) Have these successes lost their meaning to you?

4.   Are there touchstones in you life that re-assure you now? What are they?

What touchstones comfort you?

Unknown-3.jpeg         Do you hold on to them?

  1. Are there particular objects, clothing and memorabilia that you love and treasure that have meaning to you?

a) Do you want to hold on to these memories?

6.    Are there places that have a particular meaning to you?  Do you revisit them?

  1. Are there people who you love to visit or to be with?  Who are they?
  1. Are there people who you remember visiting or places that you used to visit that are not available to you now?

a)Do you think about them?

  1. For what have you gotten recognition during your lifetime?

10.  Have you held on to that part of you that had recognition earlier?

11.  Do you give  recognition to yourself?

How Old is Too Old For Sex?

Older people are having intimate relations well into their 70’s and 80’s.  More tolerant societal attitudes and Viagra have challenged traditional attitudes toward the wishes of older people to have sex.  This article tells about the efforts and policies at The Hebrew Home at Riverdale  which has loosened regimens in order to support individual choice  to its residents.  Happy hours are organized and there is a dating service called G-Date (grandparents’s date).   It’s a shift from institutional  care to individualized care, giving older people choices.

Daniel Reingold, the president and Chief Executive of Riverspring Health, said that growing old was all about loss: vision, hearing, mobility, even friends.  “Why should intimacy have to go,too? We don’t lose the pleasure that comes with touch,” he said.  “If intimacy leads to a sexual relationship, then let’s deal with it as grown-ups.”  The nursing home has a sexual expression policy posted on the homes’ website and is reviewed with staff members.

Read this interesting article by clicking the link photo above.


Facing Reality of Older Age with Adult Children

Who is more aware of the limited time left as you move into your 70’s and 80’s, you or your children?


As your abilities become limited or compromised, what is their response?

Do your children deny that you have physical changes related to aging?

Do they notice changes?

For example:

— limitations in walking, climbing stairs.

—Inability to remember things, thinking more slowly.

—Forgetting where you put household items, mail, pocket books?

—Forgetting appointments, memories.

—hospital stays, needing a cane, a walker.



  1. If they do notice that you are changing, do they offer help?

2.  Do they distance themselves from you? avoid you?

3.  Do they form more peer relationships?

4.    Do you expect more help from them?

5.  Do they offer you more help if you request it?

Physical help?

Financial help?

Problem solving assistance?

Relieving you of some of your responsibilities?

6.  What kind of reaction would you like from them?

How do you react if your kids don’t want to deal with your changes related to aging?

a) Why would they want to avoid facing the reality of your aging?

b) Are they in mourning for you before you go?

c) Is it the pain of losing their memory of you?

d) How do you feel if they want to avoid talking with you about the changes they see?

e)   Is this something that you can talk about with them?

f) Do you see them trying to recreate memorable occasions with you?

g) Do you think they are anticipating inheriting money when you go?


by Lillian Rumfield Bryson, age 86

pont-du-gard-2_980x551.jpgThis is about bridges

about when to cross them.. and maybe not

about learning by example and experience

and having a stockpile that is waiting

Clay from the earth sustained by the sea

changing with the tide


This is about structure..

braces and bits from the refiners ashes

reworked by the anvils choice to expand

to absorb, to bear the weight, the woe, the wonder


A bridge can fill the mold if you like.. or break it

it is the reality that dreams are made of

the truth that belies bold promises

It is beauty

Bridges come from.. they lead to, support divide

they are roads to returning, they fill the gap

while you learn, love, deny, define, decide

while you become




Norman Lear, 93, “Not Dead yet”

This article by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady applauds the legendary writer of “All in the Family “as he looks at aging. Here is an excerpt from the article.

“We spent most of 2015 directing “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You.” (opens in theaters July 8).   During production, Mr. Lear, whose birth predates television (though he went on to revolutionize it) artfully dodged any questions we posed about aging and death.

But as we went deeper, we learned that his approach is the result of a deep concern with the way our country sees the elderly — or rather, the way we choose not to see them at all. For five years, Mr. Lear has been shopping a comic series called “Guess Who Died,” which takes place in a retirement community — but he has not been able to sell it. Mr. Lear knows the series is funny. He’s convinced that Madison Avenue’s fixation with the lithe and intoxicating 18-29 demographic has torpedoed his chances to get a few old faces on the tube.”

Click on the above link to read the article.  Click on the arrow to watch the touching video of Lear listening to actors in the proposed series read aloud the script  about the problems of aging. He is touched by his words from five years ago being read by his friend, and he cries.

Does older age reduce desirability Part 2

I suggest that you read my previous post called “Does Older Age Reduce Desirability?”


Then you might be interested in reading Andrea Pflaumer’s article reprinted in the Huffington Post on 6/29/16. It is titled “The Post That Nearly Broke Facebook”

Ms Pflaumer states that she posted an article in her Facebook business page about Judi Dench and Maggie Smith.  She described them as”Two divine women. No wild outfits. No heavy make-up or plastic surgery.  They simply inspire our admiration and grab out attention because they are who they are.”

The post got 16 million views and it was shared 96,453 times.  It received more than 14,000 comments.  Most readers thanked her for showing real women with real wrinkles.  There was mostly a rousing chorus of “hear, hears”.

One small group of women in their late 30s and 40s criticized the article for “shaming” people who chose plastic surgery, wear makeup and revealing dress.  Her humorous response was, “Aging is not communicable, but it is inevitable.”

A suprising response came from a great number of men who said they loved women as they are, they loved what’s real.  Referring to Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, one man wrote, “They are also talented/sexy in a subtle mature way… Something younger women don’t seem to get!”


Longevity Pose,nytimes


This article is about Tao Porchion-Lynck, age 97, seen here leading a yoga class in Scarsdale.  “I haven’t grown up yet,” she said.  She is a Yoga teacher and competitive dancer from Pondicherry, India.  She was called the oldest yoga teacher in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2012 when she was 93.  This article was written by Corey Kilgannon and appeared in the nytimes on June 5, 2015.   I heard about this amazing woman and told him about her.  He said that  aside from the details in this piece, she had an amazing acquaintance with many famous people.  I will talk with him again and post the details here.  Check out the article.  She is fascinating.


