An Amazing Project

The purpose of this blog was for my husband, Bill, and me to find things we could do that would make our life rewarding during the latest and most challenging portion of our lives and then share what we did. This became more difficult to achieve last year when Bill’s physical challenges led to him being completely homebound, tethered to his oxygen equipment a good share of the time, and with a short-term memory loss that had become severe. Many of the usual pleasures of our senior years were no longer available to us: things like travel, attendance at musical or cultural events, or even watching movies or television since the plot line would disappear from Bill’s brain during the commercial. In spite of that, we found one of the best projects of our life and carried out the bulk of it during that last year. And we had some of the most wonderful times together in the course of completing that project; times that far exceeded the pleasure we had received from many of the usual activities.

Most of us who are in, or are approaching, the final fifteen percent of our lives very likely have a large collection of both hard-copy and digital photographs. We have not only the pictures that we took ourselves, but also pictures we may have inherited from our parents or other relatives. I suspect that many of you, like me, had an entire bookcase full of photo albums. Our project started out when I took some of the photo albums out and decided it would be fun for Bill and I to look over the memories of our past. Bill’s short-term memory may have been severely compromised but his long-term memory was just fine. However, as we looked through our old photographs and had fun sharing the memories those photographs invoked, I could not help but notice that many of the photos had begun to deteriorate, some of them very badly. I also found that some of the oldest photographs, the ones I had inherited from my mother, were of people whose names I no longer remembered. Continue reading

A Metaphysical Paradox

I have often felt there is a metaphysical paradox caused by our need to feed our bodies and our conflicting desire to be kind to all living creatures. I was that annoying child who loved watching a Disney documentary on the animal kingdom right up until the moment when the lion got hungry and chased down a hapless gazelle to have for dinner. I recognize that the lion is a carnivore and was hungry, but I was still rooting for the gazelle, and when the lion caught up to it, ripped open its throat, and started chowing down, I started crying and turned off the television.

I felt strongly enough about my desire not to harm other living creatures that I tried to maintain a vegetarian lifestyle in my youth with mixed success. And then the real confusion began in 1970, when I read an article that claimed research showed that plants were also capable of experiencing fear and pain when they were threatened by herbivores. What is a person who truly wants to be a kind and loving human being supposed to do if everything their body is programmed to eat is a living creature with awareness and the ability to experience fear or pain. On the one hand, it made sense to me that plants were also living creatures, but if they were capable of experiencing pain, then I was either going to have to inflict pain regularly or starve to death.

Recently, when I decided to make some changes in my overall approach to my diet, I once again became concerned about what kind of diet could go along with my continued desire to treat all living creatures with kindness and compassion. As I tried to sort out this paradox in my own mind, I realized that it had been a long time since I had read that article and maybe newer research gave a different answer, one that would allow me to treat other creatures kindly without starving. So I googled the question “do plants experience fear or pain?” and the search engine promptly handed me 1800 results.

It turned out there had been a lot of additional research since 1970 and most of it overwhelmingly stated that plants were aware when a predator was close by and that the plants took actions to try to prevent the predator from eating them. Many of the researchers felt that one of the plant’s most effective methods of dealing with predators (and plants do consider humans to be predators) was to produce a protein called lectin. In testing, with two plants in the same room, and a predator (like a snail) placed on one of the plants, both plants immediately produced a substance that coated their leaves with this protein (Clearly even the plant without the predator right on it was able to sense the danger). For a small predator like a snail, the lectin was sometimes strong enough to harm the predator. But with a larger predator, like a human, the protein or lectin was not strong enough to immediately harm the predator but with repeated exposure was strong enough to cause some harm to the predator’s digestive tract.

