Monday, September 23, 2019

Love and Healing – By the Numbers

Today I am pleased to have my friend, Peter Lichtenberg, share with you his unique story of love, healing and numbers. We often think of widowed people as women. But numerous widowed fathers are raising children alone while carrying their own burdens of spousal loss and grief. Healing uplifts their spirits. Future marriage presents new possibilities. Welcome to a revealing and unpredictable journey inside one man’s mind and heart.

Love and Healing - By the Numbers

By Peter Lichtenberg

Twenty, two thousand, thirty-five, and one. Numbers.

Numbers have always been important to me as a way to mark significant parts of life and living. When I was growing up, Hank Aaron was my favorite player while everyone else loved Willie Mays. I kept close track of his batting average and home runs. When my hometown Philadelphia Phillies were awful, I tracked Tony Taylor’s best season—could he end up hitting .300? He did and batted .301. When I had an All-Star baseball set and played constantly, I had season averages, lifetime averages and an assortment of other statistics always in my mind. During my first year of graduate school while walking to class, I would count the number of days I would live in West Lafayette, Indiana. When I became a researcher, I began to count my numbers of publications. First, because it was a marker for promotion and then because numbers just stay with me.

Twenty! In ten days, September 18, 2019 will mark the 20th anniversary of my marriage to Susan. I have journaled and written about Susan so often, (including my own short book, “Grief and Healing: Against the Odds,” of being widowed twice at 25 and 55). How miraculously she came into my life and allowed me to begin living fully—for the first time since the death of my first wife Becky who died suddenly at age 25 from an arrhythmia while jogging. Susan was not only my wife; she was my colleague, my best friend, my tennis partner, my hiking partner, movie critic partner, parenting partner, and my partner in noticing and reveling in the small things in life. Susan once wrote to me that “being married to you is the easiest thing I have ever done in my life”—wow!! How would I not celebrate and mark the 20th year?

Two-thousand! Two thousand days ago, Susan died. Her heart gave out after battling Stage IV breast cancer for 44 months—enduring all sorts of treatments. It was sudden, her death, and it was a blessing that she did not know she was going to die that day. She grieved so the idea of leaving me, of leaving her children and step-child ages 21, 12 and 9 behind.

One Thousand. I took a long walk on the 1,000 day after she died and reflected on how much grief I had experienced and how much hurt remained. I also reflected on how much I kept Susan close to me and how her spirit enabled me to heal and to continue living with a zest for experiences and joyful moments. At two thousand, I am back to the regular rhythms of day to day life. Happily remarried for eight plus months and so relieved to see my children doing so well and finding their day to day rhythms, too. Susan is everywhere in our home, and her smile and laughing, joyful and beautiful pictures give me energy and pride—I’m so proud that Susan chose me to be her one and only.

Thirty five! In two months and six days, it will be 35 years since Becky died. I just had brunch in Chicago with her college roommate (and my friend, too) Mary. We each reflected on how grateful we are that Becky graced us with her love and friendship. Mary had shared with me letters Becky had written her when we first moved in together, and on this trip, she told me of her last call with Becky and the loving things she said about me and about our marriage. I was always in awe that Becky chose me. She was the funniest, the most spirited, the smartest, and the most capable person in any room.

In Chicago, I stayed two blocks from where we spent the first days of our marriage. As much as my mom loved Susan, and boy did she—Becky was the daughter she never had (had 4 sons). I cried more during the five years after Becky died than I ever thought possible. Grief was overwhelming and lonely. Nevertheless, I survived and grew, and Becky’s influence on my life and her presence at key times of my life have been amazing. She handed me to Susan.

One! Despite being married to Debbie for slightly over 8 months, we finally moved in together only one month ago. We each had sons who were seniors in high school, and we knew it was so important to keep them in their respective routines and graduate from their respective high schools. Then, like a whirling dervish, Debbie pulled off the impossible. She got her house packed up and ready for sale and sold it within a few weeks. Watching her was exhausting and intimidating. How could someone be so organized and so effective with things!!