Case Discussion

Since many of the followers  work in the field of mental health, case discussions will occasionally be recorded on this blog.  The method of treatment used in case discussions is in accord with the theory of Modern Psychoanalysis  developed by Hyman Spotnitz,MD.  These reports are taken from  case material  of Dr. Spotnitz’s work.  In this piece, I will describe his work with a patient on resolving a resistance.


Topic: Conflict Resolution

Fifty-three old Sarah came to consult with Dr. Spotnitz for help with her conflict  about how or whether to accept medical help for herself.  It was about 5 yrs after she had cancer treatments. Also her sister had just died of cancer.

Her medical tests were normal, but she had a symptom of swelling that she was concerned about even though her doctor told her that her numbers were normal.

Dr. Spotnitz explored all the possibilities about which of her various doctors might or might not be helpful. She had reservations about all of them helping. This put her at a standstill, anxious that her health might suffer no matter what decision she came up with.

He asked her what would happen if she didn’t see a doctor at all, or what would happen if she chose a method that didn’t work.

Sarah then told Dr.Spotnitz that it all seemed hopeless in helping her to come to a decision. He started investigating that statement by asking her if it would help if she  would consider  short term medication use or going to a  going to a rest home for a week or so.  She turned down both suggestions.

At this point, she heaved deep sighs and began crying.  She feared she might die if she made the wrong choice.  If she died, she would rejoin her sister.  If she lived, she would feel alone and lonely.   As the session was ending, she was asked if she thought she would live until the next session.  She said yes.

She later reported that realizing that her grief over the loss of her sister had spiraled into anxiety about her own health.  She felt anguish about her loss of her sister and a possible decline in her own health.  She wanted to stay alive.

Modern Psychoanalytic approach:

Dr. Spotnitz was 92 yrs old when he had that session.  He had a rapid fire memory about every possibility and used the names of all the doctors’ names involved.  He repeated all the choices a few times to clarify the options available to her.  When she negated them all and felt her grief and hopelessness at her sister’s death, she started being able to move ahead.

This vignette describes and teaches a method of exploring without judgement every single option that a patient is considering. If all of the options are negated, the next step is to explore the idea that nothing might work and the situation would be hopeless.

This  methodical investigation can be used with most problems. It’s called investigating a resistance, addressing and admiring all the thoughts that the patient considers.   What emerged was her fear of dying. Her wish to explore her hopelessness at her sister’s death was followed by her thought that that if she died, she would be reunited with her sister (wouldn’t lose her sister).  This was the underlying reason for the conflict developing.


Dr. Hyman Spotnitz (9/1908-4/2008) was an American psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who pioneered an approach called Modern Psychoanalysis  to work  with schizophrenics in the 1950’s.  He was also one of the pioneers of group therapy.  His approach to the analyst’s interventions are primarily intended to  provided emotional-maturational communication to the patient, rather than to promote intellectual insight. With this technique, he was able to cure many patients previously deemed incurable by the psychoanalytic world.


Retiring After 65 May Extend Life

Wall  Street Journal May 3, 2016

Retiring after age 65 may help  people to live longer says a study published online in the Journal of epidemiology and Community Health.  The risk of dying from any cause over the period was 11% lower among people who delayed retirement for one year-until age 66-and fell further among people who retired between the ages of 66 and 72, the study found.

Compared with retiring at age 65, workers who retired in good health at age 67 had a 21% lower risk of dying.  By age 70 the risk was 44%lower,and at age 72, it was 56% lower.BN-NU288_resrep_J_20160429160420.jpg

For workers with health issues, the risk of dying was 9% lower if they retired at age 66, 17% lower at 67, 38% lower at 70 and 48% lower at 72.


Reader Comments

If you scroll down to the 13th post, “Reimagining Old Age”, you will see  reader comments on two HBO documentaries.  One is ‘Nothing Left Unsaid” about Anderson Cooper and his mother Gloria Vanderbilt and the other is Jacob Bernstein’s view of his mother, Nora Ephron.

What Does Redefining Aging Cost Us?


We want to hold on to the strengths we had when we were younger. But our bodies are weaker, our minds are slower, our spirits may have been worn down by fighting for survival.

We get new knees, we take heart medication, blood pressure medication, arthritis medication. They all can have a positive effect, but they all have toxic side effects. It’s like trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. But the original Humpty can’t be put back the way it had been. The body lives in harmony with itself. Introducing a foreign substance or a new part alters the original.

You can say well, isn’t it worthwhile to update broken, aged or worn out body parts? Look at the advantage. Is it worth it? Asian medicine says that we should expect that aging will slow us down. We should adapt to it. Do tai chi, not spinning.


Facelifts, viagra, and breast implants are supposed to erase the sagging affects of aging, as if we are not traditionally old. But we know what our bodies are like. As we age, we slow down, we forget, we need more rest, we need more help. We yearn to be the way we had been. We feel not ourselves, the self we have identified ourselves to be.

Old age is harder to navigate than any other life stage. Adolescence used to be thought of as the most difficult life transition to endure. Now that older aging is being spotlighted, there is a rush to enhance the transition, to put sparkles in the process, and to somewhat expect us to fake our enthusiasm.

Are we putting something over on ourselves by agreeing with this?images-5.jpeg

Letter to the editor, nytimes 3/7/16

Female Friendships:

Friendships among women change as they age, but for the “very old,” the relationships change markedly.  We are deeply affected by the loss of our spouses and at the same time our old and loving female friends.

Those of us over 85 have to learn to make new friends when we have less to offer and more to lose in new relationships.  Are we being welcomed because we still drive or have the energy to serve wine in the afternoon? Does that new acquaintance just speak haltingly, or is it a sign of mild senility?

