Category Archives: Aging

May The Force Be With You

The well known statement from “Star Wars” that serves as the title for this piece has of late developed special meaning for me. Perhaps I am still under the emotional overhang of my father’s recent passing, but the ease by which he passed has meaning for me. Dad died at the age of 96-years peacefully and in his sleep. His force to live diminished in his final months to a point where he was no longer walking, then no longer chewing, and then even refusing to swallow liquid supplements. His life force slowly ebbed away.

Dad (John Howard Hutton) when his life force was strong

In juxtaposition with Dad’s dying process has been my observation of an unfortunate, recently born calf on our ranch. Now I am in no way equating the value of the two lives, only making a comparison of their life forces.

Newest bottle calf being fed by Trudy with his good-for-nothing, calf-stomping mother looking on

The calf was refused milk by his mother for reasons unknown. Not only that but she kicked the calf nearly to unconsciousness when he tried to nurse. Later the mother calf became spooked and backed up, stomping her calf. Frankly I thought she had killed it.

Nevertheless, the following morning the previous “calf carcass” took a full bottle of milk. What a surprise! He’s not developed normally but is still making slow progress. He has a left front leg injury, one of the several spots where his mother stepped on him. Our newest bottle calf refused to die and continues to gain weight and hobbles about to a limited degree. I sometimes have to provide extra lift for the calf for him to get onto his four wobbly legs. As he grows, this may become a serious problem.

Given his miraculous survival, we refer to him as Phoenix. He rose off the pasture where he was near death and now greets Trudy and me with his long eyelashes for which Madonna would be envious, lovely dark eyes, and enthusiastic sucking at the milk bottle that sustains his life.

Mythological Phoenix

He still is not guaranteed survival. It seems his legs are too weak at times to get him up or possibly too painful. His walking is unsteady and wobbly and Phoenix tends to fall on uneven ground.

Nevertheless, Phoenix possesses a strong life force. I suppose this has to do with his young age and strong survival instincts. Regarding my Father, I cannot help but believe that after 96-years and having lived a full life that his life force had diminished down to nothing.

Grandson Graham earlier today feeding a somewhat older Phoenix

I recall the answer my grandmother gave when I asked her as a child what it was like to get old. She said, “Tommy, you just get tired.” I think she was right. Increasing fatigue accompanies age and illness. In my experience as a physician, folks just kind of give up at some point and are ready to die. Age seems to have a lot to do with it.

In my recently published book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales I tell the story of a little girl with Reye’s Syndrome who by all accounts should have died. Despite an absolutely horrible prognosis she lived and thrived. I believe her young age had much to do with her survival. The force was with her.

To my readers, “May the force be with you,” by which I imply continued strong life forces and may you enjoy vital life in the years ahead.

John Howard Hutton- In Memorium

I’ve been overwhelmed by the emails and card expressing condolences regarding my Dad’s recent death. These expressions of sympathy have helped and I thank you. Below I offer a bio that I wrote, much like what I published six months ago for my mother. I hope this might interest to some of you. I will soon return to more traditional topics for Views From Medicine Spirit Ranch.

The Life Journey of
John Howard Hutton
April 11, 1921 – June 14, 2017

     Howard Hutton, the only child of John Francis Hutton and Kate Frances (Lincoln) Hutton, began his life’s journey April 11, 1921 at his grandparent Lincoln’s home in Liberty, Missouri. He was two months premature and at birth weighed a mere three pounds. Howard was not expected to survive, being even too small for a crib. His parents instead bedded him down in a shoe box.

Howard later relished telling the story of how the local doctor, to stimulate his tiny heart, placed a few drops of whiskey into his mouth; an occurrence, he later claimed, that led to his fondness for distilled spirits.

When asked as a small child to introduce himself, he would respond, “Hoppy Hutton, three years old,” an endearing affectation to be sure, but actually resulting from his difficulty pronouncing his given name. The family moved to Kansas City, Missouri where Howard attended Central High School and where he was a good student. He also sang in the high school choir. Howard was an affable youth who enjoyed riding his bicycle and interacting with the teen and young adult group at the First Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo. It was there he met his future wife, Adele Catherine Greenway.

