Tuesday, September 7, 2021

You can't tell about a book by its cover

My Congregation uses an electronic bulletin board, as do many, as a means of communications with and among the membership. Yesterday a Sister wrote that she had been told by a friend of a very good book that the Sisters might want to know about: 

A friend "sent a notice of a book she thought might interest us. It is 'Embracing Age: How Catholic Nuns Became Models of Aging Well' by Anna Corwin, published by Rutgers Press.

I felt compelled to respond, in the interests of the passion I have for getting the REAL facts of aging and later life to others, especially my Sisters around the world .What follows is my critique of this book.

I was asked by Rutgers University Press to review the book last Fall, pre-publication, and I was eager to do so as I heard just a few weeks earlier from a colleague that this professor at St. Mary’s in Moraga, CA was doing research related to Sisters and aging. (She writes from her lens and research methods as a linguistic anthropologist.) However, I was greatly disappointed by the book and told the editor I could not recommend it. This is what raises red flags for me about Corwin’s work and what I noted to Corwin’s editor. 

Corwin lived with a community of Franciscan Sisters here in the Midwest (Illinois or Indiana) for quite some time in doing her research with them. Anthropologists study cultures. Her research data comes from that one group, that one culture. However, she draws conclusions about the attitudes of Sisters across the country, lacking any data beyond one Midwestern Congregation. Overreach, clearly. 

My connections with many congregations over the past several years bears out the lack of validity in such sweeping conclusions, reaching far beyond Corwin’s limited scientific investigation. As much as we Sisters are called to be countercultural, we’re not, in many areas. LCWR’s focus on racism and its encouragement that member Congregations delve deeply into this injustice bears that out. The implicit, unconscious bias of ageism in our Western society blinds us to recognizing and thus addressing it. 

She comments on the meaning of the vows, community life, leaving home, etc. and how Sisters feel about this life-event without any real validity or research data. She does try to buttress her conclusions with referenced footnotes, but they are rather generic references and outdated. One of them is a reference to medieval monastic rules. Throughout, there is no sense, much less, any expression of a Vatican II understanding of the vows or of religious life. 

Then there are the young women in Mexico in initial formation that she writes about. She describes them as having being “woke” to a national political awarenesses and a subsequent new sense of “body” which brought them to speak of their vow of Chastity as “Jesus in our Wombs”. No commentary by the author. 

That kinda did it for me! 

We do need to know more about aging. I have come to know that we Sisters/women need TWO talks about the facts of life: the first one that explained the real facts about sex, dispelling crazy teenage myths like,’ you can’t get pregnant if you have sex standing up’. The second talk would be the real facts of aging, dispelling all the negative myths that we have absorbed since we were toddlers. There are much, much better books and other resources out there about the actual process of aging and all its potential. It would be wonderful to see a few of them in our library.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Aging and ________

What word are you inclined to pair with aging?

Some very common pairings may come to mind because we hear them frequently from retreat directors, university professors, noted writers and/or presenters, even consultants to religious communities. The following often-heard pairings come to mind quickly for me:

Aging and diminishment

Aging and loss

Aging and decline

Aging and illness

Aging and poor health

Aging and letting go

Just this morning I read an article by a Sister who stated her age as 57. The thesis of her piece was that as we age, we should acknowledge that we will be moving on from employment to retirement for one reason or another, and that we should do so "with grace".

The author gave several examples of signs that tell her, "I really am getting old." She notes trouble with her knee and hip; a loss in her hearing acuity; her need for trifocals. She ends that listing by noting, "I can still do everything I used to do, but I do notice I'm slowing a bit."

 Ageing is indisputably accompanied by physical decline. However, physical decline does not define us! Our personhood is not circumscribed by our physical decline. Additionally, physical changes are uniquely individual.  As Ashton Applewhite writes in her book, "This Chair Rocks", when you see one 80-year-old, you're seen one 80-year-old.

Our culture has oppressed us with the social construct of equating aging with decline. I would say to this Sister, "With your 57 years of life, 57 years of experience, what do you experience within yourself beyond the physical changes that you note?"  I can imagine Sister could tell me of her long-term, meaningful friendships she has garnered over the years, both inside her community and beyond, and how they have enriched her life. She would acknowledge the deepened skills, insights and nuances of navigating her ministerial role as a high school classroom teacher that only years and experience can provide.  She might be aware that because of her life experiences, she reads a novel, or the newspaper, or a biography with much more insight than she was capable of twenty or thirty years ago.