Yet many of us can and do join with women to play bridge, to read and talk about books, to play and sing music, and to work on civic and political projects together.  When I leave these new friends, I recognize their loving importance to me, and we miss one another.

Humans seem to thrive when they have meaningful relationships.  The new friendships of the very old provide wisdom and emotional support for the shared dilemmas of physical decline, fear of intellectual diminution and also the real joy of continuing participation in life.Edith W. Rothenberg

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg 82 – Gloria Steinem, age 81, photo on wall, Eleanor Roosevelt.

“Women understand. We may share experiences, make jokes, paint pictures, and describe humiliations that mean nothing to men, but women understand. The odd thing about these deep and personal connections of women is that they often ignore barriers of age, economics, worldly experience, race, culture — all the barriers that, in male or mixed society, had seemed so difficult to cross.” —New York Magazine, December, 1971

Determination, Endurance and Hope


+Perhaps if I know others like me, who have a sense of irony and a healthy self-regard, I can more easily base my self-worth on some inner qualities and thus avoid the shame that seems to accompany waning physical

–How can I feel worthy without the independence that previously marked my life?

–Will I respect myself when I feel “poor thing!” in the voices of those who speak to me?

–How should I plan to protect myself when my sphere of movement shrinks?

–If I am no longer one who lives completely independently, who exerts her will in hundreds of small ways, can I become a woman who accepts this change with detachment?

–Can I simultaneously admit that I miss my former activities and see them as not so important now?

–If I project a sense of power when I can no longer move about freely, will others treat me as competent?

–If they see me only as diminished, can I parallel that partial truth with other truths about myself?

+Cruikshankk, M. Learning to Be Old: Gender, Culture and Aging. Rowman & Littlefield Pub., Inc 2013

pt-seniors-11.jpg+ Cr

Determination Endurance and Hope: Imagining that something good can happen.

We have talked about old age requiring endurance.

Is the ability to endure life affected by our age? What effect has endurance had on you during your middle years and now?

One group member said she had to endure this: her mother wanted her to be smart and put that expectation on to her. She survived by keeping in her mind that one day she would become able to be the real person that she believed herself to be.

What enabled her to endure? Having hope about being herself in the future. She got out of the grip of her mother’s ambitions for her and her mother’s control and designed her own life


Do those childhood wishes and goals remain with us throughout our lives?

What role does hope play here?

Do you feel you still have goals to meet that you couldn’t as a child?

Another group member had in earlier life a career as a dancer. Surely dancing required commitment, ability, determination and endurance. She gave a dance performance in England while enduring a leg injury. She did the performance in pain and didn’t tell anyone. She glowed when told the performance had been beautiful.

Are there things now that you are having trouble enduring?

Do they put you into the doldrums? How do you get back up? Does hope play a role? What helps you to become resilient?

A third group member remembers yearning for a Roy Rogers coloring book as a child. She waited and waited as her father finally decided to go to the store to buy it. When they got there, the book had been sold out. She cried and cried. She still has patience and endurance as she pursues her writing and photography career.

A fourth group member had to endure stress as a family member had a false persecution for an infraction he didn’t commit. The family endured this indignity for a year. Their true friends remained loyal to them and supported them.   Her family member was then acquitted.

Roger Angell “This Old Man: All in Pieces'”


Roger Angell is an American essayist who as been a regular contributor to The New YorkerI. He is the only writer elected to membership in both the Baseball Hall of Fame and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He won the 2015 American Society of Magazine Editors’ Best Essay award for “The Old man” which forms a centerpiece for this book.

It is a deeply personal book about late age, abundant life, poignant loss, jokes, and love.

In an interview with Charlie Rose on 2/25/16 he talked about living in his nineties. He mentioned the fact that people of his age often are treated as if they are invisible. He may make a comment at dinner in a crowd and hear no response. He felt that the attitude of the younger people was that he has had his time and now it is other people’s time.

He feels that writing about his old age will show younger people that life is not so bad at this age. He sees a therapist who he said gave him the perfect response to his question about how he would be able to bear his wife’s death after 48 years of marriage.  He said to her, “I don’t know how I will ever bear this.”

The therapist replied, “Neither do I, but you will”.


Below is a segment from a piece Angell wrote on aging which appeared in the New Yorker.

I remember a passage I came upon years later, in an Op-Ed piece in the Times, written by a man who’d just lost his wife. “We slept naked in the same bed for forty years,” it went. There was also my splendid colleague Bob Bingham, dying in his late fifties, who was asked by a friend what he’d missed or would do differently if given the chance. He thought for an instant, and said, “More venery.”

More venery. More love; more closeness; more sex and romance. Bring it back, no matter what, no matter how old we are. This fervent cry of ours has been certified by Simone de Beauvoir and Alice Munro and Laurence Olivier and any number of remarried or recoupled ancient classmates of ours. Laurence Olivier? I’m thinking of what he says somewhere in an interview: “Inside, we’re all seventeen, with red lips.”

Getting old is the second-biggest surprise of my life, but the first, by a mile, is our unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love. We oldies yearn daily and hourly for conversation and a renewed domesticity, for company at the movies or while visiting a museum, for someone close by in the car when coming home at night. This is why we throng and OkCupid in such numbers—but not just for this, surely. Rowing in Eden (in Emily Dickinson’s words: “Rowing in Eden— / Ah—the sea”) isn’t reserved for the lithe and young, the dating or the hooked-up or the just lavishly married, or even for couples in the middle-aged mixed-doubles semifinals, thank God. No personal confession or revelation impends here, but these feelings in old folks are widely treated like a raunchy secret. The invisibility factor—you’ve had your turn—is back at it again. But I believe that everyone in the world wants to be with someone else tonight, together in the dark, with the sweet warmth of a hip or a foot or a bare expanse of shoulder within reach. Those of us who have lost that, whatever our age, never lose the longing: just look at our faces. If it returns, we seize upon it avidly, stunned and altered again.