Following high school Howard attended Kansas City Junior College. Howard and Adele shared a backseat in a carpool for KCJC and became better acquainted. Soon after they began to date.

Howard’s life journey then took him to the University of Missouri in Columbia where he studied Criminal Justice and Sociology. Adele followed the following year. Toward the end of the fall semester of Howard’s senior year, his plans to enter the field of criminology suddenly changed when on December 7, 1941 Japanese military forces attacked Pearl Harbor. This event rattled the structure of daily lives, altering myriad life journeys.

Following the dastardly sneak attack, Howard was filled with outrage and patriotic fervor. He joined the military, choosing the U.S. Army Air Forces. Howard found the idea of flying airplanes extraordinarily appealing.

The following May, he officially entered the U.S. Army Air Forces. His love for Adele amidst an uncertain and shifting world stage prompted him to hasten his marital plans. Howard proposed marriage to his “Chipper” who was then completing her junior year at MU. Adele accepted and they married June 20, 1942. Adele skipped her promising senior year of college to trail Howard to various military bases about the country. Such was her dedication and love for Howard that she chose to join together their life journeys. Both Howard and Adele considerably broadened their view of the world by living in multiple communities from California to the Gulf Coast and from Texas to the Dakotas.

Howard’s service during World War II consisted mainly of being an instructor pilot. How many of his trainees went on to demonstrate bravery and heroism in European and Asian action is unknown. How many of his trainees gave their country what in Abraham Lincoln’s words were “their last true measure of devotion” is also unknown. Nevertheless, Howard helped to weed out those unfit for flying and less likely to survive, and to train, to his best of his ability, those who went on to fight in the air battles of World War II. His good nature and boundless patience served him well throughout his assignment to the pilot training program.

His military journeys for initial flight training took him to Santa Anna, California and for primary basic training to Gardner Field in Taft, California. While in Taft, his daughter, Joan Adele was born March 1, 1944. He then took advanced training at Luke Field at Phoenix, Arizona and had many other military postings.

Howard requested transfer to B-29s, believing the massive, long-range bomber would play a pivotal role in concluding the war with Japan. He wished to contribute to achieving victory in World War II in a more direct way than via pilot training. He took his training in B-29’s most likely at Gulfport Mississippi, but was also stationed at Roswell, New Mexico, another B-29 training base.

As an aside, during training for the B-29, Howard and crew flew gunnery practice for fighters in which they would trail a target for the fighters to shoot at. He recalled receiving a request to slow up his greater than 350 mile per hour B-29 Superfortress that was powered by four Wright 3350 turbocharged engines generating 2200 horsepower, as the fighters couldn’t even catch him, much less hit the target. Whenever Howard related this story, he did so with a broad smile on his face.

Despite strategic losses in 1943 and 1944, the Imperial Japanese forces refused to capitulate. The U.S. Air Forces commanded by General Hap Arnold had tried to bomb Japan into submission with high altitude daytime bombing raids. This approach had proven largely ineffective.

Under the leadership of General Curtis Lemay, low altitude and incendiary night bombing began and wreaked a fiery havoc on the largely wooden Japanese cities. It also led to a greater loss of the B-29 bombers and their crews due to their vulnerability at low altitudes to anti-aircraft fire. More pilots and crews were needed to continue the air onslaught.

Following a prolonged B-29 bombing campaign, General Douglas MacArthur championed a straight up invasion plan (Operation Olympic), consisting of first attacking the southernmost Japanese home island, Kyushu. But rather than the 80 thousand defenders anticipated, Japan had in place nine divisions comprising some half million, well dug in defenders. Japan also held back over 900 hidden aircraft for suicide missions along with providing training for terrestrial kamikazes and for the piloting of suicide boats. The American invasion plan would likely have resulted in up to a million American casualties.

In 1945 large numbers of the technically advanced, long range B-29 Superfortresses began rolling off the Boeing production lines. The B-29 was the most expensive military project of World War II (even greater than the Manhattan project).