Gene Cohen, in his book, "The Mature Mind: The Power of the Aging Brain" depends on years of research around aging to reach his conclusion that we must turn our present paradigm of aging on its head! Cohen doesn't just give us a "positive" view of aging, in the sense that what he says is said to make us feel good.  Yes, it does make us feel good. The important factor is that his work and his conclusions are based on data!

Another Sister spoke about aging in my reading this morning. She sees with a different lens, not the social construct of aging and decline.  Sister Mercedes L. Casas Sanchez, FSpS , of Mexico, addressed the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in August and her comments included this:  The nuns (and it applies to every old person) "walk like trees loaded with fruit, bent over with fruitfulness."

 "Bent over with fruitfulness" Ponder that.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Why Pogo is so loved


In a post some months ago, I introduced my readers to Pogo.  The pictures accompanying the  post showed one Sister after another, each with a warm smile, interacting with or just appreciating Pogo.

What I did not include in that post was a little more information about Pogo himself. I didn't remark that Pogo is an old dog. And another thing, Pogo has only three legs.  He's crippled. When he was still a puppy, he was hit by a vehicle, necessitating the amputation of his right leg at the hip. When he was adopted from the shelter, Pogo had already lost that leg.

Are those harsh words, not-to-be-used words, 'old', and 'crippled'?

The word crippled is considered offensive because it describes, Pogo in this case, in terms of his limitations or disability. It is an ableist term. Ableism discriminates against persons with  physical limitations in favor of able-bodied persons.

Of itself, the word old is neutral, neither offensive nor unwarranted in its use for a person or, in this case, Pogo who has lived a long time. It is society's view of old age that make this word unacceptable in the eyes of some. You know,  the attitude that 'old is bad and young is good' screamed to us in our culture every day through every possible medium.

If one would ask any of the Sisters about Pogo, I daresay that, to a person, the response would be an immediate smile and some words of affection for that little dog, that little dog that brings so much joy and happiness. Not a single person would say, for example, "Oh, that poor dog. He's old, you know.  And he is crippled. He just needs to be someplace where somebody can take care of him. The poor thing.  It's really sad --- old and crippled."

The universal outlook is to see and experience Pogo first and foremost for his strengths, his lovability and the joy and the richness he brings to all he meets. Not a bad perspective! Why don't we react the same way about old people?  Do we first and foremost see "decline" and lock our view of old people into that terrible, negative little prison?

There is a growing awareness among thought leaders in the aging services profession that it is a much more valid and certainly a healthier, life-giving perspective to see older adults in their communities first in terms of their strengths and their gifts. Prior to the sheet in the medical record that lists diagnoses and comorbidities should be a sheet with the narrative of the gifts and strengths which that person brings to the community. How will their gifts, talents, skills and passion contribute to a more vibrant community? And how will the community provide an environment that encourages and facilitates the use of those gifts?

Jill Vitale-Aussem is one such thought leader. She is quite passionate and articulate around this concept of recognizing and honoring strengths in older adults.  Moments ago, I stepped away from my blog and went to check my Facebook news. By God's Providence (no coincidence!) Jill had just posted a piece on this very topic of seeing and honoring the gifts that older adults bring and want to utilize. Jill writes about a letter she had gotten from a woman who had moved from her community to another State. In that letter, the writer shared with Jill her memories of life in that retirement community. Spoiler Alert!  The woman did not talk about all the fine services available to her in this retirement community. She wrote about the joy and sense of contentment that comes from having purpose and meaning in life -- yes, even in a retirement community.

It is less than a two-minute read, and you can find it here.


Friday, May 21, 2021


                                       Meet Pogo

Pogo lives in a happy convent home on our motherhouse campus with Sister Bernadette. Pogo spreads happiness much beyond that one household, however, when Sister Bernadette takes Pogo over to the main convent building to visit the Sisters who live there. See for yourself!



It is trite to reiterate the fact that animal companions bring us joy, or to point to the voluminous research documenting the psychological and physiological benefits bestowed on us humans by non-human animal companions.

But I don't write about that today.  I show the joy Pogo brings to my Sisters, the gift that Pogo is.