She (and her three young adult children) moved into my house, since Sophie was just about to enter high school and wanted to stay put. Debbie has been an incredible blessing not only to my life, but to all three of my children’s as well—and I think among them especially Sophie! It is my life that Debbie has impacted most. She is my best friend, my hiking partner, my dining out partner, and my business partner. I wake up next to her, make us coffee and breakfast, and cannot believe that once again I am blessed with such a happy home and such a healthy relationship. She has done the impossible in other ways, too. Whereas Susan accepted and embraced Becky, Debbie has embraced Becky and Susan and Susan’s children.

I will never be able to make sense of what has happened to me. I miss Becky, and I miss Susan—Susan especially, as we went through so much and went so deeply together. I cry at the drop of a hat—commercials, comics, and any sentimental scene I see. I hurt. I long for. I am grateful, too 
for all the joys of my life and Debbie’s gift of love, and a life to lead together strikes me as the most unlikely joy of all. Twenty, two thousand, thirty-five and one—there are stories behind the numbers.

Peter A. Lichtenberg
Farmington, Michigan
September 8, 2019

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Social Robots: Caregiver-Older Adult Senior Evaluations (Research, Video 2: 54)

Before I begin sharing the wonders of social robots used to support caregiving, allow me to address any concerns you may have about robots replacing people or not being that important. Robots can’t replace people, but they can provide services that allow people more time to be caregivers. They give care recipients more opportunities to be supported and stimulated in daily living activities. They allow technology to accurately assess and evaluate their progress. Robots help older adults with dementia gain a degree of independence that encourages them to complete activities. 

But probably the best evaluators of how successful social robots can be are older adults and caregivers themselves. That’s when research such as this can be valuable. This research review on social robots aims to summarize the effectiveness of social robots on outcomes (psychological, physiological, quality of life, or medications) of older adults from randomized controlled trials. Eight databases were electronically searched including a total of 13 articles from 2,204 articles with these results:

1.    Social robots appeared to have positive impacts on agitation, anxiety, and quality of life for older adults.
2.    Results from a narrative review indicated that social robot interactions could improve engagement, interaction, and stress indicators, as well as reduce loneliness and the use of medications for older adults.
3.    Social robots appeared to have the potential to improve the well-being of older adults, but conclusions are limited due to the lack of more high-quality studies.

What kind of role will robots have in the future of older adults?  In this video, Rudy the robot is designed to be more affordable, to help around the house, be an interactive companion, and generally help older adults stay in their homes so they can be more independent. Here’s Rudy!

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog

Monday, September 9, 2019

Grandparent Journey: Older Adult Seniors

 Nana, Emory, Amelia, and PawPaw

Back in September 2012, grandparenthood was a fantasy that my friends Lonnetta and Harold "Mitch" White could only anticipate with longing. They were older adults who looked forward to discovering all the excitement that other grandparents experienced. Finally, they received word about the upcoming event that would change their lives forever. They were so happy when I interviewed them. This post describes their special grandparent journey from anticipation to gratification.

Grandparents' Anticipation 

I have/had feelings of extreme happiness, joy and excitement!
My thoughts were fantasies of how wonderful it is going to be to love and spoil a grandchild the way I was loved and spoiled by my paternal grandmother.

I remembered the anticipated arrival of my son. Of course, in those days we didn’t know if we were having a girl or boy. The imaging technology simply hadn’t gotten that far. But I was near the delivery room and had the privilege of seeing my first grandchild when she emerged from the delivery room. What a wonderful opportunity!

Becoming Nana and PawPaw

Amelia, First Grandchild

We felt proud and on top of the world. We were pleased that Amelia was finally here, healthy and absolutely gorgeous! We wanted to do all that we can to help her to be the best at whatever it is she wants to be. All of American history has its challenges. Amelia came to us at a time when inequities are in full force, but she is fortunate to come from a family of modest economic means. She has a powerful enclave of parents and grandparents to help her in her development.