I had never heard of lectin before, at least not by that name. There are thousands of types of lectin, but two of the best-known kinds that have gotten a lot of attention recently, are peanuts and gluten. Most of us are able to tolerate these lectins, unless we have a peanut allergy or Celliac Disease. Because of the quantities of these lectins in our foods however, when they are ingested frequently, they can incite a kind of chemical warfare in the body that causes inflammation that may lead to serious health issues. This research further states that most plants actually want to make you ill most of the time but there are exceptions. For example, a tomato plant has seeds and a skin that produces lectins that are harmful when it is eaten out of season or when it was picked while still not fully ripe. When the plant is fully ripe and is picked at that moment of ripeness, because the plant wants its seeds to be spread by predators who eat the fruit (yes, a tomato is a fruit), it does not produce lectin to harm the predator.

In other words, the plant, which does have a strong desire to carry on its own species, does not try to poison the predator when the predator will eat the fruit and then poop out the seeds in a location that will cause a new plant to grow. At any other time, when the fruit is not ripe, the tomato will produce lectin that shows up primarily in its seeds and skin. Removing the seeds and skin of a tomato picked green can reduce the amount of lectin ingested. This would not have been a problem in the days when most of us grew our own produce and picked it while it was in season, but in today’s world, most fruits and vegetables are picked out of season when they are still not fully ripe so that they will not be damaged during the long trip to market. When they are artificially ripened (using a gas), the lectins are present when the fruit is eaten.

According to Dr. Steven Gundry’s research in his book called Plant Paradox, the way our grains, vegetables, and fruits are processed today is the primary reason why most of us have been overdosed with lectin and suffer from inflammation as a result.

While it made me feel a little better about having eaten grains, fruits and vegetables most of my life knowing that they had at least had a chance to get even with me, I still would prefer not to be inflicting pain and suffering on any of my fellow living creatures. After reading about how plants use lectins to try to stop us from eating them, I became curious about whether animals had similar ways of getting even with the predators that hunt them down to eat them. Another quick Google search showed me thousands of articles on the chemicals that are produced in an animal’s body when it is being chased by a predator. It seems those chemicals are as harmful to us as the plant’s lectins are.

All this research was making my search for the perfect dietary plan difficult. Not only was I destined to inflict pain on some of my fellow living creatures, but I was going to have to try to find a way to keep them from inflicting their own brand of pain on me. And I was no further along in my desire to treat all creatures with love and compassion. I don’t fully understand why this world was set up in a way that requires us to feed these human bodies and then makes it impossible to do so without the pain and suffering of other life forms. I ended up with a dietary plan which is far from perfect but is as close as I have been able to get to meeting all of my own goals and being as considerate as possible of my fellow living creatures.

I’m committed to at least minimizing the amount of pain and suffering I cause in my own search to help my body survive. I now eat far less meat than I have in the past, and I buy only meat that is as humanely provided as possible. Since I lack the hunting skills to kill my own meat, I try to purchase meat only from vendors that treat the animals humanely, even kindly, right up to the moment when they are killed to provide food for humans. A good hunter practices his skills extensively to make sure that he or she can kill any animal with as quick and clean a shot as possible so that the animal experiences a minimum of pain and suffering. It’s true, for example, that eggs from pasture-raised hens cost more than the ones produced by chickens that lived their entire lives confined to cages, but it feels worth it to me.

My new dietary plan consists of lots of vegetables and a few fruits with as much as possible locally grown and picked in season when the plant is most willing to be eaten. It consists of much smaller amounts of meat (I would like to get this down to zero) provided by vendors whose animals are treated and killed as humanely as possible; animals who’ve been allowed to have a good life before their sacrifice. It was hard to decide where to draw the lines on this dietary plan. To do so, I had to imagine a world where there was a much larger predator who might want to eat me for dinner. Since the planet appears to have been set up by a higher power that is believed by many to be a loving power, it seemed like there had to be a way to sustain my body’s life while causing the least amount of pain to other living creatures.