In my next post, I offer a few other thoughts about Pogo and those who love him within the context of how unconscious social  constructs influence our responses.

Unil then --

Thank you, Pogo, for being who you are and for what you have always and continue to bring to all those you meet. You are so loved!






Tuesday, November 3, 2020

"Providence Reflections"

 Last Spring, early into the pandemic, we Sisters of Divine Providence were invited to share  our "Providence Reflections".  Twice a week we find a response to this invitation on our electronic bulletin board. Many times the short message refers to thoughts about life, prayer,  Providence values, compassion, or ministry during the pandemic; at time a members of our elected leadership team may send a message of an administrative update, or a reflection.

Recently Sister Ramona, who lives at our motherhouse, shared a reflection and I have her permission to share it here. When I read this message, I was so aware that these signs, these marks of pandemic time, circumscribe life in so many motherhouses and provincial houses today.  And what I also know to be  present still is an ongoing intentionality of seeking ways to be of service to others.  What shape does this service to others take? I've read of mask-making, phone calls to one's 'pandemic partner', and letter-writing. A major communal effort is the private and communal prayer for justice, equality and foro comfort for so many suffering and oppressed as a consequence of the pandemic, 

Sisters' lives have been lives of service to others through some exercise of the physical and/or spiritual works of mercy. I believe that one of the major frustrations of this pandemic time is looking for ways to continue this service as we are confined to our physical spaces and physical distancing. We are a resilient group, though, and we will find a way!

Meanwhile, my gratitude for being a part of this global circle of women.  

From Sister Ramona:

To "read the signs of the times" is a common practice of ours. We have done it for years. Some signs remain relevant: poverty is all around us, family life cries for support, discrimination and racism are alive and well in our country.

But now there are very different signs unique to these pandemic times. Everyone in our building wears a mask. Some wear shields or plastic cover garments. Employees wear gloves and carry bottles of Sanitizer. Our place of worship looks strange when we come together to pray. Worshipers sit far apart; the chapel looks empty – almost vacant. Yet some have to go to another space to worship via technology. Signs throughout the buildings control the movement of people within. The masks, the distances, the sanitizing. I ask myself: what do these signs say to me? Am I hearing God's call? What is it? Have I connected all these signs to our Chapter Statement: "To hear the cry of pain and anguish of the poor, the immigrants, women and Earth"? Some tough questions to answer. Yet there they are.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Hearts Starve as Well as Bodies

In the effort to keep nursing home residents safe, there have been strict guidelines resulting in -- 7 months now -- of isolation, or these older adults being confined to their rooms. Period. The results of this prolonged isolation show themselves in the physical, mental and emotional decline. The link to both a video and the printed transcript of the 3-minute news clip illustrates this in the stark reality that it is.

For those who have appointed or elected authority for the care of their Sisters, these months have been very stressful with a full focus on "keeping our Sisters safe". That sense of safety and security also applies to one's sense of well-being, of being connected with others, of finding joy and comfort in what the day brings. It is a tall order to fill in this time, but that does not lessen the mandate that care must go beyond physical well-being.  It is stated well in the words of a beloved labor song, "Bread and Roses" -- "Hearts starve as well as bodies. Give us bread but give us roses too."

The link to the video is here

Wednesday, July 1, 2020


The following is a passage from the book, This Is Getting Old: Zen Thoughts on Aging with Humor and Dignity (Shambhala, 2010) by Susan Moon:

“It annoys me when people say, ‘Even if you’re old, you can be young at heart!’ Hiding inside this well-meaning phrase is a deep cultural assumption that old is bad and young is good. What’s wrong with being old at heart, I’d like to know? Wouldn’t you like to be loved by people whose hearts have practiced loving for a long time?” 

A very fine reflection on the social construct that young is good and old is bad.  It belies the age denial mechanism that says ‘age is just a number’.

Let us be counter-cultural, prophetic believers in a God of Infinite Love who made ALL creation --- all through the life span --- “good, very good.”

If we hold that value-laden stance, how differently would we see our aging body, for example, or the aging bodies of others?  The waistline that has expanded as we grow from youth to middle age and later is worthy of respect and honor.  That double chin is “just perfect”.  Therefore, I, the person – so much more than just  the physical -- am worthy of rerpect and honor and am “just perfect” as I am.