Emory, Second Grandchild

Just when we thought that there could be nothing better than having one granddaughter, we were blessed with Emory. Emory's parents, Angie and Pops (Mitch, II) told us of the probable arrival of a new child in June 2015 while we were helping Miss Amelia celebrate her third birthday. 
Meeting Emory for the first time was very different from meeting Amelia when she was just minutes old. Emory was born in anther state. We waited a few weeks before traveling to their home to meet her. The miracle was just as breathtaking and the bonding just as emotional and meaningful. Once again, we felt on top of the world about her good health and beauty. We committed ourselves to supporting her in fulfilling her life purpose. 

                                        Emory and Amelia

Grandparents' Reflections and Concerns

What a difference a few years have made. We are grandparents to two beautiful sisters. They are full of energy, love, curiosity, creativity, originality, confidence, and let’s not forget competition and independence. Both are entertaining and precious! Roles have developed and changed in many ways. Amelia genuinely enjoys being the big sister. Emory is a fearless competitor and mimic determined to establish and secure her position as Queen of the Hill. 

The realities of grandparenting vary daily. The most important thing grandparents can provide for character building is presence. This presence is notable in our grandchildren's development of a strong sense of self-awareness, self-confidence, and self-esteem. We are concerned that they stay healthy, that they have qualified, supportive educators, that they are exposed to diverse populations, have pride in who they are, and that they practice humane leadership skills. We also want them to know that negative stereotypes about older adults and others are not true. 

We hope to shelter our grandchildren from the harsh realities of the world while we expose them to opportunities to build character. With the presence of COVID-19, they have had to learn difficult lessons about life. They have had their world tossed upside down with school closings, virtual learning, and separations from family and friends. They have had to adjust to hand washing, mask wearing, social distancing, and other safety practices on a regular basis. Fortunately, they have been spared coping with the deaths of close family members and friends.

Regarding racism, Amelia and Emory know they are different. They have a black father, a white mother, and three black grandparents. From news reports, they know that racism can cause brutal and deadly results. As grandparents, we will continue to help provide them with the tools and support necessary for them to understand and overcome the realities of racism and improve society.

Regardless of the need, we are ready, willing and all too eager to answer any questions, kiss all “owwies,” read every book, relieve any fear, visit any playground, cinema, zoo, museum, or ice cream shop, make any purchases that will bring a smile and pleasure to the most deserving grandchildren in the world. In short, we will do whatever we can to make our granddaughters happy, as happy as they make us.

You can read more about this grandparent journey at this blog post:

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Youth Caregiving Disabled and Older Adults (Video 3:13)

Did you know there are hundreds of thousands of children across America, some as young as eight years old, who are major caregivers on a daily basis? This is the reality of many school children, particularly in racial-ethnic minority communities and among low to mid-income families. The stress and responsibilities of caregiving adults are often recognized and discussed. But what about the lives of these children whose lives are impacted greatly with many of the same issues adult caregivers experience?

As a former school principal, it was not unusual for me to have students in elementary through high school grades with attendance problems due to caregiving responsibilities at homes when no one else was available to help. These children’s responsibilities included medicating, dressing, feeding, bathing, and more. The emotional stress of child caregivers can be even more harmful to them than the physical burdens. Unfortunately, as the economy struggles and the ranks of baby boomers expand, increasing numbers of children are being assigned caregiving responsibilities.

More people are recognizing this problem, and for some children, but not nearly enough, help is being provided. The American Association of Caregiving Youth 
provides resources and support to young people who are the primary caregivers of disabled or elderly relatives. Their mission is to increase awareness and provide support services for youth caregivers and their families by connecting them with healthcare, education and community resources. This CNN video features Connie Siskowski:

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog