Sounds of Two Thousand Seventeen

Sounds of Two Thousand Seventeen

Sounds of Two Thousand Seventeen


Crash, crash, boom, boom, boom. “Should we donate this or does it go in the dumpster?”

To a large degree, 2017 has been about moving. Seventeen years in a home with six children, so much has accumulated. The 30-yard dumpster, standing in the driveway in the old house in Amherst, was filled rather quickly with many items. This is including a grill that broke two weeks prior to our move, and a hot tub that had serviced every achy joint for 17 years, but now had a leak.

Moving a hot tub from the 2nd story deck to a dumpster: “wher wher wher, whoosh, thwump, scree, boom.” Randy sawzalled that thing to pieces, threw them off the deck, dragged them up a ladder, and tipped each piece off the edge and into the dumpster. One phase of life to be hauled away. I took many, many trips to Goodwill. “May I have a receipt?”

Sounds of Two Thousand Seventeen

Randy and I had found a piece of land next to our church. For six months while the house was being built, we were in an apartment in a nearby town. A complex that permits dogs over 30 pounds. Therefore, every person living in Hillsborough County NH who needs to rent and owns a dog lives with us. “Ar roof, ar roof. AR ROOF!” Moses cannot figure out what all these dogs are doing on his property.

Hmmmm. “That one. I like that light. Yes, Me too.” Bang, bang, vip. Nails hammered, paint applied. Much of building a home is decision making and observing. We had weekly trips to Lowes and to New Boston to observe the progress. Ground breaking, foundation pouring, framing, roofing, selecting hinges, doors, paint color. Our process was so much easier than many people describe. We agreed on just about everything and we were in great hands. Our general contractor is an elder in the church, he and our electrician have been part of the church for forever.

Mid-summer on a beautiful Sunday in July, we held my parents memorial service at the little church in Belgrade Lakes. Friends and family traveled from homes on the lake in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Florida and California. Murmured sounds of condolences, of thank you for coming, my parent’s favorite hymns sung—How Great Though Art and Lord You Have Come to the Lakeshore.

Fellowship and fun stories shared afterwards at the house. Memories of two great lives. Feet dipped in the cool water. But for anyone present, the most distinct sound of the day: it stays with me, the sound of the United States flag snapping as the Army National Guard troops prepare to fold it and hand it to my sister in military honors for our father. Taps played.

September 30th, Bend Oregon. Hair dryers blew, dresses zipped, cameras clicked, Florida Georgia Line’s “Holy Holy Holy” played and with glasses clinking we celebrated Lauren’s marriage to Michael LaCroix.

Then, smack in the middle of October, “YAAAAAGH! Yaaagh.” Inside our camp on Belgrade Lakes we heard screams of pain. “Oh no, oh no, oh no,” I say while running to the door. Randy lay outside, on the deck in excruciating pain. Quickly turning grey with shock, we covered him with a blanket and waited for paramedics to arrive. More yells of pain as he was moved to a stretcher and onto the ambulance.

Falling from a ladder after putting the cover on the chimney, one and ½ hours from being closed for the season, Randy fractured his femur in three long pieces, his foot in two places, elbow, wrist, and one vertebrae. The blessings? No hit to his head, no spinal cord injury, friends and family in prayer and in action.

A great orthopedic surgeon in Augusta, Maine! Ten days in a beautiful hospital with a great gift shop. (Randy’s mother has said the best shops are in hospitals!) Kind and concerned visitors. A ramp built into the new house by a loving friend. Recovery continues but Randy has graduated from hospital bed and walker to a cane and swim therapy. “Click, step, step. Click, step, step.”

Our move to the new house was one month after the fall. My responsibilities different than planned, I found myself in Lowes trying to speak a language attached primarily to the Y chromosome. Or at least it felt that way. One moment of feeling defeated was when I could not figure out how to translate “trim kit” to the kind, but ignorant, employee at Lowes who had floated from hardware to plumbing for the day. 45 minutes later I purchased the wrong item. “Arrrgh.” Frustration. Randy solved it from his hospital bed online. My hero! “Yay!” And a kiss. You know the sound.

Our new home sits up on a hill, woods behind it, paddock fencing, old rock walls, and horses across the street and next door. I got up early to walk Moses and all was quiet. I scanned the woods with my flashlight and two sets of eyes peered back at me and Moses.