Desire in Old Age, Additional Views:

Stanley Kunitz, age 95, was the United States Poet laureate.  In his work “The Collected Poems”, he asks “What makes the engine go?/Desire, desire, desire./the longing for the dance/stirs in the buried life.”

Diana Athill feels her desire still appears in her dreams and her memories.  In her book “Alive, Alive Oh” which she wrote in her nineties, she writes, “Why want anything more marvelous than what is. ”   She talks about the replacement of  of sexual desire with enjoyment of trading stories with fellow active older people in her retirement home.

Jack Nicholson, who earned a reputation as a womanizer, admitted in a recent interview that he is lonely these days.  “I would love that one last romance, but I’m not very realistic about it happening.  What I can’t deny is my yearning.  I’m definitely wild at heart, but I’ve struck biogravity.  I can’t hit on women in public anymore.  I didn’t decide this; it just doesn’t feel right at my age.”  Jack said this in an interview published in Closer.



A Group Deals With Grief


One of our group members said,

“There’s no telling when or how, but you have to make peace with death and dying. That is a very difficult procedure. There’s a shock when a loved one passes, but it’s afterward that you feel the really true feelings of what you have lost.”

—We have been meeting with each other in this group for nine years. When the group began, the goal was to investigate the effects of aging.   We have had the opportunity to reflect on changes in our lives as we age.

—We were hoping that looking at improving the quality of the aging experience would prolong life, hopefully forever.

—We have spent time with the family of Mary when her husband John passed. John was a member of the group. We exchanged memories with Stella’s family when she died.

—Today we have a unique opportunity to exchange memories with Dahlia and her daughters.


—Dahlia, what can you tell us about Sam that we don’t know?

—Lois and and Sue, what can you tell us about your father that we don’t know?

—What personality traits did he have in his life that contributed to his ability to live a long life?

—What were his strengths? Did you see strength in his being able to bear weakness?

—Did you father develop new coping skills when he was ill?

—What were they? How did they help him?

—Group Members: What ideas about Sam did you get from being in this group with Dahlia?


—Do you think there is a difference between grief and sadness?

—How do you know which you are feeling? Which is stronger felt, grief or sadness?

—When you were younger, do you remember anyone grieving? (family, friends, neighbors, on TV or in movies)?

—What did you see?

—What effect did seeing this have on you?

How have you handled the loss of a loved one in the past?

Were you puzzled, saddened, disinterested?


—How did seeing your father dealing with his illness affect your coping with your own trials?

—What legacy did he leave you?

—Have you thought that you would want to leave a legacy to others?

—What would you want that to be?

—How does realizing that life is limited affect you?

—What helps a person handle grief?

—What does a person who is grieving need?

—How does a grieving person carry on?


Herewith the Moment

Untitled 2

If we take the flavor of grand-parents looking through a nursery window at a new born child and bake it into a cake, and bottle time with dear friends to become vintage wine. If 6 women, through a monthly discussion group; where time has opened their innermost to become a powerful united awareness, can fill a room with a golden hope… then might the moment be preserved, cocooned, worn as a talisman, a dependable moment, an endless supply of hands to hold.

Herewith the moment.     Lovey

Reimagining Old Age


If you could reimagine your old age, what would it be like?  Can you imagine late life as the time when you are most fully yourself, a time to strengthen your survivor fiber?  Would it be like a continuation of midlife indefinitely?  Do you see old age as disconnected from youth?

1. Do you feel judged by your appearance, ‘old’ being equated with declining bodies which are definitely different from younger bodies?

2. Do you feel encouraged to imitate younger people?

3. Do you feel different, inferior, made fun of, stereotyped?

4. Do you now feel more confined, have less access to driving, walking, traveling?

5. Does that make you feel passive, docile, lonely, confused?

6. Does the word ‘old’ denote loss and dependency to you?

7.Do you feel shared characteristics with younger people?

10. Do younger people keep an emotional distance from you based on your stage of life?

11. Does the word ‘old’ mean shameful decrepitude to you?


On the positive side, do you see your time of life as bringing you an unexpected revival of your personality?

1-Do you feel calmer or mellower?

2-Do you have fewer obligations?

3-Do you respect your past accomplishments?

4-Have you experienced emotional and psychological growth?

5-Have you experienced recovery from harried former years?

6-Has slowing down given you a chance to tap into a life force that has been unnaturally suppressed by the speed and fragmentation in life?

7-Have you been able to invest in lifelong development at this time?

8-Are you aging comfortably?

Ideas for these questions were composed from material in the following book:   Cruikshank, M. Learning to be Old. Roman & Littlefield, Inc.2009.


Food for Thought


Why do we feel the need to distance ourselves from late age the closer we get to it?

Is it incomprehensible to consider the enormity of the loss of life?

Can you remember what you expected of yourself when you were young that you still expect?

Can you think of any pursuits that you had in your youth that you abandoned?

Do you feel that you are holding on to illusions of youth in order to keep the dread of age away?


Have you accomplished new things and had lives outside of your home in spite of that holding on to youthful wishes?

Do you perceive of age as dreary, lonely, solitary, helpless and sick?

What illusion do you have about holding on to physical youth?

Do you feel the dread of age is related to what we fear about death?

Have You become a Stranger to Yourself?

As we get older we recognize changes in our functioning.  We may feel a lack of  vitality which forces our bodies to slow down due to this loss of energy.  We may feel shocked to recognize that we are no longer the person we had been and wish we could go back to repeating our former activities.  Instead we must accommodate to the realization that we are being forced to look at our former functioning as now alien. Our life story has come about in different, sometimes more developed ways. This focus forces us  to initiate change.


We are on our way to introducing ourselves to our new self.  At this time we may need to slow down and recuperate.   It is an adjustment that seems alien.  Over time we realize that we had been a certain way at an earlier age, and we need to introduce ourselves to ourselves once again.

Does Older Age Reduce Desirability?