And of course this is true for our neighbors as well as for the strangers who cross our paths.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Opening nursing homes again

Information from this post comes from a Forbes Magazine article, “The Trump Administration may reopen nursing homes to visitors, but it must be very careful.” May 11, 2020.

The painful and isolating experience of living in a Covid-19 quarantine continues.  Until there is an adequate access to testing, until there is a proven treatment or vaccine, the common good will continue to call for restricted contact.

Howard Gleckman lays out political considerations that may underlie plans being set forth by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and then says plainly, “If not done carefully, this would be folly, and could put residents, staff, and families at risk.”

The possible move on the part of the Trump Administration (thus, CMS) has surprised nursing home operators and their professional trade groups, LeadingAge and American Healthcare Association. These two trade organizations have also been working to create universal guidelines for their members, with the expectation that they would be not be finalized until late June or July.
“Facilities (Nursing homes) could begin allowing limited visits once they report no cases for 14 days. They could   increase access, as well as communal activities, if they go another two weeks without an active case.
“The problem, of course, is a facility (nursing home) may go weeks with no cases. But if a visitor brings COVID-19 in, it will spread like wildfire.”
“Residents are paying a severe price for being isolated in long-term care facilities. While we don’t know for sure, it is likely that they are suffering from more loneliness and depression. They also are at greater risk because their families are not able to advocate in person for them —an especially important role in the difficult environment COVID-19 when care is likely to go wrong.
“But it makes absolutely no sense to reopen facilities to visitors now. Nursing homes still don’t have enough coronavirus tests. Assisted living has even less. And tests often take many days to produce results. Absent immediate results—like those available to the White House staff—opening care facilities puts staff and residents at risk from visitors, while at the same time placing those visitors at risk.”
“Reopening also requires an ample supply of masks, gowns, and gloves for all visitors, and proper training in their use.  
“Nursing home and assisted living operators at horrified at the idea of reopening prematurely to visitors. Some are reluctant to have family members adding to what already is a chaotic situation, with staff shortages and jury-rigged efforts to isolate COVID-19 residents.”
“Facilities (Nursing homes), families, and state, federal, and local government need to work together to design a safe way for families to visit their loved ones. But this has to happen in a careful, well-considered, and properly timed way. And it should be based on careful benchmarks that all parties adhere to. The US has failed to establish coherent, enforceable protocols for much of its COVID-19 response. It would be a tragedy if it fails to do so when it comes to opening up long-term care facilities that have seen so much death already.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Social Distancing, not Social Isolation

As the days of quarantine continue, Action Pact, a Culture Change training and consultant organization reminds us that although we practice social distancing, we do not want those living in nursing homes to experience social isolation.  Each week Action Pact offers resources for this very purpose. Here is a link for this week's issue.  Scroll  down the page to access this week's flyer.

Please feel free to share with persons who are Administrators or "Activity Directors" for use in the nursing home where they work.

Monday, May 11, 2020


Last week I happened to be near our local hospital when I saw a nurse leaving the building after her shift.  I waved, smiled and said in a loud voice, “Thank you!” The nurse smiled and waved back.

A few days later I was in a Zoom event with individuals who have leadership positions in myriad aging community settings. In an interestingly and somewhat related conversation, one of the participants raised the subject of nursing home care providers being called heroes. He said that this appellation is a burden for hands-on individuals and upsetting to them. These labels put pressure on individuals, he said. “They tell me they are not heroes; they say, in fact, they are afraid many times as they carry out their work in the nursing home.” The implication was that being called a hero laid too heavy a burden for them in their eyes.

My take is a little different as I remember so many news stories paying tribute to a citizen hero. Almost universally, the interviewee denies that label of hero, saying they were just responding to the event at hand. Then there is a neighbor, a young man with a family, who is a police officer in a crime-ridden area of our greater metropolitan area. He absolutely loves his work. When I ask if he is ever afraid, his quick but smiling response is, “Every day.” One can be a hero and still be fearful. It’s probably the norm.

For those caregivers who cannot accept that they are heroes, there are other simple and direct ways to instill in every person on the staff the conviction of the nobility, dignity and sacredness of his/her work especially at this time. Yes, people are supposed to show up every day on time for work.  But is there a special smile or nod to greet the faithful staff who are there? A reminder or pat on the shoulder when we see someone going beyond mere duty to respond to a need? In staff meetings, do we acknowledge the stressful time we are in, and the spirit of generosity and sacrifice that these times call for, and then a thank you to the staff for meeting the mark in all this?  Building the self-image of any staff member, and thus deepening his/her self-confidence, is a great aid in furthering the mission of the community.

