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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

"I just wanted a little sun."

A couple of Sundays ago our St. Louis region was under a heat wave advisory. After returning from an early morning Mass, I changed clothes and went out to water the flowers before it got too hot.

I saw my neighbor whose back yard is just catty-corner from my own. Rita was sitting in the shade on her patio. I waved and she waved back. I've always liked and appreciated my friendship with Rita for her warmth, intelligence and her almost-92-years of life experience.

"Did you give up on the air conditioning?" I asked.

"No, I just wanted a little sun."

I wished her a nice day and got on with my watering. Working in the yard always provides an ambiance for thoughtful reflection.

How simple a thing, and how satisfying, this going out and sitting on the patio because you want a little sun.  How nice that Rita can do that – just step outside and find your favorite chair. Get up and go in when you've had enough sun. One can do that when one lives at home. 

Coincidentally, the following day or so, Penny Cook, Executive Director of the Pioneer Network, posted a piece on Facebook about transforming the culture of aging. She noted that with all of the changes that we have seen, we still have far to go.  One such item Penny mentioned was this: "We continue to build communities without easily accessible areas for people to independently spend time outside."

The present, traditional system of aging services which too many people - who don't live there - are satisfied with because  "they get good care there"  needs to be turned on its head so that getting good physical care is no longer enough.  It must be QUALITY OF LIFE that is the benchmark standard resulting from choice, dignity, autonomy, privacy, relationships. 

It would include easy outdoor access so that all the Ritas who live there could spend time outside independently-- just getting a little sun.

Friday, May 25, 2018

"Diminishment" is a terrible word to use to descrie older adults.

'The winter season of our prayer life is a mixture of blessing and diminishment that also describes the winter season of our life.' Those are words from the Retreat Director I heard just this morning.

This prayerful woman has been leading a group of almost 50 Sisters in a retreat whose theme has been "The Seasons of Our Life". Of course I cringed when I heard her use that "D" word. It was another instance of how all of us are exposed to the prejudices of ageism, how we internalize them, absorb them absent any evaluation, and in cases like this, further propagate these internalized prejudices to other victims.

What pained me most in hearing that "D" word used as allegedly describing later life was for my other Sisters gathered there, all of us clearly in the second half of life. At a subconscious level, at least, taking such words in without evaluating them results in a sense of "being less"; it may also generate unexamined feelings of shame for being "diminished", for being old.

The GOOD NEWS, the whole truth about the aging process is waiting to be preached!  The solid data from the fields of gerontology and of the psychology of aging MUST be used as the grounding for a spirituality for all of us in the second half or second third of life. This grounding is the only approach that will provide a spirituality of aging that holds integrity.

Without a marriage of sound gerontological and psychological data with a paired grounding  in  Scripture, we are left with messages about aging and spirituality that, at their worst, are harmful to our self-concept of our future selves  (and therefore harmful to our well-being along several dimensions), and, at best, offer only pious piffle.

Where is that person who is going to preach the GOOD NEWS, that is, the WHOLE TRUTH to my sisters?

Monday, May 21, 2018

About the 'Yikes' in a Previous Post

In my last post, I stated that I had been asked to be assessed for the right to hold and use my driver's license solely because I had reached a certain chronological age. I responded with "YIKES!"

Many of my peers don't react visibly that way. For whatever reason. Here is why I did.

Let me share the following story told to me by a Latina woman.  She grew up in El Paso, Texas in the 1950's. Each year on the first day of school, the Mexican children – only the Mexican children – were taken from the classroom to have their heads checked for lice.

Let that settle in.

Racism blatant enough to cause an audible gasp. How could such a thing happen?  It doesn't happen today because, thank God, society is sensitized to the prejudice of judging others on the sole basis of ethnicity.

School officials in El Paso did not set out to ostracize or alienate their Mexican students, I feel sure. They were seeking the common good. The presence of head lice is a public health issue and the schools have a responsibility to ensure a safe, healthy environment.  The way they attempted to ensure this common good, however, was racist, based, quite obviously, on the premise that lice infestation is more likely among Mexicans. Epidemiology tells us such assumptions are patently false. So to act in the way these school officials did, was simply racist.

The laudable goal of assuring a healthy environment should be sought. It just has to be done in a way that is not racist, in a way that does not denigrate any class of persons because of their ethnicity.

The connection with requiring a driving test on based on age?  I hope it is obvious. To make assumptions about anything, or to demand certain procedures to be followed, based solely on chronological age is ageist.

Do we want to keep drivers and all those whom they might encounter when they are behind the wheel safe?  Of course we all do. We just have to do it in a way that is not ageist. Can we do that? Of course we can! When there is an awareness of how vicious and self-harming ageism is to all of us, we will look for another way.

I hope it is soon.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

"Don't Say 'Still'"

I just blurted it out.  It wasn't angry or belligerent; it was just an instinctive and immediate response delivered with certitude and confidence.  The setting: a representative of an insurance company testing my 75+ year-old cognitive skills prior to a driving test required for me to keep my driver's license.  That aspect of my story is for another day. Let me just say here that the required test had nothing to do with my perfect driving record. It was purely age-based. YIKES!