“Deer?” I moved along the rock wall and the eyes came closer. Not deer! Coyote. “Let’s go Moses! We’ll walk later!” Now, after a month I am no longer afraid of the coyote as we are too big. But we hear them. Coyote howls at night. I’ve heard the scamper of mice on a log, three of them chasing to get undercover. The silence of deer in the backyard, deer running when I walk closer. And we’ve heard of the bear and the moose observed by neighbors. I only get spooked when Moses’ tail goes down suddenly as we walk up the hill through the woods. But all is quiet except the sound of wind in the trees. The sound of peace.

This game of sounds did not start with me. Or with Randy. It started in May at a ranch in Three Rivers, California. We were all together as a family for the first time in twelve years. Fourteen of us. Sounds galore. Feet swishing through dry brush, hiking to the largest trees in the world. Murmured conversations of goals, business ideas, dreams of future trips, invented games of billiards.

Around the table—“Hahhahahaha,” laughter, jokes, pots clanking, spoons scraping, meat on the grill sizzling. Thirteen of us singing happy birthday to one sweet little Reagan. Our granddaughter is two years old! A beautiful sound: Reagan calling, “Hi Juju! Where’s Grandy?” On our trip we sang happy birthday three times because, as Uncle Zach said, three times is a charm, and sweet little hands clapping and eyes twinkling are too precious to resist.

And then the game of sounds. Brought to us by Joe and Tori. “We have a game. See if you can guess what this sound is.” And his cell phone produced the sound. All of us listening intently. Zwhoosh, zwhoosh, zwhoosh, zwhoosh. A train? No. Danny yells, “A baby’s heartbeat!” Yes! Sounds of JOY! Tears, hugs, cheers. New Life. Tori and Joe, having a baby! Baby Quinn joined our family December 13th! We are blessed by this growing family.

Christmas is a celebration of new life. God sent his only son to die for us, so that we would have new life, today and everlasting. It all started in a manger, with a star overhead. Can you hear the hymn? O Holy Night, The Stars are brightly shining.

Take My Hand

Take My Hand

Ten years ago, when he was a senior in high school, my son, Danny called me at work to say he was going to Montana for college.

Take My Hand

Take My Hand


He’d been accepted to Montana State University. Although this wasn’t completely shocking to hear this kind of news in January of my child’s senior year of high school, there was an element of surprise in this case, because I didn’t know he had applied to any colleges at all.

I may sound like an out-of-touch, un-involved mother, this was n’t, and still isn’t, the case. I had encouraged and cajoled Danny for years. From toilet training, to soccer fields, to senior projects, I cheered him on in a continuous manner. I did my share of the expected threatening, rewarding, crying, and celebrating with, and for, Danny. I was there for him.

My parents were there for me too. In so many ways I had a classic, middle class upbringing common to the 1960s and 70s of the television shows. My mother stayed home until it was understood I wanted to go to college and then she took a job as a secretary to supplement my father’s income.

She drove  my sisters and I everywhere we needed to go, sacrificed new clothes for herself so occasionally my sisters and I could have what was in style. We were on a swim team and even went to gymnastics camp for a couple of summers. Like many in my generation, growing up we played outside until the street lights came on and then went in to dinner at 6 pm. We sat together at the table and said grace, and on weekends we had sleepovers.

My husband and I went to visit Danny in Montana in 2007.


It was with Danny that I had my first hot chai latte at a local Bozeman café. It was October and there was a dusting of snow on the local mountain, Bridger Bowl, but not enough to prevent us from doing a little bouldering. Danny talked about a great climb he had with some friends and he wanted to share it with us.

I’m fit and active and third in the line of the three of us, scrambling up a number of huge boulders. Finding the right foot hold and the next place to pull myself up, I felt good and a little excited until I was just shy of the top and I realized I was stuck.

I couldn’t see a way up or down. I don’t like being defeated but I froze thinking about my next move. It was not clear. Stuck and nervous, my heart began to beat faster. I could not make it on my own and began to think about a graceful way out.

Then a hand reached down. A strong hand and a voice I knew, but did not know. My son, Danny, reached down and said “Here Mom, here, take my hand.”

This was not my little boy. Though I watched it happen one year at a time, in my mind’s eye he grew up overnight. I took his hand and he pulled me up, and I realized my boy was stronger than me. The boy I had carried and cared for, could, in one motion, pull me to the top of that rock. Emotionally it still surprises me but intellectually it makes sense. Our children grow up.