Instead of following former dictates on how old age should be lived, older adults are scripting individual roadmaps for themselves in their lives and in their personal identities.

They wonder if they should give up wanting what youth wants. They are charting a new blueprint of what is worth noting with appreciation in late age.

Helen Mirren, age 70, says she hates being described as beautiful.  Despite being considered one of cinema’s greatest beauties, the newly appointed face of L’Oreal Paris confessed, “Kate Moss is beautiful, so is David Beckham, and I can appreciate a beautiful girl walking down the street. Young is beautiful.”

“But the majority of us are SOMETHING ELSE, and I wish there was another word for it.
I definitely don’t look better now than when I was young, she added. ‘Of course I looked better then. The great thing that happens as you age is that you don’t really give a flying f**k. I don’t look so good, but I don’t care.”

She wonders why there are no words to describe herself at age 70.

Desirability  is seen as appeal, charisma, a magnetic presence that draws others in.  This energy  or glow comes from honestly embracing and accepting oneself.

An older adult peer group had difficulty as they tried to come up with genuine positive descriptives that would identify beauty in aging. They have been used to hearing deprecating and dismissive reactions in regard to their appearance.  They feel that as they adapt to late age, there is a diminution of intensity.

Desirability seems to be an elusive term in descriptions of older people.  That is contradicted by the current interest of older people in romance novels and films.


“You don’t look your age.” At first glance, this sounds like an appreciative remark about a person’s appearance.  However, lurking behind that is the assumption that looking youthful is more desirable than looking old. But the compliment is addressed to a person who is old.

To receive a message like this is confusing .  It can be taken as a putdown of aging, a compliment  on a youthful appearance.

Are older people seen as undesirable if they look their real age?  Do role definitions play a part in reducing the appeal of elders?  Do stereotypes of grandparenthood reduce desirability?

Do older people have to be concerned about being “outed” in trying to imitate youth or deny aging?  Men may prefer to wear toupees to adapt to hair loss.  Women may get facelifts to erase wrinkles. The message is clear. Youthful facade is preferred.

What is wrong with an aging appearance?  Is dressing in a youthful way a vote for approval on the social stage, a wish to fit in instead of moving on, a signal for romantic attraction, a plan to get a work promotion, etc?


“I’m not olde, I’m vintage”

Here is the problem for older people.  A challenge in old age is to accept oneself as one is today, to resist repeating earlier appearance, habits and behaviors that have lost their relevance for one’s current age.  If one can do that, energy is is no longer used to masquerade as youthful.  One can value the person one has become.

Does the authentic appearance of older adults draw attention?  Can it rival the visage of youth?    Can older age be desirable?  This is what award winning actress, Charlotte Rampling, age 69, feels about this,

1230553_45-Years.jpg“There is a problem if women can’t live with their faces as they’re growing into them. There’s always a frightening point when your face starts to change, and that’s when you want to change it. But if you go through that change – and it lasts quite a long time, maybe 10 years – then you find actually that you’ve grown into an older face.” (

What makes it hard to figure out ways to compliment appearance when older? Is it because older people don’t attract us?   Even the term “old lady” or “old man” is in itself deprecating.  It is like identifying someone as “that fat woman” or “that handicapped man”.  Is focusing on stereotypical identification the best we can do?  As one older woman joked, “I think we may be beating a dead horse here.” Can we unearth a language that describes the positive appeal of older age?

What is there to appreciate in older people’s dress, figure, demeanor, poise, carriage, physiognomy,? What promotes physical appeal? Would it be sparkling eyes, the cadence of the voice, graceful body language, sex appeal? Is this evident in old age?

Recently, reporters seem interested in topics like older-actresses-can-be-sexy discussions. An article on Rampling describes her physical beauty as clearly obvious. It states, “It is the honesty of her beauty, the realness of it, that is so deeply unusual and magnificent. There is so little denial of aging, so much acceptance in her face-easier of course when one is so remarkable looking-and yet so crazily rare, especially among famous people”.(nytimes.12/13/15.)

People are always telling her how remarkable she looks.  She finds it wearisome. “What they are really saying is, ‘You still look actually O.K.,’she said.  “‘You don’t look terribly old.”

Rampling is still referred to as a sex symbol. How does that make her feel? “I don’t know,” she groans, pausing for a moment. “It means that I’m still alive, which is great. It’s about being alive. It’s about finding ways to keep yourself somewhere. We can all close the doors very quickly, and I’d be the first [to do that] – I really have to kick myself out the front door every day. It’s a huge effort for me, the survival thing. Which I’m sure is the same for everyone.”

The ‘something else’ type compliments about personal appeal that older people cherish occur when interested listeners respond to their genuine thoughts and feelings. They love appreciation for involvement in productive work in or outside the home.  They need admiration for endurance of health struggles that accompany decline.  And they appreciate recognition for negotiating interpersonal relationships.   Desirability currently still seems to be an elusive trait in older age even though sexual fantasies and yearnings are alive and well in most minds of older adults.



If you want to pay a compliment to an older person, here are some suggestions. There are no backhanded inferences in these remarks, just a respect for real appearance and manner.

“She has stamina and resilience.”, “You look healthy.”, “Hubba Hubba.”,  “He is really with it.”, “You are confident and accepting.”,  “She looks elegant & refined.”, “I can feel your spirit.”,  “You’re looking great.”, “You are put together well.”,  “I admire their courage & energy.”,  “I love people who are seasoned.”

“He is a really cool teacher.”,  “You are one positive lady.”, “Nice haircut.”,  “He is full of enthusiasm.”, “You clean up nice.”,  “They’re the tops.”, “Your vitality is impressive.”,  “You are a great listener.”, “You’re not so bad yourself.”,”The beauty of your art work speaks to me”.”

New Films with Realistic Portrayals of Late Life

Portrayals of older adults and boomers have leapt onto the cinematic screen since stereotypes affecting the manner in which older adults are viewed and are expected to behave are becoming redefined.