This personable woman was giving me the results of a simple cognitive test and explained that my score meant I could still --- and I interrupted her right there. "Don't say 'still'. When you use that word it implies that I surpass expectations for a certain capability expected for someone my chronological age."  The examiner responded very positively, saying she had never thought of that meaning in use of the word "still" and she clearly caught my meaning immediately. She went on to say that she was presenting a training for employees of an adult day care center that evening at a local site her employer insured. The topic was customer service and she would use this new knowledge with her class.

When I found a geriatrician here in the St. Louis area soon after my relocation here, she asked me three questions on my first visit:

1. Have you fallen within the last six months?  Good question. Persons over the age of 65 are at risk for serious consequence when a fall is sustained.

2. Do you live independently at home? Good question. It gives some general indication of the level of my physical/cognitive functions.

3.  Do you still drive?  OH NO! My geriatrician flunked on that question.  Still?  The implication is that someone of my chronological age may surely have lost the complex interplay of skills that driving requires.

Not to be repetitious, but we use the word "still" when we are describing something seen as beyond the time line society determines.  If you smile when you see this picture below, you get it. Bring it to your level of consciousness when dealing with what society has told all of us about aging and older adults.

For the most part, what we absorb from our culture about what aging is and what to expect as a result of the aging process is so false and so detrimental to each one of us.  It's way past time to start learning the real facts about aging and life in our later years!  In fact, the more you know the whole story about aging, the better aging looks!

Monday, March 12, 2018


This poem was written by Sister Janet Thielges, OSB and posted on her monastery's website.   It speaks for itself and can serve as a wake-up call about some of our unconscious assumptions or biases.

Life in a Wheel Chair
I fell
and injured my back.
I can see, hear and talk
and my mind is as sharp as a whistle.

Bring on changes.
They minimize visits.
“Can anyone who can’t walk, talk?”
Seems not.

With companion. 
Person I knew came by. 
Greeted only my companion.
Ah well! 

A gent “gets” it.
“Did she fall?” asked a lady.
“Ask her. She can talk,” said the gent.
I’m real!

I smiled. 
It made my day. 
The wheelchair’s a helpful thing;
but I never stop being a person.
Thank you!

Janet Thielges, OSB

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

How We Use Our Words

US News and World Report writes often about nursing home-related issues.  Angela Haupt is Assistant Managing Editor of Health at U.S. News and has written a series of such articles around "Activities" in nursing homes.  I read one such article this morning in which she noted pet therapy and therapeutic cooking in some nursing homes as examples of innovative "activities".  I responded to Angela and share that letter here.

Dear Angela, 

Thank you for your articles on some of the wonderful things happening in nursing homes to make life better for those who live there and who work there. Because our choice and use of words is so important, I am asking you to reconsider your use of the words "therapy" and "therapeutic" when referencing activities in a nursing home. When one refers to pet therapy or to therapeutic cooking, it medicalizes a normal human activity. 

If I may expand, a little -- when I sit down in the evening after a hard day's work, and my cat jumps into my lap, there is a rush of endorphins and my blood pressure goes down. I am content and serene and it shows on my face.  Yet, the next morning at work I never say to my peers that I engaged in pet therapy the previous evening (!)

The same is true for other activities. Sometimes I go into the kitchen and cook or bake something just for the pure pleasure and sense of relaxation it gives me. Yet,when I share those cookies, for example, I never share them as the result of "therapeutic cooking".

Medicalizing events in a nursing home reduces elders to their medical conditions.  I know that was never your intention, and that you most assuredly learned these terms in the very nursing homes that are engaged in these innovative enrichment events. Your pen is so powerful, Angela.  I trust that you will continue to use it to transform the culture of every nursing home in our country.  Thank you!

Imelda Maurer, LNHA

Proud to be a Guide at the 2018 Pioneer Network Conference in Denver. Want to know more? Ask me or check out the Pioneer Network website:

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


Karen Schoneman gifted me with a copy of her recently published book,"Working in the Light". It is a book of daily reflections, coming from the perspective that "as we move forward on our spiritual paths, we are light workers, letting God's light flow through us and out to where it is needed - in ourselves and in our world."

Last week one of the reflections was about the Tool Library in Berkeley, CA. How innovative to have a central source to borrow needed tools when they are no longer so commonly found in our own garage or our neighbor's -- if we even know our neighbors.

Karen ended her reflection with the suggestion that today we "applaud all those who are using the divine characteristics of imagination to see new solutions to problems and new ways to serve each other."

Today I applaud and thank God for all those individuals working with elders who have used and continue to use their imagination to see aging and supportive aging services in a new light. It is in this light of new understandings of aging that imagination can romp and dance like a child in the sunlight, bringing new solutions to failed and inadequate views of aging and aging services. 

This work is called transforming the culture. Culture Change.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

They are going to “let" my brother stay with him for two nights.

Take this as a case study.

Those words from Betty’s text jumped out at me and I instinctively dialed her cell phone number. Her father is in the nursing home. Some time ago he broke his ankle in a fall at home and was hospitalized for surgery. After surgery he moved to this nursing home for care and therapy with the expectation of returning to his own home.

The surgical incision didn’t heal. We’ll leave the finger-pointing aside here. The lawyers can do that. Suffice it to say that the picture I saw of the open incision made me gasp. Once again this 86-year-old man was hospitalized. This time, because of exacerbating chronic conditions, the surgery was an amputation of the affected leg below his knee.

Think about it. An older adult, living independently, falls and breaks his ankle. It results in surgery and subsequent nursing care that raises serious questions. Subsequently, this man who initially just broke his ankle ends up losing part of that lower limb.

Those of us who work with older adults, and/or who read about older adults being hospitalized, and,  under general anesthesia, know the dangers of delirium in such instances. Exacerbating factors are new environments. Carolyn’s dad’s situation fits the bill on all counts.

The family is close-knit and one of Betty’s brothers asked if he could stay overnight in his dad’s room because of his dad’s confusion. The nursing home’s response was, as Betty related in her text, “They are going to let (emphasis mine) my brother stay all night with my dad for a couple of nights.” Thus my instinctive phone call to Betty with a few words about nursing home regulations, and a few  about  staff or management using the word“let”.

What do we need to take from this?  Consumers (those who use the services of a health care institution) and their family members MUST know what the minimum standards of care are in a nursing home so that they can be advocates, either for themselves or for their family member.

Consumers must be encouraged by advocates to speak up for the rights of those nursing home residents, to trust and act on their instincts about whether something is amiss.

Those of us who are not yet in a nursing home cannot deny the possibility that we may one day find ourselves there.  Does not the motive of self-interest prod us to eliminate the status quo of traditional nursing homes and fight for a place called HOME?

Or do we think we won’t ever be old, or frail, or disabled.  Are we part of the American culture that views aging much like ethnicity?  Once Irish, always Irish; Once Italian, always Italian, Once young, always ------- ?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Old Age as described in the second book of the Macabees

The first reading for today's liturgy struck me so forcefully when I first read it that I just have to share it in this blog.

It's a reading from the second book of the Maccabees (2Mc 6: 18 – 31).  The passage tells the story of Eleazar and his faithful adherence to God's law. Eleazar is an old man; listen to how his age, and the markers of his age - his gray hair and his life experience - are seen as honorable by the writer. I include here only those relevant phrases from the entire reading that describe Eleazar in the context of his age, as "an older".

"Eleazar was a man of advanced age and noble appearance"

"Eleazar had a noble mind, worthy of his years, worthy of the distinction presented by his gray hair and his dignity, and worthy of the admirable life he had lived since childhood."

Eleazar chooses death rather than defy the law:
"If I dissimulated for the sake of a brief moment of life, they would be scandalized by me, and I would bring shame and dishonor on my old age. If I therefore have the courage to give up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my years, and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and gracefully for the sake of the holy law that we hear."

What new insights about the honor of life's later years might we gain by reflecting on Eleazar’s conviction that only when he shows himself ‘worthy of my years’ will he leave a worthy legacy?

Perhaps as an exercise probing our own internal ageism, we might ask ourselves, “How often is my first impression when seeing a person with gray hair that s/he is worthy of distinction by that very presence of gray. What makes me want to hide my gray hair?

"Eleazar had a noble mind worthy of his years."  Do we believe, really believe that wisdom resides within our elderly?  Is that conviction reflected in policies and daily practices? Or do we, in effect, segregate our elders in some ways from the larger community so that their presence and voice are not available?

Monday, October 30, 2017

How Early is Ageism Taught?

 © Imelda Maurer, cdp

"Ageism is the last socially acceptable prejudice."  This is a quote I've used before in this blog, coming from Ashton Applewhite who states this realization as the motivation for her becoming an activist to fight this socially accepted prejudice.

A Facebook friend posted a link to a commercial from ToysRus.  Yes, an ageist ad regarding TOYS! For YOUNG CHILDREN!

If you want to see the 20-second ad, click here.

Here's one review at the ad's website:

Sally Hopkins
Is this meant to be funny? Ageism is rife in society and this commercial (if you can call it that) denigrates older people by making fun in using the entrenched symbols of ageing - loose/false teeth, grey hair, large glasses, a comfy cardigan and fear by younger people of older people (which isn't correct). Lift your game (pun intended) TOMY. You're demonizing people. This is a thinly veiled swipe at the fictional crone image that again is also much maligned.

The issue here is not a trivial one to be shrugged off.  Ageism is a prejudice that is harmful to the well-being of every older person as well as those who HOPE to live long enough to become 'an older person'. It is a justice and dignity issue.

Monday, October 16, 2017

"No Donuts for You!"

Recently I've been focusing my reading on topics around ageism.  Part of that reading involves being part of an online discussion group.  Lisa Kendall, LCSW-R, CSW-G is, among her other jobs, a lecturer in gerontology at Ithaca College.  Her online discussion leads up to Ashton Applewhite's presence on that campus next week as the Gerontology Institute's Distinguished Speaker.

Applewhite has written the book, THIS CHAIR ROCKS: A MANIFESTO AGAINST AGEISM. I know I have mentioned on my blog before. It merits mentioning again!  I urge my readers to find a copy and read it.

One of the resources suggested for this online book discussion group was an AARP-produced clip about 'what does old look like?' I found the video was in fact ageist, and made online comments to that effect. Ashton responded with her own, more thorough critique and I was more than delighted that she agreed with me. In her comments, Ashton referred to another short (2:14 minute) AARP video in which "an impressively straight-faced actress disguised as an employee—she deserves an Oscar—refuses to serve anyone over 40. It’s a provocative, hilarious, and bitingly effective social experiment."  The link is here. I hope you will look at it and think about its message.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The lie that 'old is bad and young is good' is so deeply held in our culture that we do not recognize it. Carter Williams, a renowned geriatric social worker, a deeply profound thinker and compassionate person revealed to a national audience her experiences that revealed her own internalized ageism.

Carter Catlett Williams, Geriatric Social Worker
Pioneer Network Co-Founder and Pioneer Network Conference Convener
Convener Address August 11, 2013

Carter reflects on her experiences after moving from her home of more than 40 years into a retirement community:

"But once I began to settle into my pleasing small apartment with this generous wall-to-wall window to the east and a view of the treetops, surprising – even shocking-feelings beset me. They were not in regard to physical accommodations or the warm welcome from staff and other tenants, but to the unbidden critical responses that rose in me about social aspects of my new environment. I had known several people who lived here and had visited good friends here for many years, so it was with amazement that I viewed the dining room on my first evening.

"Most everyone, it seems, depended on a walker to get around. Walkers encircled the large room, and at the conclusion of the meal, a procession of bent bodies slowly made its way to the elevator. It was a startling scene that suggested dependency and no sense of their own agency. And I felt emphatically that I didn't belong in it, nor did I want to be identified with it.

"Deep within I rejected the signs of dependence, and fostered the idea that I was different, and didn't belong with people in this condition. Prejudice I didn't know I had – in fact prided myself on not having – was laid there. How could I, a professional geriatric social worker of 40 years experience, harbor such thoughts? I was brought face-to-face with the cultural prejudices concerning old age that pervade our society and had to accept that deep down they had conditioned me along with everyone else. For now that I was joining THEM, the Infirm Old, I didn't like it. I was emphatic in wanting to set myself apart.

"The first conclusion I draw from this experience is that we don't know our innermost souls until we are stripped of our book learning, posturing and our unrecognized absorption of the culture around us that says a person with manifestation of physical aging is not a beautiful human being."

If a woman of Carter Williams' stature is not exempt from this prejudice, none of us, I believe, can feel free of this internalized lie. The good news, however, is that once a reality is named, it can be addressed. This is the happy challenge: acknowledge ageism wherever you see it: within yourself and within your everyday experiences with others.  Then challenge the lie that 'old is bad and young is good' with the good news of truth!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

So deeply embedded in our culture that we do not recognize it

 © Imelda Maurer, cdp

I was surfing through Facebook not long ago and searched for a business associate from my past. This woman is about age 60.  I found her page and read one of her recent public posts which I copy here:

“Did a little shopping today. I'm always taken by how polite the clerks and other shoppers are -- greeting me, opening doors, young people letting me go ahead of them in line. I keep hoping it is not because they think I am old!”

Does your heart break like mine when you read this? Another woman, well-educated and in positions of authority and policy-making for many years, reveals her blindness to the lie, and her acceptance of that lie that ‘old is bad and young is good.’

One of the most serious consequences in acquiescing to this lie of the tenets of ageism is its impact on each person who believes it, and then lives with it. There is a lowered self-image along with, as research tells us, poorer physical, mental and social health outcomes in later life.  These consequences are a kind of poverty that we cannot abide!

There is a second consequence of not recognizing internalized ageism. If ‘old is bad’, I will do everything I can to avoid that label, and to unconsciously separate ‘them’ from me. The old become ‘the other’. We are not like ‘them’. I believe that this mindset of internalized ageism is a major reason why the culture of aging services continues in so many places to be so impersonal and so institutional.  With the blinders of ageism firmly in place, one cannot imagine how life might be different for those needing supportive services, how those in our care are not ‘them’, but ‘us’.

A renowned geriatric social worker, Carter Williams, addressed this very issue when she convened the Pioneer Network Conference in 2013. In my next entry I will share Carter's deeply honest and vulnerable remarks about her shocking recognition of her own internalized ageism.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

"Let's End Ageism"

At the Pioneer Network Conference in Chicago last week, our keynote speaker was Ashton Applewhite. Ashton has taken on the task of fighting the insidious and pervasive presence of ageism in our society because, as she says, "it is the last socially accepted prejudice". At the same time it is also the only prejudice that every human being is subject to if one has the gift of years.

Applewhite's book is entitled "This Chair Rocks: a Manifesto Against Ageism" and I highly recommend it.

Just this morning I saw an eleven-minute Ted Talk video given by Ashton this past April. You can access it here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"The Last Socially Accepted Prejudice"

©   Imelda Maurer, cdp

I've raised the topic of ageism several times on the blog. In fact it was my second entry back in 2007, titled, "I'm Not a Young Woman".  Ageism must be rebuffed for several reasons, not the least of which is rejecting by word and action the harmful, prejudicial concepts of ageism. For women religious, these actions are also aspects of our call to prophetic witness in which we strive to create, by our words and actions, that just and compassionate Kingdom of God  that the Gospels call us to live today.

In terms of changing the culture of aging services, I believe one of the major obstacles is the pervasive ageism of our society. The blinders of this prejudice prevent us from seeing aging beyond the negative myths.

If you do not know Ashton Applewhite and her work as a writer and activist against ageism, today is a good day because I'm going to introduce you to this woman and her work!

Only when the Pioneer Network (which is holding its annual conference next week in Chicago) announced that Ashton Applewhite will be our keynote speaker did I learn about Ashton. Her book, "This Chair Rocks:A Manifesto Against Ageism is a best seller and for good reason.  Publishers Weekly wrote a very positive review and can be accessed here.

Ms. Applewhite has several videos on YouTube. In one that I watched, Applewhite supports her activism around ageism, calling it "the last socially acceptable prejudice". You can access her YouTube videos easily here.

One last resource on this important topic: Lisa Kendall, LCSW at  Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY is leading a virtual book study of Applewhite's book! I've already signed up for it  and am eager to join the 50+ (so far!) individuals who are part of this online discussion.  Registration is open now; the actual book study begins Monday, August 14th. You can join this group by going to this site:

I look forward to discussing more of "This Chair Rocks" here on my blog also.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Mission-Driven = Person-Directed

© Imelda Maurer, cdp

On March 21, 2017, I posted an entry about mission-driven workplaces as exemplified by correspondence from Melissa Angelo, HR Director for The Villa, a nursing home in Baden, PA, sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden.

Shortly after that post, Melissa told me about some activities around Employee Appreciation Week and, at my request, sent me some pictures of one of their events.  Each "household" had a tri-fold poster display about how, as staff, their household lives out the Villa Mission Statement and Values.  I asked Angela if I could share it with my blog readers and was so happy she said, "Of course!"

The pictures do not permit easy reading of what employees wrote, but they are so worth reading that I have included some of them beneath the appropriate picture.


We treat our residents with a bushel of kindness and respect, a peck of good old home cooking lastly "a bushel and a pack and a hug around the neck."

Hospitality filled with a cup of Joe. 

A spoonful of love makes the medicine go down 

1 oz teamwork, 1 cup compassion, 2 cups of person centered care. Mix in love

Stir in goodness and positivity.

A sprinkle of care and compassion

A bundle of teamwork

This display reflected how employees saw living out the Villa Values of Respect, Quality, Stewardship, Community and Collaboration

"The Villa is a place where all staff truly strives to provide all the needs of each individual resident. Not just physical needs. We daily attempt to make sure each person feels safe, loved, and knows that they are valued. We want each soul to live there days to the fullest."

"Interacting with each resident as much as I can, stop to give a hug, sing a song, or just give them a smile, never be too busy to show them love."

"The mission statement means showing the residents that we care about them. We help them when they need help. We try to make them feel at home. We also get to know the families. And most of all we all work as a team to keep them safe."

"Our residents and their families become our family – and we share in their joy and grief."

"We make this place feel like the resident's home as much as possible. Let them eat when they want to eat. If they want to sleep in, they can. We treat them the way we treat our own mother and father, with dignity, respect, and honor."

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


© Imelda Maurer, cdp

Yesterday I posted the poem, “Light Within the Darkness”, suggesting that you ponder it before I offered my own thoughts on it. Here are those thoughts.

The writer counters the decline of the physical body with the ongoing development of the mind, spirit and soul. The consequence is “the radiance of the sage”, becoming the light within a dark world.

Recent advances in the study of the brain and adult development do indeed show that there is growth and development on multiple levels in the second half of life. The positive changes of life after fifty do provide for the blossoming of wisdom and generativity.  Indeed, the sages of the world can claim “radiance” in a dark world.

Why don’t we experience that that is so?  My first thought is to blame the pervasiveness of ageism.  Older adults are seen as ‘over the hill’, and ‘past their prime’. That does not make it so, of course. However this is what complicates the matter – self-perception in many cases.

Have you read Kennth Clark’s study done around 1940 with young Black children aged three to seven years? These youngsters were shown two dolls and asked to choose.  One doll was white with blond hair; the other doll was brown with black hair.  Overwhelmingly the young Black girls chose the Caucasian-featured dolls. Here is a quote about the study:

Some of the participants even employed aesthetic language in their unsolicited explanations for choosing the white doll. “Cause it’s white — it’s pretty,” said one child, or “cause he’s not colored like these — they the best looking cause they’re white.” The black dolls, on the other hand, were described as “ugly.”