Production of the highly advanced B-29s had proved difficult due to the need for many technical changes. The airplanes were known to go directly from the production plants to the modification plants.
By the end of 1944 Boeing had delivered only 100 B29s of which only fifteen proved airworthy. Moreover, the initial losses of these bombers and their crews were high due to mechanical malfunctions, fires, and mission losses.

Following heavy bomber training in 1945, Howard and crew transferred to a military base in North Dakota for a final shakedown. About this time Howard ran into a thorny staffing problem with one of his crew that greatly perplexed him. Something simply did not click with the assigned co-pilot such that Howard made the difficult decision to remove him from the crew. Howard disliked having to take this action, but did so in the interest of crew cohesiveness. He then added a more capable and cooperative co-pilot to the crew. The eleven-man crew then worked together well. As a final humanizing gesture, Howard named his flying ship, the Kansas City Kate, in honor of his beloved mother.

The high-spirited and well-prepared crew of the Kansas City Kate finally received their departure orders for Tinian, a small island in the South Pacific to join in the bombing campaign of Japan. They packed items not destined to go overseas and shipped their boxes home.

As they prepared for their overseas journey, something unexpected occurred. Another B-29, the Enola Gay, based at Tinian and piloted by Colonel Paul W. Tibbits, dropped an A-bomb (Little Boy) on Hiroshima. This was followed three days later by the B-29 Bockscar, piloted by Major Charles W. Sweeney, dropping a plutonium bomb (Fat Man) on Nagasaki.

President Harry Truman from Independence, Missouri, not far from where Howard had been born, had ordered the dropping of the atom bombs. He did this to save countless American lives and in the hope of avoiding the calamity of having to invade Japan. One of the lives he saved may have been that of a young First Lieutenant B-29 pilot who hailed from nearby Liberty and Kansas City, Missouri.

Shortly after the dropping of the atom bombs, the Imperial forces of Japan surrendered. Howard in mock bravado offered an alternative explanation for the Japanese surrender, in which he claimed, “They heard I was coming and decided it was time to give up.”

After the Japanese surrender the U.S. military services began to reduce their ranks and Howard mustered out. Howard’s next journey returned him to Kansas City, Missouri. No doubt any disappointment at not having shipped out for the South Pacific was more than offset by his joy of going home. Not long after his homecoming his second child, John Thomas Hutton, was born December 26, 1945.

Howard likely pondered resuming a career in Criminal Justice as this was his original career plan, but the flying bug had bitten him badly. Unable to immediately obtain a job as a pilot, Howard supported his growing family by working as a postal employee and by selling lamps as a traveling salesman. He thought of himself as a poor salesman, his honesty and truthfulness reducing the effectiveness of his sales pitch.

Trans World Airlines (TWA) hired him only to furlough him during a downturn. Mid-continent Airlines, based in Kansas City, then hired Howard. It merged in 1952 with Braniff Airlines. Only then did Howard’s career as a pilot become assured.

Given the shortage of housing units following the war, Howard and Adele initially lived with Adele’s parents (Grace and Charley Corp), and Adele’s sister, Grace, and her husband, Verd Schwarz. The stone and brick house on Benton Boulevard was crowded, boisterous, and loving.

Howard eventually moved his family to a new veterans housing development in Kansas City that offered greater room and privacy. The family promptly and aptly dubbed the new development, “Mud Hill,” as no grass existed in any of the yards.

The family continued to expand with the births of David Howard on September 7, 1950, and James Philip on January 28, 1954, both in Kansas City. The family relocated from “Mud Hill” to a new planned J. C. Nichols development, in Prairie Village, Kansas. The development had meandering streets, large lots, big setbacks from the street, and provided ample public art and decorative fountains. This represented one of the first planned communities in the United States and the philosophy underlying it influenced such communities as Beverly Hills and Westwood in Los Angeles, and Highland Park and River Oaks in Texas.

Howard commuted to the airport in Kansas City, Missouri while his family attended school and settled in among the rolling hills of Kansas’s suburbia. A common site on Canterbury Road was Howard running, huffing and puffing, behind bicycles while teaching his children how to ride. Again his ability to train was evident.