Films are drawing in older audiences.  Employment in these films has re-ignited careers of actors like Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Bill Nighy, Blythe Danner, Lily Tomlin,  Maggie Smith and Judi Dench.  Some of these actors with acknowledged work histories may have been unemployable for long periods of time due to their age.


“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” not only brought in record sales.  A second film about these travelers immediately followed it.  In this enjoyable escapade, we meet a cantankerous group of older people who are following  their dreams to revive old unmet wishes and minimize earlier mistakes by embarking on an an escape to an inexpensive but supposedly luxurious hotel in India.  As they deal with the reality of making due with substandard living conditions and foreign dietary problems,  the visitors embark on their plans and  adventures.

One woman undergoes hip replacement surgery, another unsuccessfully poses as Princess Margaret in her search for a  rich husband and another takes on a public relations job for the first time in her life. A retired judge searches for a love he had as a boy.  The inexperienced young Indian boy who opened the hotel comically struggles to keep his ramshackele hotel afloat as he tries to please the guests.

“Amour”, a winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Film reveals the shattering reality of physical weakening in old age.  Anne and George have had a long and loving relationship.  They want to handle Anne’s decline themselves without outside meddling. Their courageous struggle is both excruciating and touching.

Both of these films opened a door for further exposure and exploration into late life.

Coming on the scene are films with deeper reflection on serious individual choices being made by older single  professionals.  Maggie Smith, age 80, in “The Lady in the Van”, Blythe Danner, age 72, in “I’ll See You in My Dreams”, and Lily Tomlin, age 76, in “Grandma”  explore this reality.




Based on the play by Alan Bennett,”The Lady in the Van” tells the story of Miss Mary Shepherd, an eccentric homeless elderly woman. Directed by Nicholas Hytner, we learn about Bennett’s strained fifteen year friendship with Miss Shepherd while she lived in her van parked in his driveway for fifteen years. All the while, she maintained her independence. This film is scheduled to open in late 2015.

“I’ll See You In My Dreams”


Blythe Danner plays Carol Peterson,  a widow who is a retired teacher with an occasional singing job.  Living a comfortable life, she seems self-involved and pre-occupied. A group of card playing women friends along with a young man who cleans her swimming pool drift in and out of her everyday routine occasionally observing her ambivalent attempts to create personal attachments.  Aside from forming a tentative romantic friendship with another older man, Carol blocks social involvement. This remains the mysterious element in the plot.

It is easy to feel bored with this timid wistful film until Carol spills the issue that is really on her mind.  She is thinking about how much of her life has been lived and has passed.  She is struggling to accept the looming reality that her life will end.

Once these thoughts become clearer to her, she feels some relief from the need to jump into social activities.  She seeks the comfort and familiarity of her present life, uneventful as it may seem to others. This decision is her own. Her friends don’t understand it, but the young pool cleaner does.

He is having a hard time facing decisions to be made for his future. They feel comfortable together despite their age difference.  They share an unconscious understanding about hesitations that come about when people realize that they are entering a new phase of life.

The film subtly affirms the reality that old age requires introspection. Stereotypes of older people usually portray them as simple and accepting. The reality of aging  is far deeper and broader.  Older people want to discover how to proceed and to adapt to the road ahead.

This film came alive with the help of older character actors Rhea Perlman, Sam Elliott, June Squibb, and Mary Kay Place.



“Grandma”is a film about family problems affecting elders.  Lily Tomlin, in a deeply felt authentic performance that brings her character to life, plays Elle, an unemployed professor living a secluded life in late age.  She has had her share of impulsive behavior and is left temporarily broke.  Her granddaughter, Sage, age 18, unexpectedly shows up at her door frantically asking to have $600.00 for an abortion.  Elle doesn’t comfort Sage but determines to do what it takes to help her.

Sage feels unable to get help from her mother, Elle’s daughter, whom they both see as a hard worker but emotionally unavailable.  They assume that she will continue to criticize them both for their impulsive ways.

They embark on a quest to borrow money from people whom Elle has been involved with earlier in her life.  She tries to sell what she calls ‘first editions’ of her 1980’s Feminist books.  She is disappointed to find that nobody wants them.  The tools that she employed earlier in her life, adhering to Feminism and working as a professor do not work to help to resolve her granddaughter’s current plight.

As they continue their quest, they dig up secrets from Elle’s past, a recent breakup with a young female lover and an early bittersweet affair with a man.

With all attempts failing, the duo goes to Sage’s mom’s office and humbly ask for money.  Marcia Gay Harden plays Sage’s conscientious but disconnected mom. The three of them then cooperate in talking about the problem.  They all want the best for Sage.

This film illustrates how intergenerational problems and loyalties in families affect older people.  Once again, the fantasy that old age brings a diminution of challenges and responsibilities is debunked. Because people are living longer,  family responsibilities and  problems that confront their children and grandchildren still affect them.  They are capable of being involved in a serious cooperative manner with their families to understand and face these dilemmas.

Evening Brings It’s Lamps With It *


Each stage of life has  its intentions, stages and purposes.

As we get on, we realize that life is limited.  Understanding the stage of older age becomes highlighted and focused when we  discuss our personal experiences as older adults.

Talking with others lessens the apprehension at the idea of an ending.

“What is your life like now?”, we ask each other.

Hearing others share their thoughts helps us to adapt, normalize and be kinder to ourselves.

In a group setting of older adults there is a leveling of experience.  We have this time of lfe in common.  Differences that might otherwise divide us fall away in the face of our conversation. This commonality overrides status, education, class, religion and race. Everyone ages, changes and dies.

By dissecting older age, we  grow to accept it.  We repeat it to each other. We develop tolerance and love of the evolution of the human condition. We attain a deep complex understanding of our life experience.

We see each other aging as we talk about it, watching others adapt and cope and strive. We become veterans who have worked together and developed a kinship and knowledge that other people don’t have. That is the product of the process of sharing.