The Black children in the study had internalized society’s racist views to their own detriment.  Because racism has at least been exposed, though not erased, it is probable that Kenneth Clark’s study would result in different conclusions today. 
I believe older adults are very prone to internalizing society’s prejudices of ageism.  Older adults who internalize this prejudice have their own self-esteem diminished. It is not surprising in a way. Every encounter offers the chance that we are seen, not as a person, an individual with a unique life story and accomplishments, but as an “old person” with all that our society believes about old people
Rise up, my good people! Our task is to confront this ageism from within and from without! Know and honor who you are and who you are becoming! Recognize the signs of ageism within yourself and confront them. Confront ageism wherever you see it.  The darkness of the world needs the brilliance of the sage!

Words to Ponder

The following poem was posted in the free, online monthly newsletter, “Human Values in Aging”, edited by Harry R. Moody, Ph.D.

Tomorrow I will share some of my own thoughts about the poem.  But first, what are your thoughts and insights from reading and pondering this poem?

As the heart grows tired, the courage awakens.
As the steps wobble, the soul remains unmoved.
The radiance of the sage becomes
the light within the darkness of the world.
Can you imagine millions
of strong-spirited,
courageous elders
living in our cities and towns?
It is my hope for the world. 

From William Martin, The Sage's Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for
the Second Half of Life, New York: Marlow & Company, 2000.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"To live our mission and to be available."

© Imelda Maurer, cdp

Today, a message-worth-sharing from another of my professional listservs, this one from LeadingAge, the national organization representing not-for-profit aging services communities.

The thread of this message was a request from an HR Director for information about policy and/or a job description for weekend Managers on Duty. (The person who is in charge on weekends when the administrator and other Department Directors are not present.)

There were several responses including some job descriptions and some narratives about what 'weekend managers' are expected to do and how they report that.  There was really very helpful information from several aging services communities.. However, the response that really touched home with me was one from Melissa Angelo. Melissa is the Human Resources person for Villa St Joseph, Baden PA.  This public, licensed nursing home is sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden. Melissa ended her narrative of expectations for Managers on Duty with this sentence:

"There is no specific job description but this requirement is embedded within each manager's own job description.  We are like good-will ambassadors doing what it takes to live our mission and be available!"

Everything we do: every policy written and implemented, and every operational practice  in our communities should be viewed through the lens of of 'living our mission'.  Way to go, Melissa! The Villa - residents and staff - is blessed to have you there!

Monday, March 20, 2017

"Old Geezers" and "Return on My Investment": Ageism - 2

©  Imelda Maurer, cdp  
The Gerontological Society of America has a listserv for its members to share news and items of interest with each other.  The following item was contributed last week by Bob Harootyan who is involved in research for a Senior Volunteer Organization in Silver Spring, Maryland:

In a videotaped presentation on 3/6/17, HUD Secretary Ben Carson made two egregious statements. The first concerned the "other immigrants" who came to this country "in the bottom of slave ships." Immigrants -- really? That statement appropriately caused an uproar on the Internet and in the media.

His second statement, however, did not. It pertained to his views as a neurosurgeon and the satisfaction he receives from helping patients. Except that not all patients seem to deserve his help. Carson said that he can operate for 8, 10, even 20 hours on a young person and give that patient another 40, 50 or 60 years of life. But if he spent the same amount of time operating on an "old geezer" [verbatim] he'll be "dead within five years." Carson concluded by saying he prefers to operate on younger people because he wants a "longer return on my investment."

Carson clearly believes that the lives and well-being of older people have less value than those of younger people. And this ageist view is from a medical professional. I'm appalled by his thinking and also disappointed in the lack of uproar about such ageist insensitivity.

It’s true that our culture is more sensitized to the violence borne of racial prejudice, and there was a well-deserved outcry about Carson’s talk about "immigrants" in the hold of slaves ships and their dreams for the future.

Two points about all of this:

1.  We must learn to recognize ageism in any form in which it shows itself.  As much as I like Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon, their jokes involving aging adults are AWFULLY AGEIST. Are you sensitive to the trivialization and denigration these two late-night comics engage in when they speak of ‘old people’?

2.    Dr. Ben Carson is a member of the medical community and speaks with total lack of awareness that his comments are ageist.  Unfortunately, he’s not the only medical provider with ageist attitudes. It's not that uncommon in the medical profession. If you are an older adult (let’s say 60 or better) be aware of comments or attitudes of any care provider that reflect attitudes of ageism. If you see them, experience them, either talk about them  with your provider and get relief, or fire that provider and find a better one.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Reading with New Eyes

© Imelda Maurer, cdp
Not long ago during a conversation with another Sister, she mentioned a Congregational meeting she had recently attended. The agenda was around aging and retirement needs. Included in the meeting were statements from her Congregation’s Constitutions. Her comment to me was, “I never realized there was so much in our documents that was so relevant to the topics we were discussing.”