In 1957 Howard realized in order to advance or perhaps even to maintain his career, he would need to relocate to Braniff’s home base in Dallas, Texas. He knew the magnitude of Adele’s sacrifice by leaving behind her extended family for the unknown terrain of north Texas. Nevertheless, his very career required he undertake this new journey. With effort and careful planning, Howard paved the way for his family, built a new brick home in Richardson, and moved his family during the summer of 1957.

Grace Schwarz, Adele’s sister, had a proud saying about the family’s attitude, “While our family might not have the millions, it still has the airs! “

Never was this truer than when the Hutton family arrived in Dallas during a terrifically hot summer. The family soon learned that Texas cars had the luxury of air conditioning, whereas their blue 1950 Buick Special did not. At Joan’s urging and with Howard’s acquiescence, the family would roll up their car windows and steam down Central Expressway or across Texas highways, acting to the passing cars, as if it were frosty cold inside. It’s surprising that young Jimmy survived this over-heated act of Hutton hubris.

The growing family created increased financial needs. To his credit but adding substantially to his sleep deficit, Howard routinely bid night flights because they paid more. He proved to be an excellent provider for “The Hungry Hutton’s” as he often referred to his family.

Howard was able to rear four children and pay for four bachelor degrees, a master’s degree, two medical degrees, and still was able to take his wife on many exciting trips about the world. Howard and Adele journeyed to pre-revolutionary Cuba, Europe multiple times, to the Soviet Union, to Egypt, to many South American countries, to the Caribbean, Hawaii, Japan, Korea, and Thailand among others.

Howard had few hobbies except boating, but he always possessed a high energy level. He used this attribute for extensive yard work, making additions to the house, volunteering in the schools, and assisting with his children’s recreational activities. Howard taught all four children to drive. During these risky ventures, his patience and even-tempered nature likely reflected his experience in the Army Air Forces Training Command when training even riskier novice pilots and at much greater speeds.

Howard also served as Asst. Scout Master, as an elder at First Presbyterian Church of Richardson, and supported a mission of the local Methodist Church to sponsor a recently arrived Vietnamese family. Howard taught the father how to drive a car. No doubt the Vietnamese man learned to corner with the wide, sweeping airplane-like turns characteristic of all who learned their driving skills from Howard. He also stocked shelves for a time at the Richardson Food Pantry.

In his career as a commercial Braniff pilot alone, Howard ably logged an incredible 26,942 flying hours and covered an estimated distance of 8,108,260 miles! To put this in perspective, he flew the equivalent of over 824 times around the circumference of the earth or over 27 round trips between the earth and the moon. What a journey!

Howard flew thirty-two years for Braniff International during which he piloted the following commercial aircraft: DC-3, BAC 1-11, DC-6, DC-7, DC-8, Convair 240, 340 and 440, Martin 404, Lockheed Electra L-188, Boeing 720, 727, 707, and the Boeing 747. He retired as an international captain flying the jumbo 747 to Asia and Hawaii. He was always at his best and proudest when he put on his snappy blue pilot’s uniform and donned his pilot’s cap ablaze with gold captain’s braid.

Howard retired at the mandated age of 60 and lived for the next 30 years in Richardson, Texas. He was asked decades after his retirement if he still dreamed of flying. His honest, heartfelt, and emphatic answer was, “every night!” No longer able to fly commercially, Howard continued his air journeys in his dreams.

He was serving as President of the Braniff Retired Pilots Association when Braniff International entered bankruptcy. He sacrificed much  time for his fellow pilots with long hours of uncompensated service, fighting to save their pensions. His efforts finally culminated in his testifying before the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, where his arguments proved partially successful.

Perhaps Howard Hutton’s most prominent personality characteristic was his amiability. He wanted to be liked and he liked other people. The writer of this bio cannot recall ever seeing his father truly angry. This emotional steadiness contributed to his success as a pilot and to his ability to get along with virtually anyone.

Due to failing health and advanced age, Howard and Adele in 2010 made a final move from Richardson to Athens, Texas and he entered South Place Nursing Home near the home of daughter, Joan.