In 2013, a year after my mother’s stroke and the onset of vascular dementia, my parents moved from Florida to New Hampshire.


Just 15 minutes from me, I was very involved in their lives. First shopping trips and ice cream outings, then going to all doctor visits so that vital questions were asked and answers remembered.

On 12 different occasions I sat in the emergency room for 7 hours, followed by daily visits to the hospital and rehabilitation. I cheered for increased independence and steps to returning home, eventually, even choosing the right hospice company. These were things we did together.

I encouraged and supported, explained and re-explained. I celebrated a men’s night out for my father and the art projects and spelling bee championships for my mother. My husband took over finances so that my father could sleep at night. Over and over we heard how they did not want to be a burden but how grateful they were for assistance.

I imagine these many moments of having a daughter reach out to say “Here Mom, here Dad, take my hand” caught them by complete  surprise like moment I stood on the top of that boulder, looking at my son.

Knowing how to extend the hand and how to take hold is instrumental in giving and receiving care. A hand too early is unnecessary and rejected, a hand too late may result in falling or turning back without getting to the top. Too little effort in pulling and one may get pulled down, too much and we risk taking away independence and creating a learned helplessness or “excess disability.”

I heard that our children will care for us in the manner we care for our parents. Not long ago, Danny called from California and asked what I was doing. I was sitting in my car at 8:50 pm, outside of a pharmacy, waiting for an on-call doctor at the hospital to fax a prescription for my mother. There was only 10 minutes for this to happen or I ‘d have to wait until morning for medication that was critical to my mother’s immediate health. I joked that Danny should take notes because I expected the same level of care if, and when I need help.

Then comes that image of a hand reaching down.

Things Come In Threes

david dionne

David Dionne

I briefly looked in to the saying “things come in threes.” It is a phrase we go to when something is out of the ordinary, everyday routine of life. We often say this with a bit of fear and trembling if we are early in the set of three, or with a sense of “see, I knew it” if we are on the far side of the triple whammy. I looked at Wikipedia and at English Language and Usage on Stack Exchange to see how old the saying is and if there is any truth in it. Wikipedia had many flags of caution so I moved on and found the following on Stack Exchange:

“The appeal of the trinity in Christianity and other religions, the philosophical triad of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, and even the setup of many jokes seem to stem in part from a natural resonance with the number three. (A priest, a minister and a rabbi go into a bar and …, or a physicist, an engineer and a mathematician are asked how to … .)”

This has been a season of change and loss in my life and there is much emotion to sort out and contend with. In July, after the death of my father, the thought crossed my mind “do these things come in threes”? Since it was the first, I discounted the rule of threes.  Then the second death occurred and the thought appeared again accompanied by prayer that this saying is not true. But when the third death arrived, I actually hoped for some veracity to the saying. With the passing of three people I love, if the saying is true, that these things do come in threes, then I am finished with this season of loss. At least for now.  

My father passed away in July and my mother in October. Wedged between them, in September, was a gentleman who worked for us for a short time and his is the story I want to share now. I am sharing David’s story because I am not quite ready to write about my parents and because David’s story is the story of a small miracle and a big impact.

I only knew David for a few months and even my husband knew him only for a year and a half. Still, we both loved him.

We loved him for his unique brilliance and his unique communication style, which was one of a slow cadence for three or four words, followed by a hurried end to the sentence, often speaking with a sense of irony and self-deprecation. He thought of himself as a large man and often wore a size 42 jacket when in fact he was a size 38. He was the smartest man in the room but you never felt him speak down to anyone. He had a Master’s Degree and for a while in his life he taught at the associate’s level.

We loved him for his gratitude and his ability to champion others, his ability to give his best under difficult circumstances, always somewhat apologetic that what he was giving was not more. Later we found he was a family man, visiting a sister and her children every Sunday and an aunt at least once a week. Another trait to love in him. He was a caring and kind nephew and Uncle.

David happened to be teaching at a local college when things began to fall apart. He described a breakdown.  Whatever the circumstances, he walked away from his job and that meant he lost his apartment. On that day, he packed some belongings and walked away from everything and everyone.

He walked to the airport on a cold day in January, 2015 and spent a month sleeping in the airport garage during the night and staying warm inside during the day. He lost his identification. He lost everything.