Finally, I hope the following is a given: Any compliments or other gestures of recognition must be truthful and must acknowledge actions that are aligned with the standards and values of the community. Otherwise it is fake. And employees can smell it a mile away!

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Finding Hope in Isolation: Springfield Dominicans Open Hands, Hearts During Global Pandemic

This post comes  directly from a Facebook entry from the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, IL. To see the original post, which includes wonderful pictures, you can find it here. The article reflects the spirit of service that is at the heart of apostolic religious life.  The Springfield Dominicans show creativity and imagination in their practice of service during this never-before time.  What a gift to be  a part of this circle of women across the country and around the world!

Finding Hope in Isolation: Springfield Dominicans Open Hands, Hearts During Global Pandemic
by Sister Beth Murphy, OP., Communication Director for the Dominican Sisters of Springfield

You can't grasp hope
“Hope isn’t anything you can grasp,” Sister Kelly said, pausing for a thought then adding “It has to be received.” Then, as she stretched out her hands and looked at them, you could see the insight before it arrived. “To do that you have to let go of what you are holding,” she said.

The impact of Sister Kelly’s insight on her conversation companions was visible on their faces, even though they were stretched across the midsection of the nation, dotting a map that stretched from her convent in Jackson, Miss., to central Illinois, and Chicago, linked together on a now ubiquitous teleconference platform that’s becoming a staple in the lives of many.
This is just one way hope is revealing itself through the lives of Springfield Dominican Sisters. There are plenty of examples, as the sisters join three-fourths of humanity ordered to stay close to home under the influence of a viral pandemic that is changing the face of the world.

 Steep learning curve
When Sister Pat Francis received her shelter-in-place orders she faced a steep learning curve, needing, in a hurry, to become familiar with the therapeutic teleconferencing software she’d need to keep appointments with the clients she sees at Central DuPage Pastoral Counseling Center in Carol Stream, Ill. She is in awe of the work done by the office support staff to help all the counselors in her practice transition to virtual counseling for their many clients who, already struggling with their mental and emotional health, now must cope with this unprecedented situation. A few weeks into the experience, there is still a learning curve, but in a different way, she says. “The insurance companies require different billing codes for telehealth appointments. That’s a bit of a challenge. I’m keeping up with a full caseload of my usual clients, and many of my colleagues are experiencing an influx of new clients. We are all keeping quite busy.”
Sisters in educational settings had similar transitions, moving to teaching from comfortable classrooms to tiny spaces in their convents and homes.

No hoarding
And many sisters, unwilling to hoard the precious time they’ve been given for prayer and contemplation, have shared their time and compassion in outreach, have engaged in countless small acts of charity.

Many other sisters are reaching out by phone to vulnerable friends and relatives to keep them connected and to check on their needs. Others are assisting vulnerable elders with runs to the grocery store or pharmacy.

Sister Elyse Marie Ramirez, in a burst of energy early in the shelter-in-place, handwrote notes of prayer and solidarity and distributed them to the neighbors who live on blocks adjacent to St. Rose Convent on Springfield’s near westside. She promised them prayer and looked forward to the moment when the quarantine would end: “Many days myself or others of my sisters walk by your house on our daily walk. Hopefully, when this pandemic is behind us, we can stop and chat and wish each other well in person!”

"Many hands make light work"
Evoking sisters’ favorite mantra “many hands make light work” three local communities of sisters in Springfield shared cooking duties for a meal served at the winter warming center in Springfield. The shelter, which is normally open only in the winter months, has extended its operations to help assure a place for warm meals and safe harbor through the month of April.
And at Sacred Heart Convent, where 93 Springfield Dominican Sisters live, much has changed since the shelter-in-place began on March 17.

Sisters are making masks, serving food in the dining room, drying dishes, and checking in on one another. They are social distancing even in chapel, where they gather for Morning and Evening Prayer each day and for two hours of daily prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, praying for the needs of the world during this extraordinary time.
The sisters also have a unique opportunity to fulfill the Dominican Charism of study. Sister Mila Díaz Solano, who is a member of the General Council and a biblical scholar, is taking advantage of her unexpectedly clearer schedule to teach a course for the sisters on the Gospel of Matthew.