That observation brought one of my own learnings to mind:  If we read our Congregational documents – our Constitutions, Chapter statements, and mission statements – with new eyes, we will find riches there never before imagined.  When we read our Congregational documents through the lens of serving our elders, we will discover a new world of meaning in the work to which our own and every Congregation is called.  Such a re-reading has the potential to stir a new vision of what life could be like in our “infirmaries”.  The subsequent new vision and new understanding of this ministry to our own, through the lens of our Congregational documents and values has the potential to shift our mindset about aging, aging services and retirement needs. When the subsequent insights that such a shift in mindset brings, with its mandate for a new intentionality in how things are done, there is born the potential of our being  led to a new place of prophetic witness, a witness to which we are called to be and to provide today in an aging and ageist society.

I was reminded of all of this earlier today as I read the first reading for today’s Eucharistic liturgy. The reading is an exhortation about ministry and the attitudes we should bring to it. Be aware of the new understandings of the ministry of service to our own possible when we read this Scripture through that lens?
(The translation I use here is from The Inclusive Bible. That translation uses the word ‘elder’ in place of ‘presbyter’, but perhaps apt for us.)

1 Peter 5:1-4
I send a word of advice to the elders among you. I, too, am an elder, as well as a witness to the sufferings of Christ and a partaker of the glory that will be revealed. Shepherd the flock entrusted to you. Shepherd it, not just out of duty, but eagerly, as God would have. Don't do it for money, but do it freely. Don't be pompous or domineering, but set an example for the whole community to follow. Then when the chief Shepherd comes, you will receive the crown of unfading glory. Let the young among you respect the leadership of the elders. Let all of you clothe yourselves in humility toward each other, for "God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble."

Monday, February 20, 2017

"Tell me your name again."

© Imelda Maurer, cdp

News of my mother’s death came by way of a long distance call from my brother early Wednesday evening, February 13th, 1985.  I was living in South Carolina at the time, organizing Hanes factory workers in the Carolinas and Virginia. The following day I flew to be with the rest of my family, in shock over a death I was not expecting. 

My first morning back in Texas I made my way to the Episcopal-sponsored Bishop Davies Nursing Center where Mother had moved a year earlier. Through my three or four visits during that year, I had benefitted from a warm relationship with Dorothy, the daughter of Mother’s roommate and with the warm and gracious administrator, Helen Wesley.

As I walked into the entrance of the nursing home I saw Dorothy. She had seen me at about the same moment and came with her arms open to greet me.  “There’s someone I want you to meet,” she told me.  I was introduced to a woman probably in her 40s.  “I sang to your mother on Wednesday.” 

While this woman was explaining why she had done this, I was engulfed in memory upon memory of music in my mother’s life. Mother sang while she swept the kitchen floor; she sang as she washed the dishes and as she ironed our clothes there with the ironing board close to the radio. She sang in our parish choir. How many cool summer evenings did we spend on the front porch naming song after song that we children wanted her to lead us in. And my next thought was knowing how comforting music must have been for my mother, and realizing that had I been physically present I would not have had the emotional strength to sing without unmeasured weeping.  This woman, this stranger, had been there and offered this gift to my mother. I expressed that conviction to this kind woman. Nothing could have comforted my mother more than songs being sung to her in her last hours.

This woman, whose name had already escaped me, told me that her own mother had just moved into this nursing home a month or so earlier.  The daughter had joined a church group on death and dying. One of the things she had learned was that hearing is the most tenacious sense, and is probably the last to leave us.  And so she sang to my mother!  Expressing my gratitude again, I asked her, “Please, tell me your name again”

“Grace”, she said.

 Here is a link to a three-minute video featuring a Sister of St Joseph in Los Angeles. It reflects the role of music for persons in hospice care.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

"Our barns are full!"

© Imelda Maurer, cdp

A brief continuation of yesterday's conversation refuting the belief that later life is circumscribed by "letting go".

We are all familiar with the images comparing the life cycle to the four seasons of the year. Autumn comes, the leaves fall, the trees are bare. We wait for the next season, a stark barren winter, which brings death.

An important initial message from Gene Cohen in his book, "The Mature Mind" is that we must change every idea we have about aging.  This "problem" of aging, Cohen tells his readers, originated with the beginnings of aging studies research.  The studies were always focused on deficits and decline.  The aging process was always and only seen as a problem. Indeed that was brought home to me a few years ago. An area university library was thinning its shelves and the lobby of the library on one of my visits was filled with books from their school of nursing for sale to the public.  As I panned the titles on these old, sometimes worn books, one has stayed with me: "The Aging Problem".  
Cohen says we must look at research which only recently has looked at the positive aspects of aging. We must turn upside down - flip - every belief we have had in the past about aging.

Let's flip one concept here: The season of autumn as symbolic of later life.  

Traditional concept: Time when trees lose their leaves - a kind of decline and approaching death.

Flip concept: Autumn brings the beauty of leaves "turning" to magnificent colors of yellow, orange and red that draw multitudes of us to parks and to the countryside, awestruck with this beauty.  In fact, these colors have always existed in these now-brilliant autumn leaves. When the hours of sunlight lessen, the chlorophyll (green) becomes colorless. Only then can the brilliants colors that have always been present in the leaves become visible. Beauty, continued growth and development becomes possible and visible precisely because of our aging.

Another flipped concept of fall as a season of life was brought home to me at a prayer service sometime ago that was part of a meeting focusing on aging.

This one line has stayed with me and I smile every time I think of it:

"It is fall. Our barns are full."

I hope you smile too and cherish every moment, every 'stage' of life, wherever you are in it, as a time filled with potential for growth and development of your whole person.

Friday, January 27, 2017

There's more to later life than "letting go"

© Imelda Maurer, cdp
Aging is a universal experience. That is why anyone and everyone can speak to the issue, can speak of their experiences.  There is an inherent risk of error and misinformation, however, when the speaker/writer has a public venue, is an expert in other fields (theology or spirituality for example) and speaks to an audience authoritatively about aging.

It has been my observation that these writers/speakers interpret aging experiences through the bias of popular culture rather than from honored, acceptable theories of aging and from gerontological research-based data. The result is the all-too-familiar one-dimensional approach to aging as loss and diminishment. It is the view that saturates our popular culture. This approach is often 'spiritualized' by teaching the spirituality of aging as circumscribed by the task of "letting go".

This topic merits much more comprehensive attention than a short blog post. I make two abbreviated points here though.

First: we human beings experience loss throughout our entire lives. It is a part of change.  Before a new thing can happen, the old thing has to end. Before we got our adult teeth we had to lose our baby teeth. In this change (read growth), there is always a simultaneous loss and gain. This is true multi-dimensionally:  physical, emotional, cognitive and social. We do not experience change for the first time when we retire from ministry, that period often referred to in religious literature as a time of transition.  Every change is a transition. Change happens throughout the life cycle. Perhaps the most profound change we human experience is leaving the warmth and intimacy of our mother's womb where heartbeat and voice are heard and felt in a warm, safe environment. The consequences of not going through that loss need no explanation. Loss and gain -- simultaneous in any change and present throughout the lifespan.

Second: There is potential for growth and development throughout the life span -- up to our very last breath. The popular culture tells us that when our hair grays, when our collagen lessens and we wrinkle, that this loss and diminishment circumscribes or defines aging. We are more than our physical bodies and in the presence of physical changes there are also emotional, cognitive and experiential changes that are NOT losses.

If this whets your appetite for more, read the book, "The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain" by Gene Cohen, M.D., Ph.D.  Here is a blurb from about this amazing, authoritative book.

"The Mature Mind delivers good news for those in the second half of life, with an extraordinary account of cutting-edge neuroscience, groundbreaking psychology, fascinating vignettes from history and case studies, and practical advice for personal growth strategies. Gene Cohen, a renowned psychiatrist and gerontologist, draws from more than thirty years of research to show that surprising positive changes in our brains have the powerful potential to enhance, not diminish, our lives after fifty."

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Can the Environment Hold the Vision?

 ©  Imelda Maurer, cdp  
‘The Christmas season is here and I want to share news of Sister __________. She was happy to receive your Christmas card. Sister frequently enjoys attending Mass at her favorite parish with her family and friends and/or her Sisters.’ There was a full color photograph of Sister engaged with another Sister, and some more general news about this elder.

Though not a direct quote, this was the essence of a message from a Sister-friend from years past. Our physical paths have diverged and this Sister, a member of a different Congregation, is now in a nursing home. The letter was signed by one of her Sisters in elected leadership whom I do not know personally, along with her cell phone number!

What moved me as much as hearing about my friend were the values reflected in this action by her Sisters.  I’ve talked before in this blog about the primacy and importance of relationships throughout our life span. To me, this letter embodied an appreciation of this primacy. Sending this letter to all of Sister’s friends keeps her in the circle of her own community and beyond.
I don’t know how many letters went out in my friend’s name, but I do know two things: that letter touched everyone who received it, and the value of relationships was acknowledged and honored.  In this practice, ‘procedures’ are aligned with ‘values’ or ‘vision’.  It is a delightful example of the environment supporting the vision. I am grateful.

Friday, January 13, 2017

“An Improved Profile” Ageism – 1

© Imelda Maurer, cdp  

There is a TV commercial that I have seen several times promoting treatment for “moderate to severe fat below the chin.” There’s a catchy story line to the ad, ending with the promise that this procedure will result in “leaving an improved profile.”

Ageism pure and simple!  The assumption is that the absence of fat below the chin, the absence of that double chin that sometimes appears as one ages, is better, more acceptable.  This thinking says that the appearance of physical youthfulness is better than that appearance can only happen with physical maturity and an increase in years.

Ageism is pernicious.  Its effects have great potential for impacting the self-image of every single adult who has or at least has the potential of being blessed with a long life.  We cannot address this bias toward age and aging until we recognize it. 

Can you name an instance within the last few days where you saw ageism in the press, on TV, in cartoons, -- or even in your own unexamined thoughts?

Ageism is the last ‘ism’ to be conquered.  Interestingly enough, it is also the only ‘ism’, the only prejudice, to which every single person is subject to.  That is, if one is blessed with the gift of years.