After a month, he decided to begin to walk south. Heading to Florida he was able to walk ten or fifteen miles until it began snowing. This was the winter of 2015, the winter of record breaking snow.

David realized he could not go any further so he stepped off the road and was going to lie down to die. But I believe God had another plan because a police officer in a patrol car saw him lying in the snow bank and picked him up. In the emergency room, David was able to identify himself. Had he died, he would have been a John Doe, an unknown person lost to the cold winter.

He reported that they warmed him up and sent him to the rescue mission. And that is where my husband Randy met him. David had entered the disciple program and found a home at the Southern NH Rescue Mission. Every Saturday Randy ran a Bible study there. David asked questions, explored answers, and eventually made a decision to believe. Randy mentored him and they met every Tuesday night.

It was spring of 2016 when Randy suggested bringing David to work for Seniors Helping Seniors. He would continue to live at the rescue mission but come to work every day and manage our training program and quality assurance initiatives. It was an internship and a step towards life outside the mission. It would have been a full time job in January 2017.

David loved his job and it showed. He worked hard and was animated and thoughtful. He was always grateful and kind and caring. He was perfect for the job. At one point, just as my father had passed away, our partners were in Africa on a mission trip, and it was just Randy and David in the office, David said “Randy, I am at the epi-center of your business!” He was happy.

But by August David’s demeanor was different. He began to stare vacantly at his computer screen and his production slowed. He had to be encouraged when he had always been the encourager.

We were worried and, with much convincing, David went to the doctor. Things moved quickly after that visit. David had advanced colon and liver cancer. Ten days after diagnosis he underwent surgery to remove a tumor from his colon but the surgeon could not take any tumors without risking immediate death. David had endured advanced cancer quietly at his desk, never complaining while in severe pain.

David gave the director of the mission permission to reach out to the sister he had not seen in 18 months and his family came to be with him. We went to the ICU that night. David felt relief that his secrets were out. The family who had spent 18 months searching for him was at his side. His brother, a priest in North Carolina received the news and raced to the airport. Landing in Boston, he rented a car and drove to David’s side. Entering the room, he dropped to David’s side and held his hand. This brother turned to hug his other family members, then turned back and David passed away.

David was a family man, a brilliant, caring person who delighted in his return to work and to a life he could believe in. Going in to surgery he shared that he believed that he could rest in God’s love for him. David had faith that he would be ok no matter the outcome. David had peace.  That night, just after surgery in the ICU, David shared that Seniors Helping Seniors had been providing care to his aunt, the woman who he visited each week and had cared for. God saved him in a snow bank, sent him to a mission, and then brought him to work for the very people who had stepped in while he had stepped out. And in the end we all came together in love for David.

To listen to Judy’s radio program that was dedicated to David Dionne, click here.

You’re Invited To Join For A Special Presentation At Hackett Hill Center

Defining What Is and What Is Not Normal Aging Versus Dementia Symptoms

Judy Loubier, Executive Director of Senors Helping Seniors NH & ME, will be giving a presentation at Hackett Hill Center on September 21, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Understanding Normal Aging versus Dementia Symptoms. Judy will inform attendees about what is going on in the brain, the challenges of care, the best approaches to care, the latest research, and will answer any questions the audience has. This is a free event and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.