In November 2016 with Adele’s earthly journey completed, she preceded Howard in death at the ripe old age of 95. On June 15, 2017 Howard died peacefully in his sleep at age 96, leaving behind his children; Joan, Tom, David, and Jim and his grandchildren; Jeff King, Heather King, Andy Hutton, Katie Hutton O’Neal, Christopher Hutton (deceased), Elizabeth Hutton, Margot Hutton, and Jessica Hutton. He also left behind former colleagues and friends. Howard, you shall be missed.

On June 15, 2017 Howard embarked on his final journey that is beyond all human comprehension. To paraphrase the poem “High Flight,” Howard slipped the surly bonds of earth for the last time and in smooth air, with the wind at his back flew toward the setting sun for his final flight west and… to touch the face of God.

Dog Lessons On Living- Part 2

In my previous post I dealt with how two dogs modeled how to deal with serious illness and impending death. The two examples were from our current Border collie, Buddy, and our long deceased Shetland sheep dog (Sheltie), Taffy. Their love of life and passion for their favorite activities persisted despite their physical challenges.

If we abandon the arrogant notion that humans are somehow completely different from other animals and instead recognize our common genetics, anatomy, physiology, needs, and behaviors, then animal behavior can become a potential assist for our lives.

I am reminded of a story from my recent book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales about Mary from Minnesota. This story, like many others in the concluding chapter of my book, took place aboard a fictitious cruise ship and demonstrated great perseverance of some physically handicapped folks in the face of adversity. The very real members of a group that Trudy and I accompanied had been organized by a national Parkinson’s Disease organization. Despite Mary’s advanced disease requiring  her to have a feeding tube, tracheostomy, urinary catheter, wheelchair, and and full-time attendant, she had demanded to go on the cruise.

Unfortunately Mary didn’t make it and passed away during the cruise. When speaking that evening by phone to her daughter in far away Minnesota, I learned to my surprise that the family had  expected Mary to die on the cruise. After recovering from my shock, I further learned that Mary had a lifelong habit of taking on great challenges. Despite her failing health Mary in recent years had undertaken skydiving, ridden a burro down into the Grand Canyon, and been strapped to a dogsled in Alaska. Mary refused to give in to her illness nor would she be prevented from trying new, exciting, and life changing thrills.

From Sailaway Chapter of Carrying The Black Bag

While Mary was only one of our passengers with Parkinson’s disease, all of them despite their balance issues dealt with the swaying of the deck and with the many challenges of shore excursions and beach activities. They also managed the dietary differences that at times limited the effectiveness of their medicines. None of these brave people shied away from the challenging experience, showing their zest for life and denying their illnesses control over their lives.

Now I know not all people with PD would make such a challenging journey. Indeed life is like a marathon and all of us hit the wall at times. Some persist and break through the wall while others are unable to do so.

Health and vibrant aging can be such a gift but persistence is also demanded

Both Buddy our Border collie, Taffy our Sheltie, and Mary refused to give in. All lived their lives to the greatest extent possible. I don’t know where Mary derived her zest for life, but she might have witnessed it in her pet. For whatever reason, Mary had learned to live her life as fully as she possibly could, believing that the quality of her life was more important than the number of days she lived.

Therein may lie a lesson for us all. Our challenge may be to garner as rich and full a life as possible. We all will likely be faced with challenges. Some of us will continue to strive and others will find an easier but less fulfilling way to live. Nothing is wrong with either approach, but our pets may have at least modeled the more courageous approach to life. Without it would we have even considered such a course of action?

Dog Lessons on Living

Forty years of practicing medicine and having lived long enough to acquire some gray hair have allowed me to observe people dealing with illness and impending death. These challenging periods prove difficult for sure , but I believe our pets can help to cope with and even model helpful behaviors that benefit their owners. The mindfulness of the pet owner becomes necessary in order to learn these pet-assisted lessons.

At our house we’ve had two experiences that I wish to share that have brought me to this conclusion. Our Border collie, Buddy, unfortunately injured himself many years ago while leaping over a cattle guard. I found him shortly after the accident, dragging his paralyzed hind limbs. We were to learn that Buddy had ruptured a disc that had extruded into the spinal canal and traumatized his spinal cord. After evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation Buddy slowly recovered. He now has the reasonable use of his hind legs and moves about without any assistance. For this we are incredibly grateful.