In a message she sent to the community Sister Rebecca Ann Gemma, the prioress general wrote: “We are bound together, by the invitation of Christ, to follow him, not just as individuals, but in the interdependent richness of community.” It is a time, she said for us to “discover Christ anew: in ourselves, in one another, in global needs, and in the creative world which is being given a pause from overuse into hope-filled revitalization.”

Friday, March 13, 2020

"Do Not Let Residents Escape"

Recently I was speaking with a colleague who told me about  the sign she saw as she approached the front door of a nursing home.  It read:  "Do Not Let Residents Escape".

Does reading that 'sign' make you  gasp or recoil?  If so, it is because of the dichotomy between what that sign signifies and your mental concept of those persons living in that nursing home. The flip side of this is that when we use such words without thought or intentionality, they deepen our dehumanizing reflection of personhood. Along  with a dehumanizing reflection of aging --  ageism in action.

So -- as a reminder of my post on March 4th -- gather your team, your peers, your staff  next Friday and participate in the Action Pact-sponsored webinar.

See my March 4th post on instructions for registration.

If we change our words, we can  change the world!

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Not My Usual Kind of Post

This post is different from any of my other entries. The information below is profoundly important to anyone in any type of relationship with elders who depend on supportive services -- care partner, staff leadership position, family member, Board member of a nursing home,  position  in elected leadership in a Religious Institute -- . Where those services occur may be at home, in a public assisted living community or nursing home, or in a convent non-licensed or licensed retirement setting.

In earlier  posts, I have repeated the statement that words shape our concepts while also reflecting our concepts.  That is very true, as is  the fact that if we change our language, we change the culture. Changing our words related to elders and elder services to reflect true and positive concepts erases ageism and institutionalism which is so common in even good, traditional nursing homes.

It is for these reasons that I post the announcement of a webinar later this month that is sponsored by Action Pact. In the interests of full disclosure, I have no fiscal or formal relationship with Action Pact. Publishing information about this webinar is motivated solely by my experience with the quality work that Action Pact and Carmen Bowman do, and the very valuable and essential information to be gained by exploring the topic of the words we use.

The one-time payment makes this webinar available for as many people as can fit around the computer, or can see it projected onto a larger screen. It is also available for viewing for thirty days after the actual presentation. I urge you to register for this event and to encourage all individuals engaged with elders in any official capacity to view it.


March 20, 2020

The Power of Language to Create Culture 

Presented this month by our hostess, Carmen Bowman

Unfortunately, the language of long-term care can be institutional. Even CMS notes this by encouraging the elimination of labels at Tag F550.

Are institutional words like these heard in your culture?
work the floor,

Consider a personal and community-wide commitment to use softer, more dignified language. The great news is that changing language costs no money yet does wonders to shift an institutional culture to a natural, normal, culture of home instead.

Join Hostess Carmen Bowman as she shares from the paper of the same title, which she co-authored.

Non-institutional language raises the bar: it drives practice, improves life satisfaction, and is required by CMS requirements.

Join us to talk about how we talk!

$99 per community
Register one person, view as a group (live and/or recorded show).
Fit your group around your computer monitor, or project it on the wall and fill a room.

Go to this website to register: 

Meet Carmen Bowman
Carmen owns Edu-Catering: Catering Education for Compliance and Culture Change turning her former role of regulator into educator. Carmen was a Colorado state surveyor for nine years, a policy analyst with CMS Central Office where she taught the national Basic Surveyor Course and was the first certified activity professional to be a surveyor.
Carmen co-developed the Artifacts of Culture Change measurement tool and is the author of several Action Pact workbooks.

Action Pact | 7709 W. Lisbon Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53222

Thursday, January 23, 2020

“Letting Go”

That phrase, “letting go” is a well-used one within my age cohort and among those who would tell us how to age well. “We have to let go.” It is a phrase that has always gone against the grain for me – not because it is not true, but because I believe that in its common usage it only tells half the story. Inasmuch as the phrase is a half-truth, the hearers and the speakers of this phrase are victims of the great, self-harming prejudice of ageism.