When I imagined being the prey rather than the predator, I realized the most important thing to me was to be allowed to have as much of a life as possible before my own was sacrificed to support a more dominant species. I also wanted my body’s death, when the time came for me to be dinner, to occur as quickly and painlessly as possible while understanding that it’s probably impossible to ever experience one’s own death to provide a food source for another as anything but extremely difficult. I don’t know why the rules on this planet were set up the way they are so that every life form seems to have to take a turn at providing food for other life forms but I accept that the situation is not likely to change.

I wish I could say had come up with the method of being able to sustain my own body’s life without inflicting any sort of pain and suffering on any other creature including plants but I haven’t come up with the way to do that. Every living creature possesses the drive to survive and pass on its genes to future generations. Part of the paradox is that the plants and animals being consumed don’t just accept their fate of being our dinner. They are often able to get even with their predators by producing toxic chemicals for the predator to ingest. If a large predator was chasing me down and hunting me for dinner, I’m quite certain a cocktail of extremely toxic chemicals would be running throughout my system by the time the predator caught me and succeeded at killing and eating me.

My new dietary plan is working very well. The food tastes wonderful, there is very little extra effort involved in purchasing it at the right time and from the right vendor, and in preparing it in a manner that reduces the toxins as much as possible. Since I’ve been following this new program, perhaps as a result of finally working out a way to at least reduce as much as possible the harm I cause to other living creatures, I have begun feeling much healthier, lost more than a quarter of the weight I wanted to lose, and feel I can sustain this manner of eating for the rest of my life,

I have not, however, been able to resolve my metaphysical paradox. I still haven’t figured out any way to completely eliminate any pain and suffering caused to others. If any of you have some insight that might help me resolve this paradox, I would be very interested in hearing it. Short of ceasing to eat anything, which would result in the loss of my own body, I don’t have any further ideas of what can be done to meet my spiritual goals of being a kind and compassionate human being. In today’s world, most of us delegate the job of killing our prey to others. It’s still our responsibility to see that that job is done as humanely as possible. I fully appreciate the people whose job it is to provide us with food and who work hard to do it in as humane a way as possible. If I had to kill my own food, I might find it easier to meet my goal of becoming a vegetarian. Then again, I might not be able to hear that tomato scream, but that doesn’t mean it’s not doing it. So perhaps vegetarianism isn’t going to resolve the whole issue.

Change

Guest Author: Marti Wright Unger

It seems these days that change means more than just loose change in a pocket.

Changes can be good……..exciting……..invigorating. But these last few years the changes in my life and the lives of friends and family seem to be more like unwanted challenges.

The biggest changes for me seem to the physical ones. The long walks are becoming less long and less invigorating. Stairs are not quite as easy to climb. Conversations seem more difficult to hear. Books seem to be printed in much smaller type. Small items seem to get misplaced more often. I’m never sure if I’m repeating myself.

And even though life’s losses are becoming more significant, more frequent and more deeply felt, I feel fortunate that the changes in my life right now seem relatively small. Others are experiencing empty nests, feeling lonely and wondering what to do to fill the new free time. Friends are experiencing major health issues, sometimes even moving from the ‘here’ to the ‘here-after’ and leaving large empty holes in the hearts of family and friends. Continue reading

Is it Worth Suffering a Brain Injury for the Experience of Having a Near-Death Experience (NDE)?

“What happens after death is so unspeakably glorious that our imagination and feelings do not suffice to form even an approximate conception of it.”Carl Jung

Click book cover to see details

The term near-death experience was popularized in the best-selling book Life After Life by Raymond Moody, Ph.D., M.D.  This book was a favorite of mine and of my late husband Bill. I have always had a strong interest in NDEs because I heard so many stories about them when I was working as a Trauma Stress Specialist. People who had experienced an NDE always did so during incredibly stressful moments, moments when they were clinically dead, and yet they spoke of the wondrous things that had happened during the experience and the lasting beneficial effects the incident had on them in spite of the physical pain and suffering that often provoked the experience. One of the reasons Bill had a strong interest in the subject was that he had his own near death experience in 1961.

Drawing of a Near Death Experience

Bill’s experience began when the vehicle he was riding in hit a light pole. He was thrown through the windshield and landed on his head on the pavement. Bill suffered serious burns to his back from lying on the scorching hot pavement (It happened in Fresno, CA, on a day when the temperature was 110 degrees) and a portion of his skull was crushed. When Bill’s skull hit the pavement, he suffered a traumatic brain injury. He also ceased breathing for a period of time, his heart stopped beating, and he had to be resuscitated. The near-death experience happened while he was being taken to the hospital. Although he was successfully resuscitated within 10 minutes, the injury to his brain caused him to remain in a coma for several weeks. Continue reading

Delivering News of a Death Over and Over and Over

By the time that most people reach the age of 50, according to experts in the field, they will begin to be affected by the issue of memory loss. By the time these same people have reached the ripe old age of 75, most will suffer some degree of memory loss themselves and will have at least two family members or other loved ones who are dealing with the issue, often in its more severe form known as dementia.

For those of us in the final fifteen percent of our lives, memory loss in ourselves and our loved ones isn’t the exception: it’s the rule. I’m typical of people in this age group. In my youth, I had a very good memory. Foolishly, I was amused by people who had to make lists in order to remember what they needed to do. Today, my memory could best be described as mediocre, and karma has caught up to me for the lack of compassion I showed to people with less-than-perfect memories. Currently I have five different to-do lists, one for financial tasks, one for household tasks, one for outdoor tasks, one for work-related tasks, and one for . . . Opps, I forgot what the fifth one is. I’m now the person providing amusement for the youngsters as I work on my to-do lists. In an attempt to find humor in an annoying situation, I have a coffee mug making fun of the fact that my brain in full.

As is also typical, I have a close relative, my older brother Pete (see photo), who has serious memory issues. Pete has had Alzheimer’s disease for the last seven years and his current memory loss is severe. I also had another loved one, my late husband Bill, who suffered from moderate memory loss. What the statistics don’t mention is that most of us in this stage of life also have in excess of 50 casual friends and acquaintances who are also subject to memory difficulties.

I have always believed in trying to be completely honest. It’s a goal of mine to be able to have that level of integrity, but it’s a goal that I have, on many occasions, failed to meet. I also feel that when I’m dealing with someone who suffers from dementia, I need to be especially honest and communicate openly about everything. But I’ve been presented with several situations recently that left me struggling to try to find a way to best handle the needs of that person with dementia while still being completely honest. I’m going to talk briefly about two recent incidents that left me questioning how I could have better handled the situation and I’m hoping some of you who read these posts can offer me some suggestions on how I might be able to do better next time.

The two situations I’m going to talk about cover extremely different types of incidents: one of these incidents can only be described as tragic and the other is downright ridiculous. I’m going to start with the tragic one so that you will still have the ridiculous one coming to give you a few laughs and cheer you up. The tragic incident involves my brother, Pete, the relative I just mentioned who suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s disease. A few years ago, when Pete was still in the moderate stages of Alzheimer’s, he came to spend two weeks with my husband, Bill, and me.

Pete and Janet Bessa in April 1945

His wife of nearly 50 years had died about six months earlier after a brief illness. Pete’s eldest daughter, Lynn, was his primary caregiver and she had warned me that Pete had trouble remembering that his wife had died. She said she had to remind him of it frequently. As I learned on the first day Pete spent staying at our home, the word “frequently” was a huge understatement. Continue reading

I’m Not Single! Am I?

I had to fill out a form a few weeks ago in order to collect the death benefit offered by my late husband’s former employer. There was a space on the form for listing my marital status. These are the choices the form gave me: married, single, or living in sin. Whoops, I‘m mistaken about that last choice. It actually said domestic partnership. Only someone as old as I am would’ve made a mistake like that. “Living in sin” became obsolete some time during the 70s, I think, and was replaced by the far superior domestic partnership label.