Special Presentation at Hackett Hill Center


senior buttonsFunny how opening a drawer can make your heart stop. Stumbling on a treasure when you are expecting dust and instead a rattling and a clacking of small items jostling in what was presumed to be an empty drawer, a drawer that has already been opened and emptied. I had pulled out the slightly yellowed camisoles, sorting some to keep, some to send off to Goodwill, some too old to give away and so thrown away. Though even throwing away an old camisole causes a pause because mom wore it in healthier days. But we cannot keep everything and so, into the trash bag with those.
Once emptied the dresser is moved to my home. It won’t fit in the smaller apartment that my mother will now occupy. Life is reduced now to one room. So, though not really my style, my mother’s dresser comes to my bedroom, replacing an older and cheaper bureau that I have used. This new, used one of my mother’s is better. In my mother’s words, it is “good furniture so don’t just throw it away.” As I get used to it I realize the benefit of my mother’s wisdom. More drawers, more space for my t-shirts, shorts, turtlenecks, lingerie.
After the dresser is moved into my room, the drawers are opened and I begin filling each drawer with my things. And then the sound and the discovery. The noise from the back of the left hand middle drawer that had been home to mom’s camisoles. It is buttons. Lots of buttons. Many are plain and typical and indistinct. Black, navy, brown, round. But a few stand out and I recognize them.
Downsizing, now called rightsizing, is a daunting task. At a quick glance, our parent’s things seem outdated and undesired. Though there are the obvious items that have been passed down from great-grandparents that will be saved. We know the stories and we share them with our children. A collection of Hummels sent from Germany to my grandmother while my father was stationed there during the Korean conflict. There was an expectation that Hummels will one day be valuable though now even originals are sold in consignment stores for $30. Another item, a porcelain bowl from Sweden, crossing the Atlantic three times. The first time my great-grandfather brought a wife, a baby and the bowl, arriving in America at the end of the nineteenth century. Then bowl and baby and great-grandfather went back to Sweden after that wife succumbed to influenza. Finally this family returned to American soil, new wife, husband, baby and bowl settling in Massachusetts, my father to be born 2 generations later, growing up assuming that a bowl that crossed the Atlantic three times must be worth something.
There are a few pieces of antique furniture that need to find a place in our home. Again, the stories that surround these pieces are too rich with our own history and so I can’t relinquish them just yet. My grandfather gave my grandmother the tea cart as a wedding gift in 1926 and I can recall just where it stood in the dining room of their home.
These are the things we expect to notice when rightsizing. Not buttons. But I know these buttons. I can close my eyes and see my mother in a blue dress. I can see her smile when her children tell her she looks beautiful. The gold round buttons with the swirling design stand out against the blue and she touches them at her wrist, pleased to be noticed by children who are captivated. Is this really mom?
I touch these buttons now. They sit on top of my new, hand-me-down dresser and I can’t move them. I want to see them each day because I can instantly see the healthy and active mom. The mom dressed up and going out. I don’t believe these buttons will get handed down but they are not going anywhere for a while.
It is this approach that creates a challenge for the sons and daughters who are helping to find a way to squeeze into smaller space or to clean out after a passing away. We have a need to touch their things, to read old cards, to look through each picture. This gives us an opportunity to reflect on the lives of those that were the start of our own story. It wasn’t that my mother was a secretary and raised 4 girls. It was that she was pretty and sometimes she dressed up and went out on a date with my father, and buttons somehow bring me back there.
We will right size and make decisions about donations of clothes to a homeless shelter, furniture to Goodwill or Habitat for Humanity, and pictures, jewelry and Hummels will be dispersed to various family members. Who knows about the buttons? My daughter visited recently from San Diego and admired the new dresser in my room that used to be her grandmother’s, then asked “What’s with the buttons mom?” I explained and she said, “Don’t get rid of those, okay?”

One More Trip

seniors one more trip

We grew up fortunate enough to have a place to go in the summer, a somewhat remote cabin on a lake in Maine. Land purchased in 1940, by a grandfather I never met. The camp was built in 1960 by my father and his brothers. Without a road to the house, the materials were brought across the ice in the winter, and over the water in the summer. In fact, I have a vague recollection of a picture with large horses pulling a sled of wood across the ice. Am I imagining this? I will have to dig through the old albums and see.

There are so many memories of summers in Maine, and they begin in White Plains, New York, where my youngest sister, Kathy, would squeeze in with the cat carrier and luggage in the way back” of our Ford Country Squire. There was always a brief discussion between Cindy, Nancy and myself on seating arrangements, but generally Nancy and I had “called” the windows first, so Cindy would take “the hump” seat in the middle. Seat belts were not a requirement, so a fair amount of movement occurred during the long and tiresome drive north.

The 364 miles through Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire felt endless, but I know now, in my 50s, that it was longer for my mom and dad. The drop in temperature as we stretched our legs at a rest stop in Maine was a welcome change. It meant we were closer to the camp. The air was different there. In my mind, there was always a breeze that did not exist in White Plains. We would reach for sweaters and dance a little, as kids will do when excited, a kind of one, two, step hop, hop.

Once we arrived in Belgrade Lakes our house was only accessible by boat. If our trip had gone according to plan, we would arrive and park behind the country store just before dusk. We took extra care to keep our voices low. The store keepers lived above the store in those days, and we wouldn’t want to wake their children. My mother would corral us down by the water, as my father unlocked and removed the chain from our Aluma-Craft fishing boat, dragging it to the water. Once the motor was secured, we were given our life vests, big orange life preservers that felt designed to choke you to death. The sun would have set by this time, and one of us would sit quietly in the front, holding a flashlight, so we could find our way to our cabin across the lake. The night was cold, quiet and still.

Our camp was tucked in the woods surrounding the lake, without another home in sight. We had a wood burning stove in the living room, and would often help my father fill the wood box. The camp is largely the same as it was back then. We still have the wood box; still light the wood stove on cold mornings. There is no electricity, even today, and no ceiling, just open rafters that hold giant lobster pots and a child’s crib. Our stove and refrigerator are powered by propane. Kerosene lamps adorn tables, and propane lights help to warm the rooms. 

The lamps are seldom used today, but when I was young there’d be one on each dresser, and often one placed in a pot as a nightlight in the center of the kitchen table, so we could find our way to the outhouse. The pot was to prevent the cat from burning the place down while we slept. The nightlight was not necessary for my sisters and I however, the last place we were going in the pitch dark was the outhouse. Morning would come soon enough.

Long Pond is the lake where we learned to swim and to water ski, to understand the call of the loons and to identify their eggs. We fished with our dad. He would take us to the spring for a drink of ice cold water, to give our mother a few minutes reprieve. He would pull the water out of the spring with a small, dented pot and use a funnel to pour it into a jug, but if we were good, we got a drink right from that pot. As we grew older, we would take the walk on our own, when getting the water became a part of our daily chores .

We played in the woods; we played at the edge of the water on the rocks. We took boat rides to find wild moose, and to see the fireworks on July 4th. We sat by the fire pit outside, to watch my father make pancakes on the cast iron griddle in the morning, and to roast marshmallows in the evening.

There are memories of a first kiss; a first love from next door; my parents, anxious about our young hearts and revealing bikinis.

I have so many memories of time spent in Maine, and they seem to revolve around us as kids. My sisters, cousins, and friends; the crazy games we would play; the shows we’d put on.

There were years in between then and now, when my sisters and I brought our children, and they were the ones learning to swim, and waterski, and drive the boats. They’d put on shows with singing and dancing, make huts in the woods and cook marshmallows for s’mores. This is a kids place.

But I can search my memory and see my mom and dad there. I can hear the chain saw and smell the wood being cut. I can see my dad waterskiing once a year, even placing the handle between his knees and skiing with no hands to impress us kids. I can see us on Blueberry Island, picking blueberries with my mom. I can hear her giving us the credit for blueberry pancakes, though she’d done all of the picking while we were off exploring. And I can see my mom on the raft with my aunts, laughing, and lifting the anchor and floating down the lake. Her smile was big and her eyes were dancing.

My parents returned for two summers after my mother’s stroke. The first year she walked slowly, with a walker and two of us helping, side by side. But she stepped on to the pontoon boat and took a ride with us in the evening. Sometimes asking whose lake is this?”

Ten months later, when we had opened the camp for another season, my mom was carried down to the lake in her wheelchair and rode just behind the captain’s seat and my father’s left shoulder. Most of that summer she would remain in the house, sitting in her wicker chair, facing a picture window that looks down to the lake; a far-away look in her eyes. I’d find myself wondering, does she still hear the laughter of her four young girls? Of her grandchildren over the years? Does she see us playing in the woods or jumping off of the raft? Is she cheering us on as we waterski? Is she considering floating away on the raft again, her own laughter filling the crisp Maine air?

My mother has dementia now, and my father has congestive heart failure. He can’t tinker outside anymore. His full time use of oxygen means he can’t be near the propane lights that are used in every room. This will be the first year that he won’t go to Maine since 1956. This is his choice. I think he feels too helpless. He has always been fiercely independent and nowhere more than at the camp is he aware of his newfound reliance on others.

But my dad wants us to take mom for one more trip to the camp. Maybe he sees that beauty in her bathingsuit, laughing on the raft. Maybe he knows she is more at home there than anywhere. Maybe he just loves her so much he wants her to hear the call of the loons, and the kids and grandkids laughing together. I think he knows when she sits in her window it all comes back and it is good. One more trip. We’ll take it.


Empty Nest Thanksgiving

Last night I was busy with laundry and bed making. Bed making in a room that no child lives in any more but has now become a guest room. As I lifted the corner of the mattress to straighten the bed skirt, pulled the fitted sheet into place and turned down the top sheet over the new plush and super soft blanket, I reflected that this must be an action my mother performed many times. Immediate family grown and out of the house, extended family coming to stay in bedrooms previously reserved for children. Holiday preparations in a nearly empty home.

I believe there was a time when I envied my parents: the sanity of retirement, a home quiet and peaceful. The envy of course came in the midst of our own chaos. Those years when you realize that despite spending hundreds of dollars in the grocery store, days cleaning and doing laundry, and countless hours cooking, all in preparation for one big turkey dinner, that yes, it is still necessary to feed your children the night before Thanksgiving too. One giant meal cannot sustain a family just in thought and anticipation as leftovers can, with any luck, sustain for at least a few lunches and one extra dinner after Thanksgiving. That chaos is where the thought of a quiet home resides.

But now I understand an emptiness that is more than a quiet house. It is a knowledge that this is truly a different time, a different phase in parenting. It sneaks up on us even when we are completely aware that the last one is graduating and going away to school. This information moves from the head of a mother to the heart of a mother and sticks there, like something caught in the throat. How did this happen?

I have often thought about not remembering the last time I carried my children up to bed. You know that night when they are really too old to be carried, but for fun you carry him/her up anyway. And you are both happy about it because it feels good to be carried and to carry. And then, you look back and you can’t recall that last time. They are suddenly bigger and no longer are you strong enough to physically carry your child. I love who my adult children have become but sometimes i just want to carry them once more.

As I speak with the older adults that we serve it seems to be the same sense of recognizing change across a lifetime. Fully knowing and yet not believing things are changing until something little, like making up a bed in an empty room still decorated with a few old high school pictures and favorite books causes a pause. Like being two places at once, in my mother’s shoes and in my own home. Many of those in their eighties and nineties remark how each year goes faster, how few of the friends are left, how they are the last of five or six or seven children. At moments when we talk they reflect on the times when their home was bustling, or they share a story of the family life they experienced as a child. It is not a new idea, that times change but it still hits us like a revelation once in a while.

Now, at this Thanksgiving time these elders will be collected by an adult child or grandchild, taken away to be part of the day of celebrating family. Instead of making the tradition they are invited to take part in new traditions. And again I am in two places at once. In my home in New York at 13 years old, watching mom get the best silver and her wedding china out so that I can help set the table, and I am in her home in Florida watching in my mind’s eye her preparation for a Thanksgiving without family filling her home but instead a visit to a friend’s home.

Today I am thankful for parents who let us grow into our own traditions, who, like many we serve, moved and changed with the times. I am thankful for past memories of Thanksgivings shared by changing family scenes over a 50 year period, perspectives of times in a busy home and an empty nest. I am thankful as my children move into adulthood and create their own traditions. I am thankful too for the prospect of grandchildren filling my home again with noise, and bustle, and loving chaos.

Vision and Aging

elderly visionThis fall I have discovered that my eyes are aging. This was revealed to me in a moment during pre-dawn walk.

In a previous post I mentioned my early morning walking routine with our dog, Moses. Now that the sun is rising a little later, getting ready for the walk takes a bit longer because it is colder and darker in the mornings. I have a method of determining how many layers I need based on 10 degree increments of temperature. 5:30 am in the New Hampshire autumn means a t-shirt, sweat shirt and light jacket. The pre-dawn light also means that Moses wears a reflector vest and I am adorned with a reflector belt and a head lamp. It is important to see and be seen.

Moses and I are frequently joined by our cat, Simon, who leaves the house with us and waits safely in the field down the street while Moses and I traipse past homes with barking dogs, canines either envious of our outdoor time or defending their territory. Regardless of the reason, Simon waits quietly out of their range until we make our loop and return to cross the field.

On this grey morning when my eyes betrayed me I returned to the field to find Simon waiting. He really is a cute black cat and so faithful to his family so I called to him. “Here kitty, kitty, kitty. Here Simon” Nothing. Simon just sat there. Again “here Simon, here kitty.” Still no movement at all. And as I approached it became apparent. This was not my cat, I was calling to a basketball.

My first thought: “how lucky for me that none of my children are here to witness this gaff of the aging eyes. They would have rolled on the dew dampened grass, laughing and committing to memory the moment mom called a basketball kitty. It is always so good to be a source of laughter for your children.

But my next thought: this would not have happened 5 years ago. Not even in the pre-dawn light would I have made a mistake like this because the truth is, I was just 12 inches from the ball before I realized it would not be meowing and rubbing against my legs.

At 53 my eyes are aging. My glasses are progressives and transitions because I need them for far and near and changing light. Many vision changes occur as we age, primarily and commonly starting with farsightedness when we get north of 40 years of age. Also called presbyopia, this is a normal vision change and is a result of a loss of flexibility in the lens in our eye. The lens is responsible for bending light as it enters the eye to focus it on the retina.

Later change to the lens includes a yellowing which results in distorted color vision. In particular, cool colors of blue, green and violet are filtered out. Looking at a painting or an object set on a table, an item similar in color to its backdrop may be difficult to discriminate. Yellow, red and orange are seen more readily and contrasting colors assist in discriminating object from background.

Between 60 and 70 the lens will begin to become opaque and less light will reach the back of our eye where photoreceptor nerve cells convert the light into electrical impulses to send to the brain. Functionally this means that we will require more light as we age.

Our pupils are designed to open to allow more light in and close in the face of bright light to diminish bright light. As we age this response slows and our pupils do not react quickly to changing light conditions. The classic scenario is one of oncoming traffic at night. Younger eyes will adjust quickly and the lights of the car coming towards us will not pose any difficulty. As our pupils’ reaction time slows we are briefly blinded by the light of the oncoming traffic. By the time our pupils narrow, the car has passed and we are again in the dark.

These are normal vision changes in aging eyes but they will have an impact on aspects of our day to day functioning, first in minor ways when our clothing choices may be just slightly off in color matching or our appreciation for art may miss the finer details, and then in the time of night we feel we need to be back at home. Or, in low morning light when we find we are calling to an inanimate object that we believe to be a faithful pet!

Technology and Caring for Seniors

Tori and Joe Wedding SHS

On Labor Day my step –daughter married the man of her dreams and I have never seen her so happy. She was a vision in a beaded dress with a plunging back and a crown of white roses and eucalyptus on her head. We were blessed to be part of this event and to share it with so many family members and friends. But San Diego is a long way from home for us New Englanders.

As small as this world we live in is, it can feel immense when someone you love has a special event far away.

Boston to San Diego is a mere 2584 miles by airplane and 2999.61 by car if taking a route through New York and Ohio. Of course if you are going to drive there are many great things to see on the way and you can choose a southern route and see White Sands National Park in New Mexico and the Grand Canyon in Arizona, or a northern route and stop in at Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone Park.

But these types of driving trips are for those just out of school or just into retirement. For the most part, we fly across country and this is especially true if there is an event to attend. Most of us do not have an abundance of time on our hands so we take to flying the friendly skies.

However if age and medical concerns ground you, being stuck on the east coast while your very first grand-daughter says “I do” can be heart-breaking. When it became clear that the right venue for this wedding was down the street from the betrothed home on Mission Bay in San Diego, tears were shed by grandparents in Boston.

Thankfully we live in an age of easy access to technology and we have the means to connect from across the country. We can share a wedding in real time via technology that creates a sense of being present at the big event. I found that we are not the only ones using today’s electronic companionship, one guest reported he talks regularly with his 96 year old mother via Skype.

For this wedding it was Face Time and it was used to the fullest extent. I am convinced that Big G Mama and Blue Genes (the kid’s names for their grandparents, coined when our children were in their teens) were more involved and engaged in this wedding while sitting in their home in New England than had they been dancing in the Golden State.

They “facetimed” during the rehearsal dinner, while the bride got her manicure and pedicure, while she had her hair done and after she put her dress on. They saw the entire ceremony from the front row, and experienced the first dance. They heard the toast and were passed around from table to table to say hello to family and friends. They rocked this wedding and they were full of the joy of the love that a grandparent has for their grandchild.

It is important as we care for aging family members that we understand their desire and in fact, their need to stay connected to family. We cannot rule out technology as a means to make that happen. For the wedding it took a number of practice runs in the week leading to the wedding to be certain it would go without a hitch on the big day. But the technology that my husband set up and taught, worked. Grandparents were present for the celebration.

As a new grandmother myself, I am now experiencing the wonder of Facetime and I think my 3month old granddaughter is figuring out how much I love her, even from across the miles. Not quite a hug and a snuggle but enough to satisfy until I can go visit.