Life is a series of letting go experiences.  We had to let go of our baby teeth to make room for permanent teeth.  We let go of familiar relationships with our parents when we left home to go to college, or to the convent, or to a new home with a marriage partner. Those earlier parental relationships did not wither and die; they changed into differently nuanced relationships, different, more mature, but built on the familiar. And who would argue that one would naturally want to return to the teenage or early adulthood parental relationship?  We recognize the gifts of deepened relationships which developed as a consequence of our leaving home, of our letting go of a familiar relationship.

Most commonly the expression of letting go in later life is used as if it were something different from experiences earlier in our life of letting go, something which leaves us experiencing emptiness and (oh, I rage at the context of this next word) diminished. The message is that we let go and let go and let go as we are hurtled on a downward slide until death greets us at the bottom of the hill.

What is left out of this common usage is the second half of letting go:  we let go in order to grasp the new. This is a one-minute clip that shows, in a physical dimension, what letting go in order to grasp the new looks like.

Not many of my readers are trapeze artists, I’m sure. And the physical balance, coordination, agility and endurance is beyond most of us at any age.  Our letting go to make space for the new is the space for further growth and development. What might that be?  Deeper insights about one’s self, deeper perspective about life, peace, surety about things we used not to be so sure about, nuances in relationships, wisdom, -----.The letting to make space for the new holds a psychic and spiritual energy that parallels the physical energy of the trapeze artists in the video.

The new we make space for will not be in the physical agility dimension.  Arthritic conditions will not disappear; the five-mile jog each morning will not reappear; the sense of breathlessness on the last set of stairs will not absent itself. However, let us never equate or limit our “self” with our “physical self”.

Perhaps instead of the traditional understanding of the half truth of "letting go" we should see it in its totality --  "let's go!"

Friday, December 20, 2019

Review of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism

Throughout my adult life,  there have been a small number of books that are such treasures in wisdom, insights and new knowledge that I have been impelled to announce to friends, colleagues, and at least once or twice to elevator companions, that the book is something that they just  MUST treat themselves to because it will change how they think, how they view the subject at hand.  One of those books is This Chair Rocks by Ashton Applewhite.

What follows is a review that I provided at the invitation of a Sister in elected leadership in  her congregation for their Provincial newsletter.

We’ve all been there:
--  Shocked, unhappy at the growing expanse of gray hair --- or maybe just the growing expanse!
--  The dissatisfaction with hair that is getting thinner, the chin that is becoming a double chin
--The embarrassment that it is not always so easy to open that sealed jar of olives
--The embarrassment that it takes a little longer to get up that last flight of stairs
In This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, Ashton Applewhite sets all these experiences around aging in perspective, showing how almost universally we respond to these physical changes as negative. She calls it “age shame”, seeded and nurtured through the false, negative myths of aging that we have absorbed all our lives. We have never assessed these suppositions about age; we have just believed them and have been taken in by them hook, line and sinker! Believing all these negative myths about aging is a profound prejudice against our future selves and is profoundly harmful to our well-being
When God looked at Creation on the seventh day, God said, “It is good, very good.” God did not say, “The first forty years or so of human life are very good, but after that it is pretty much downhill”. This Chair Rocks releases – without ever using a religious context - the Gospel News that God’s creation of us is “good, very good”, not just for the first half of life but throughout the lifespan. Read it and it will turn your ideas of aging on their head! This is the good news that we should be preaching today in our works of mercy through word and example!

Thursday, December 5, 2019

We are so immersed in it.

Each Wednesday’s local paper always includes a Food section. The feature article this past Wednesday was a story about Mr. ____ who makes dozens of fruitcakes each year, using a recipe that is at least three generations old.  The columnist wrote, “He doesn’t do all the work himself anymore.  Mr. ______ is 85, so most of the work is done by his grandson”

Hmmmm.    So Mr. ____ is described as being limited “because he’s 85”.  That is an expression of ageism:  categorizing a person based on chronological age.

Why might Mr. ____ not do all the work anymore? 
n  He may be mentoring an excited young adult who wants to carry on this family tradition.
n  He may be recuperating from surgery
n  He may have a bad back and can’t lift the heavy utensils holding ingredients for dozens of cakes.

Whatever the reason, the choice, if it is seen as due to this man’s chronological age, it is ageist.