Being in a group brings to the foreground something we usually put aside. We have lived up until now as if life wouldn’t end. It was too discouraging to see death.  Our notional view becomes replaced by actuality as we face the inevitability of death. We know that life is going to end.

How does realizing that change things?

Compassion and appreciation for this stage of life is introduced. The focus of our perception changes. We can make progress while living as we also examine the limitation of time.

There can be discouragement or exhilaration in this recognition. It changes us.  We are taking this stage of life seriously. This understanding is an accomplishment.  We become experts on late age.

Instead of advanced age announcing physical disintegration, it can be a time of growth, expansion and development. We discuss this with our peers.  Confiding about physical symptoms doesn’t interfere with our conversations. We benefit from talking with others.

We began group discussions by seeing how stereotypes of older adults can be replaced with self-awareness. This was followed by meeting consistently, often talking about the way we identify, confront and cope with physical changes.  Each member stood on the shoulders of other group members who have shown them how to accept and live with downturns.

Has the purpose of life at this time become visible?

What is the purpose of late life?

What does it mean to ‘age well’ at this time?

Do we feel an enforced uselessness at this time due to limitations of older age

Group members who have died live on in us and enhance our experience. We have shared our memories of them with their relatives. Their deaths have brought these feelings close to us. As a group member put it, “I’m glad we have talked about these things.  It has helped us to see real life.”


Evening brings it’s lamps with It. *  (Title from Chitister, Joan, “The Gift of Years”)

Some Older People Are Invisible In Key Data, Study Warns nytimes 9/9/15


These are the results from Global Age Watch index created by HelpAge International, a nonprofit org that calculates an index of the best and worst countries in which to grow old.

Switzerland is the best place for older people to live, followed by Norway.  They are followed by Sweden, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, Iceland, Japan, and the US and Britain. The objectives aimed at by these countries are eliminating poverty, protecting the environment and ensuring universal prosperity by 2030.

Even in these countries, data showed a widening disparity between the richest and poorest. The gap in life expectancy at age 60 between countries from the first country listed to the last is 7.3 years.

Missing data from at least 93 countries indicates that millions of older people are invisible, living their lives in countries where information on the quality of older age is missing from international data.

What has aging forced you to reconsider?

This discussion took place in this older adult peer group ages 75-86.


The group began by discussing being older in a social setting like a party. One woman began, “When I get together with old friends, the first thing that I notice is that they all look old.  After a few minutes, I don’t notice that anymore.”

The group agreed that it was harder to mix with folks of different ages.  They felt they needed to monitor themselves when with younger people because they become more aware of  age and limitations.  They compensate for this by carefully altering their responses.  The group talked about seniors dressing in a youthful way in social settings.  They want to look attractive, but due to age they have had to sacrifice certain styles that they used to wear like high heels, short skirts or suits and ties.

A retired counselor  smiled as she remembered being young and hiding with her cousins  behind their front stoop as her mother’s friends came to the house to play bridge. The cousins called these older women the “girls with the Grandma faces”.


One woman living in a senior community where the average age is 75 said she feels comfortable enjoying time with people close to her age. When the community has parties she relayed that people are reluctant to get seriously involved with each other for fear that they may end up having to take on the care of another person in case of illness. She said if she had been committed to taking care of a husband for fifty years, she would honor that commitment.  But she doesn’t want to take it on at her current age.

When the subject of dating came up, a social worker said that she has given up on finding someone. She does not find older men attractive. However, she does notice men. Her response was, “Yes, I do. I’m not dead”. Another member quipped, “Just napping”. The group laughed in recognition. Asked if she fantasizes about a particular man, she laughed and said, “They’re all dead now.”

As the subject moved on to discussing health issues, the group said they were pleased with results of knee surgery and cataract surgery which have restored or improved their functioning, widening their horizons.  Their age related reduction in energy level  sometimes feels like a relief because they can simplify their lives.  If a trip to see the home of Eleanor Roosevelt was something  wished for in the  past, now reading a Roosevelt biography could suffice.

One man’s doctor told him to stop shoveling snow. He would not have done that if he hadn’t been told it could endanger him. Another senior had difficulty driving at night, so she plans her activities during the day. They spoke about having to take responsibilities for making  and going to medical appointments.  They have to check on the accuracy of prescriptions and to choose doctors who know who they are and what their symptoms are.

In adapting to the later years, people felt encouraged by making a “next step” for themselves.   One member does workshops in the elementary schools on anti-bullying and friendships between girls.   Another goes to free daytime opera rehearsals.   A male psychologist has  extended his work life because he feels defined by his work. He doesn’t want to give up the feeling of being needed and productive.  Even if he learns that he has a serious health issue, he wants to focus on working to distance himself from the health problem.


The discussion turned to ideas about making current pre-arrangements now for an eventual funeral service.  One woman  has already planned and paid for a funeral and burial because she took it as a ‘fact of life’, not because she has any serious medical issue.  She said she felt unreal in making that plan but completed it to save her children the burden of planning and paying for it in the future.  Another spoke of her mother buying a dress that she wanted to be laid out  in upon her death.  And she told her children, “Don’t forget the  earrings.”  The group laughed at her specific plan.

The group remembered seeing their parents age and change.  Some spoke about their families denying that a family member had aged or was ill.  Others spoke about visiting aging parents and realizing that there wasn’t any food in their refrigerator or that their bills hadn’t been paid or that they were getting lost on public

Almost every group member said that they had not discussed aging with their parents as their parents aged.  It was a prohibitive topic.

They are noticing that their own children subtly treat them differently as time goes by, cooking for them or helping them downstairs or sometimes avoiding them.  They are concerned about becoming more dependent or burdening their children.

They have become kinder to themselves.  One woman renovated her kitchen even though she doesn’t know how long she will be around to enjoy it.  Another is more generous with her time for herself.  Others  indulge in food treats that they would have  avoided in the past.

It was agreed that talking to other seniors about navigating changes that aging brings helps to ease the burdens involved.