Buddy had always loved to run and herd cattle. His racing around the ranch with his tongue flapping deliriously and with a goofy look plastered across his muzzle has for me defined unbridled enjoyment. With time he has regained the ability to both run and herd, although not with quite the same proficiency as prior to his injury. Nevertheless, Buddy still loves to ride in the pickup, watch the cattle, and when needed to jump out of the bed of the pickup and do a stint of herding.

It strikes me that Buddy during his convalescence never gave up on himself, nor did he permanently abandon his valuable role as chief herder on the ranch. Despite lingering weakness, he continues to carry out his job with typical Border collie passion and enthusiasm. A job for a Border collie is vital. As the old saying goes, “If a Border collie doesn’t have a job, he’s liable to become self-employed.” Trust me, when this happens it’s never a good thing!

Buddy sleeps more now following his injury

Our second pet-assisted experience resulted with our Shetland Sheep dog (Sheltie), Taffy, and occurred years ago when we lived in Lubbock. Taffy’s favorite activity and what she most anticipated was her evening walk. She would become so excited when we presented her leash for our walk. Unfortunately Taffy eventually fell ill and was diagnosed as having cancer. While we knew the cancer would eventually take her, we were given the encouraging, if incorrect, prognosis by her vet that she had at least weeks if not months to live.  Despite Taffy not feeling well, she still agitated quite demonstrably at the end of each day for her walk.

Taffy during her healthier days

I distinctly remember her recruiting us that last night. Trudy and I dutifully leashed up Taffy and began a slow trek around our block. Taffy seemingly sniffed  every tree we encountered and observed the goings-on in the neighborhood with her eyes glistening with excitement. Unfortunately despite her wanting to, her energy gave out a third of the way around the block. She simply was unable to muster the strength necessary to walk any further.

On recognizing this I reached down to gather our sweet dog in my arms and then continued our walk around the block. Taffy gazed out from the crook of my arm and noted the happenings of her final trip around the neighborhood. Later that night she died peacefully in her bed. I like to think Taffy died  happy having made one more glorious trip around her block.

The thing is, Taffy continued to do what she most enjoyed despite her serious illness. Her willpower and determination continued despite her substantial depletion of energy. It seems to me that a broader and more personal message exists for pet owners much like the messages both Buddy and Taffy have given us.

I will continue discussing this topic in a subsequent post and plan to give a few human examples. These people-related corollaries will come from my book, Carrying The Black Bag.

Please share your thoughts as to what you may have learned from your pet regarding illness or impending death.

TO BE CONTINUED

 

Reflections on Getting Older- Part II

Not long ago I had the pleasure of hearing Col. R.E. Cole recount his experiences as Jimmy Doolittle’s copilot as depicted in the book and movie, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. This was my favorite early war film. I like many others of my generation grew up steeped in heroic films about World War II. The movie starred Van Johnson as Captain Ted W. Lawson, Phyllis Thaxter as his wife Ellen, Robert Walker as corporal David Thatcher, Robert Mitchum as Colonel Bob Gray, and the inimitable Spencer Tracy as Lt. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle. Heroism was on full display and made you proud to be an American.

220px-thirtysecondsovertokyo-1

Colonel Cole is now 101-years of age and, while frail, is still sharp. I must assume the events depicted in the movie and book proved to be the signal event of his life.

A recent article, My Flight With a Doolittle Raider, was published in Texas Coop Power. In it the author, Matt Jolley, describes a day in 2010 when he and Colonel R. E. Cole strapped themselves into a World War II-era B-25 bomber and roared off the runway for a spin. Once in the air the owner of the plane  turned the controls over to Colonel Cole.

I believe Cole’s thoughts may have gone back to April 1942 when he and 79 other volunteers, only four months following Pearl Harbor, managed to take off from the swaying deck of the U.S.S. Hornet. They flew at the absolute outer fuel limits of their planes to drop a limited bomb load on Tokyo. While the physical damage was limited, the attack by Doolittle’s Raiders tremendously elevated American morale and diminished that of its enemy.

B-25 bombers awaiting takeoff from the deck of the Hornet

B-25 bombers awaiting takeoff from the deck of the Hornet

Imagine the satisfaction Colonel Cole must have experienced when he relived this event a few years ago. The author of the piece saw no boyish transformation in Cole, nor did he see a giant grin. What he witnessed was the quiet confidence of a man in full control of his airplane. I believe Cole must have felt a surge of satisfaction, reliving those seminal moments that has given his life such special meaning.

Colonel Cole is the last living Doolittle Raider. At his public speaking appearances, he is now attended closely by his daughter. He still loves to share his stories with others. With Veteran’s Day two days ago, it’s only fitting to remember and honor Colonel Cole and the other gallant men for their service and sacrifice to our nation.

But in another sense, what do events such as this one mean to the individual who experienced them. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if everyone who reaches old age could have the opportunity to re-experience their own signal  life’s event.  While this may not be possible, it suggests another option.

Why not allow an older person to reflect (tell their story). Our lives as story have such great importance for our own understanding. I only wish I had listened more closely to my grandparents’ stories. This inter-generational transfer of knowledge is good for both the listener and the speaker.

With the upcoming holidays, the opportunity exists to deepen understanding of the narrative of the older members of your family. I hope all will take advantage of this, not only to learn the stories, but to assist in the meaningful development of the aging process for your loved ones by allowing them to reflect deeply on what was important for their lives.

I would love to hear how this works for you.

To Be Continued

 

 

Reflections on Getting Older

You are likely familiar with the verse written by Robert Browning:

Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made.

When I first heard this verse, albeit at a much younger age, my thoughts were something like, “bunk, hogwash, senseless prattle, horse feathers!!!!”

Robert Browning 1888

Robert Browning 1888

Over the years though I’ve gained greater appreciation for what Robert Browning was getting at.  In part, admittedly, this was due to my professional interests in Gerontology and Geriatrics. But this was largely book learning and short on personal experiences. Now that I’m living the aging process, I can better understand both the challenges and gifts that accompany it.

I hope in a series of blog posts to explore this topic further and relate the accepted features of aging and also the personal anecdotes. As always, I look forward to reader’s comments.

I suppose what made me think about this topic was an eightieth birthday party I attended several weeks ago. My son’s father-in-law was turning eighty. Alissa, his daughter threw him a no-presents birthday party, and instead requested everyone submit a letter describing what her Dad had meant to their lives. An astounding 88 letters arrived! These were carefully cataloged by Alissa and presented to her Dad.

Now the really good part: Roger on seeing all this and better understanding the impact his life had on others- teared up and became quite emotional (well for a Norwegian anyway). Now this is a stoic man who was a very successful businessman, a real numbers cruncher type who had played athletics at a very high level. He is a stoic Scandinavian-American not prone to public displays of emotion. But a public display of emotion he showed. Why was that?

I began thinking about this and melding my inner thoughts with what I knew about developmental psychology. While I have taught a college course on this topic, I’m really not an expert, but I wish to share my musings.

On entering “the third act” of our lives, most folks begin summing up of their accomplishments and  coming to grips with areas in which they were less successful. This phase of life often includes the deepening of relationships, dousing the inner fires, reducing the drive for accomplishments, and the sharing wisdom with others. This is a phase when mentoring of younger people often takes place along with the passing on of meaningful experiences to others .

The testimonials offered about Roger impacted his personal developmental journey, as it did mine. The birthday party affirmed his life’s worth and informed him of long forgotten kindnesses and other positive impacts on others. This timely theme for the party blended perfectly with the very developmental process he was undergoing. What a stroke of genius by Alissa for organizing the event in this way.

If we are fortunate, we all will age to a ripe and healthy old age.

Health and vibrant aging can be such a gift

Health and vibrant aging can be such a gift

The more of life I experience, the greater I recognize that Robert Browning’s wisdom, “the best is yet to be.” Let’s hope so.

 

To Be Continued