I didn’t like my choices. Where was the choice marked “widowed?” After all, this form was an application for a death benefit. You might think the creators of the form would’ve considered that at least some of the applicants had recently been widowed. I pondered how to answer the question of my marital status for some time. I still feel married: it’s only been six weeks since my 50+-year marriage ended with my husband’s death. And yes, I do understand the part about “till death do us part.” We have parted and one of these days I might stop feeling married. But that day hasn’t come yet. Continue reading

My Life Has Changed Forever

As noted in earlier posts, until now this blog has been a joint effort between Bill and Janet Buell. Janet did the actual writing but Bill provided much of the inspiration, gave wonderful critiques, and enjoyed thoroughly hearing any feedback that occurred. And now Bill is gone and I am going to have to learn to carry on without him.

Bill first began showing signs of the illnesses that disabled him in the early 1990s. By 1995, he was forced to retire from a job that he loved by the progression of those illnesses. We spent 22 years living with his chronic illness, and that fact was largely responsible for our drive to see that life remained fulfilling in spite of the challenges. As Bill’s illnesses progressed, finding ways to keep life fulfilling required more and more initiative, determination, imagination, and a sense of humor.

By the end of 2015, my wonderful, lovable, endearing husband had reached the point where he was completely homebound, required the constant use of an oxygen supply to keep him comfortable, and couldn’t remember what he had for lunch on any given day. He had chronic pain, frequent periods of confusion, and was so short of breath he had to give up playing his beloved trumpet. But the most important of Bill’s qualities did not change during this period of time. He retained his sense of humor, his extremely loving disposition, and his ability to enjoy the simple things in life.

As he had to give up so many of the things he loved, it did become more challenging to keep Bill’s life fulfilling. As he was forced to give up riding his treasured Harley Road King and then his MadAss scooter; then lost the ability to work in his garage workshop; lost his ability to travel; and his ability to enjoy the company of friends—we had to become very creative to find entertaining and fulfilling activities. There was a certain amount of satisfaction involved in managing to have a good time anyway.

And now Bill has moved on to a new level of existence. Bill and I both felt, right up to the very last moment of his existence in this world, that our life together was still pleasurable and fulfilling. And now I have the challenge of discovering ways to keep my life entertaining with my partner gone. I had never in my life lived alone. I was 19 years old when I met and married Bill, and I moved directly from sharing a bedroom with my siblings to sharing a home with my husband. For 53 years, my life was very much a partnership with the man I loved. Now, at the ripe old age of 72, I’m going to have to learn how to go it alone. Continue reading

Getting Older by Barrie Von Smith, M.D.

Barrie Von Smith, M.D.

Barrie Von Smith, M.D.

This Post is different from my usual posts on this blog site because it is written by Barrie Von Smith, M.D.

Barrie was the Student Body President of Rancho Alamitos High School in 1961-62, the year I graduated from that high school. When our class celebrated its 50th reunion, I was overheard saying I wasn’t certain if I wanted to attend the 50th reunion because I wasn’t good at making small talk. Barrie suggested I help with an event at that reunion called Life Changing Moments. At this event, classmates shared stories of very meaningful life changing moments, definitely not small talk, and I loved being part of that event. Now our 55th reunion is approaching in September of 2017 and we are again offering an alternative to small talk called Sharing Life’s Latest. All classmates are invited to share an update on their life today and to contribute any suggestions they have on how they make life meaningful in the final fifteen percent of their lives. With permission, I will be publishing their suggestions on this blog and providing an electronic copy of everyones’ stories and suggestions to the members of the class. What follows is Barrie’s story:

Boise Idaho 2014

My eye doctor is giving me instructions following my second retinal detachment surgery: “You will have to limit your activities. No strenuous exercise, no competitive sports, and no running for the next year.”

“How about jogging an easy 6-mile/hour, a 20-mile bicycle ride, or an easy ¼-mile swim?” I ask. Certainly that would not be considered strenuous.

He emphatically shakes his head side to side. “You’re 70-years old. Do you really want to do those things? Take life easy.”

Of course I was not seriously thinking of following these instructions. But I was seriously thinking about not wanting to be blind for the next 20 years. I had always told myself that I would age gracefully. All my life I worked at being physically fit. My motto was ‘Use it or lose it’. My five senses; smell, sight, hearing, taste, and touch, I took for granted – not much I could improve on there. But lately even these seemed to betray me and I was feeling helpless to do anything about it. Continue reading

We Are Not Elderly Yet, Are We?

Definition of ElderlyYes, according to most dictionaries, those of us who are over 65 are officially elderly. Read the attached list of synonyms for the word elderly to get a clear idea of what the world’s attitude toward the elderly is often like: that list of synonyms contains words like geezer, decrepit, in one’s dotage, and over the hill. I was shocked the first time I heard myself described as elderly in a memo from my health care provider. Then again, the provider was Medicare so why was I so surprised? Some days I still feel like a young spring chicken, at least until I try to climb out of bed. Other days, I’m all too aware that my joints are wearing out, my senses are becoming duller, my organs aren’t quite as efficient as they once were, and the reflection in the mirror has white hair and wrinkles. So why do I persist in thinking this stage of my life, which I have dubbed the final fifteen percent, can be the most fulfilling stage of all? Sadly, some people have told me that my blog is badly named and I’m crazy to think it is possible to enjoy being old.

I’m not blind. I know that many people are facing incredible challenges in life. But some of the people with the biggest challenges seem to feel as I do and others whose lives seem outwardly at least to be going reasonably well are among those who think I’m nuts. But I persist in thinking this stage of life can be the most rewarding of all if we just make some adjustments to our activities, our goals, and our standards. I’ve been pondering where the difference lies between those who feel it is possible to enjoy old age and those who don’t and I got some insightful communication from Betty Cadwell Barry and her husband, Bob Barry, that helped lead me to come to the conclusions I am going to express in this post.

Young and OldAs you can see from the graphic, my goals have changed since my youth.  I think it is, in part, this adjustment that helps me maintain the idea that life can be wonderful in spite of my husband’s serious illness, my own more ordinary deterioration and responsibilities as a caregiver, and the fact that my friends have been dropping off at an alarming rate recently and I can see my own mortality beginning to stare me in the face. I have had five good friends die in the last 12 months and that is an average number for a person of my age. Continue reading

The Dark Side of Caregiving

Both giving and receiving care can be highly charged subjects. As an adult, needing to receive care is often tied to a loss of independence, loss of the sense of being able to have an equal exchange with others, loss of privacy, loss of dignity, and fear of being unable to fend for one’s self. Giving care to another, whether to a child or another adult, can equal a loss of time for one’s own interests and needs, loss of independence, loss of income, loss of freedom, and a fear of failure. The feelings that are stirred up by a need to provide or receive care can be positive: satisfaction at being able to help; the warmth of feeling needed; the pleasure of watching a loved one recover. But there are frequently very strong negative feelings involved as well: grief and loss when the help is rejected or unsuccessful; depression when the need is extended and stressful; intense loneliness when the demands result in isolation from friends or pleasurable activities.

The strongest positive emotion connected to caregiving is satisfaction when the process goes well for both giver and receiver. There is possibly no other feeling more wonderful than the feeling of having been helped when the help was desperately needed or the feeling of joy that results from seeing a person you have worked hard to help benefit from those efforts. The strongest negative emotion connected to caregiving is guilt: often an overwhelming and destructive sense of guilt that can strike both the recipient of the care and the giver of the care. That feeling of guilt is often made more powerful by feelings of shame and failure that accompany the guilt.

Caregiving is a major part of most people’s lives at any stage but in the final fifteen percent of our lives, the part this blog is most concerned with, we have reached a point where on average we are losing three friends or loved ones a year and the need to be involved in caregiving is at a peak.

Continue reading