81 yr old Breaks World Record in Heptathlon for Women

See below a glimpse of an article called “Racing a Clock While Scoffing at Time” from the nytimes on 8/13/15:

This is one way that age 81 looks.  Flo Meiler who comes from Vermont recently broke the world record in heptathlon (track, hurdles, high jump, pole vault )  for the women’s 80-84 age group in the World Masters Athletics Championships in Lyon, France.

At age 21, Meiler retired from the heptathlon convinced she had done the best she would ever do.

When she turned 41 she started photographing women and men over 60 competing in the heptathlon and decathlon.  It reset her expectations of aging. Amazingly, this month she rejoined the competition with more than 8,ooo athletes from 99 countries.

“You see?” Meiler said. “It’s never too late. I’m 81 years old, and look what I did. I didn’t sit in my rocking chair and say, ‘I got a pain here and a pain there, and I can’t do anything.’ I get out there, and I work out the pain.”


Here are some nytimes viewer comments on this article:

—Last year I ran a 5K and then reviewed the results. The last age category listed was 70+. It won’t be long before those 5 year increments are extended into the 80’s. Hororay for the spirit, it demonstrates that old and very true adage – Mind over Matter!

—-In my mind, my body is still youthful. Seeing the photos of people around my age – I’m 67 – make me think I’ve constructed an image of myself that isn’t true.  Maybe I don’t look as fit or trim as I think I do. What matters more, though, is how I feel about myself, and how much I want to put into life, in any endeavor, rather than watching it go by.

—–While I am still “only” in my 40s, I find these efforts and results far more impressive and interesting than those of current Olympic athletes. So many people give up on themselves and becomes spectators at a young age.

—Only now are we seeing world class athletes transition into masters competition in any numbers. I agree with the person who says these times are impressive. I’ve been a track fan all my life and when I see sprint times run by 70 year olds I have to shake my head and wonder who is more impressive, Olympians or Septuagenarians?

—-It’s inspiring to see articles like this, especially when the realization hits that the years ahead of you may well be shorter than the years behind.

—-If these folks enjoy staying fit, good for them!
But I could care less who wins or what new records are set.

Let’s Hear It From You!

After reading the questions below under the topics “Getting On” and “Redefining Yourself As you Age” this insightful comment came from a retired teacher, age 65, “That is the hardest to deal with, the loss of your old self.  You wonder if you have become obsolete and if you no longer have any value, something that you felt was such a part of you. You feel it is not relevant now. You are just taking up space.”


This straightforward comment lead me to ask you, the readers of this blog, to tell us what you think about these topics. It will open up the blog to one of discussion.

There are many of you reading this blog who are seniors and many who are professionals who work with older adults. You have personal and professional experience that would add a lot to these topics. Considering these serious topics exercises the mind, moves people from one stage of life to the other, and reaffirms a sense of personal identity.

We will all benefit from reading the original perspective from readers of this blog. Just click on ‘Leave A Comment’ and fire away.

“Getting On”


Older people are expected to put on a cheerful front as they age.

For almost everyone, “getting on”in life is complex and slow, involving some bodily waning. We can’t alter this. Reduction in stamina, vigor, resilience and energy can make us feel less useful and incompetent. The process of raising our awareness of physical or mental decline is difficult.  We all want to remain as we had been in our youth, confident and invulnerable. We expect to have a comfortable life while working on what we want to accomplish.

Age-related symptoms often need attention when they become more prominent. In addition to health changes related to aging, major losses like death of one’s friends occur. Social roles change.

We are asked to make trade-offs in functioning that we never anticipated. Instead of denying or ignoring these changes, we need to pay attention to our physical and mental health. This involves recognizing risky health issues, seeking help if necessary, and dealing with whatever remediation is needed. Without permission to talk realistically about health concerns, we may miss an opportunity to be alerted to symptoms that could be caught sooner if identified early.

We need to visualize new approaches to understanding and experiencing late life, gateways that emphasize development in the face of some decline. If we are realistically aware of the various losses that aging brings we become better able to adapt and compensate for them, increasing our enjoyment and satisfaction in late life.

Redefining Yourself as You Age


This group has met monthly for nine years. Our purpose is to investigate aging in late life.  We must bid farewell to our childhood and to our innocence.  We repeat this farewell all our lives in the act of memory.  We remember the past as we create a new present.

In late life, we can do this by talking with other people in our age bracket about how we are experiencing aging.

It is hoped that when older people talk about themselves and their lives with each other it will bring visibility to the real life experience of older adults as told by those of us who are living it.

Up until the past ten years, older adults have had to accept social stereotypes of aging and to measure themselves against that kind of information.  We want to figure out if a vision of an “ageless” old age resembles REAL old age.


In order to look at this, we must document our own changes.  One pattern that the group has developed in order to form an original perspective on what happens when we live in our later years is to investigate our own aging patterns. We ask ourselves these questions.

What does it take to adapt to the inevitable transitions that aging involves?

Have there been incremental changes in your self-perception as you age?

  1. Do you expect yourself to act as you had in the past?
  2. How do you give up the person you have been to adapt to the person you are becoming?
  3. Have you become a person you no longer recognize?
  4. Do you feel the person you had been is now a stranger to you?
  5. Does your perspective on life now include awareness that life will end and you might have a short time left?



A.   Has aging itself been what has influenced the change?

B.  Have other events outside of aging affected a reevaluation in the way you feel or see yourself?

C.  Have you needed to curtail activities due to decreased energy or health problems?

D. Have these changes been gradual or sudden?

E. What have you seen changed in yourself? ?

F. Have comments from friends and family made you aware that your stage of life has changed?

G. Did their reactions affect your basic sense of who you are? How?

H. Has change in your role (worker, parent, grandparent) affected the way you now see yourself?  (grandparenthood, retirement)

I.  If you could re-write your history, would have wanted to have had more preparation in order to foresee the changes in yourself that have now become  more apparent?

J.  Has your central vision about the course of your life changed or widened as you realize that you have changed as you have aged?