As I read this sentence, I wondered how many readers would even question it. I was reminded of the story of the two young fish swimming along one morning when an older fish passes in the opposite direction and asks, “How’s the water, boys?”  The two young fish look at each other and ask, “What’s water?”  Immersed in it, they could not identify it.  That’s like ageism in our society.  It is so pervasive, we are so immersed in it that we do not recognize it many times.

Ashton Applewhite calls ageism the last acceptable prejudice in our society.  It is also the most perverse because every living person is subject to it.  Geography, gender, and socioeconomic factors have an impact on how much ageism affects given individuals.

Let’s begin to see the metaphorical water we are immersed in and resist it as a matter of justice work  --- and a healthy self interest.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

“I must confess, I was dumb.”

© Imelda Maurer, cdp

Do you recognize those as the words spoken by Senator Bernie Sanders following his recent heart attack?

Here is Sanders’ statement in a fuller context:  "Thank God, I have a lot of energy, and during this campaign I've been doing, in some cases, three or four rallies a day all over the state, Iowa, New Hampshire, wherever. And yet I, in the last month or two, just was more fatigued than I usually have been. And I should have listened to those symptoms."

Sanders said this is what he has learned from this cardiac episode and he wants to see that other people learn it too.  “I should have listened to those symptoms.”  Very wise words of advice.

Because we – all of us – have internalized the negative and false ageist message that old age is synonymous with illness, aches and pains and decline, we can fall into the trap of accepting any “symptom” as just old age creeping up on us, as something we just have to live with. This mindset fits in with the model of the body as a machine with many parts. Our body, this false theory says, is going to fall apart just like an old car.  In reality, some parts do wear out.  We can replace hip and knee joints; we can replace the teeth that are typically good for sixty years or so. Beyond that, our bodies are awesome in the ability to heal, to regenerate, to form new neural paths in adapting to some loss in order to continue function.  Listen to your body and respect what it is telling you.

Senator Sanders’ has given us a powerful public lesson.  Listen to your body. If there is something different going on and it persists, seek advice. Do NOT assume it is just part of growing older.

Let Senator Sanders’ experience be a valuable lesson for all of us.


Monday, October 7, 2019

Fall and the Seasons of Our Lives

© Imelda Maurer, cdp

This morning I turned the heat on in the house for the first time this season to take the chill off, as we say. Fall has finally come. The trees have lost a few of their leaves. The lawn is sparse with them, fallen before they revealed the fullness of their fall colors.

How many times have you and I read a person of high regard in religious circles, or heard a retreat director speak and compare our lives with the four seasons of the year.  Here we are in the fall of the year, and for me and some of my readers, the fall of our lives.  The typical rendition of this life/season analogy is that just as the leaves fall from the trees and die, the challenge we face in the Fall of our lives is to let go.

Now there is nothing inappropriate with the concept that in our lives we must let go in multiple dimensions of life.  Actually, we live through letting go throughout our life, not just in our later years. Initially, in experiencing birth, we “let go” of the unique and deeply intimate relationship with our mother in her womb.  I resist the typical understanding of “letting go” that is associated with Fall and the falling of leaves because it sends the message that the Fall of our life is defined, is circumscribed by loss and the subsequent challenge (as in ageist Aging and Spirituality lectures) to let go. Nothing is further from the truth. We experience the potential for growth and development throughout our life cycle – not just Spring and Summer but Fall and Winter also! The field of gerontology has confirmed this via a growing field of research. Fall is a time of fullness and richness!

Actually, nature gives us a similar positive message.  Those Fall leaves --- they do more than just fall from the tree and die. They spread awe and wonder, delight and joy as millions of people around the world view their majestic colors.  Those pigments have been a part of each leaf all its life. It is only in the Fall with the declining hours of daily sunlight and lower temperatures that the chlorophyll breaks down and disappears revealing the colors that have always been there!!  It is only within the later stage of its life cycle that the glorious colors become visible.  Think about that! Beauty, continued growth and development becomes possible and visible precisely because of our aging.

Another image of Fall as a time of richness and fullness was made obvious to me during a prayer  at a gathering focusing on aging. The prayer was a kind of litany about Fall. This one line has stayed with me and I smile every time I think of it:

"It is fall. Our barns are full."

Thursday, August 1, 2019

How a sense of advocacy makes life better for residents of our communities

Jill Vitale-Aussem is not only President and CEO of the Eden Alternative, she has authored a recently-published book entitled  Disrupting the Status Quo of Senior Living: A Mindshift (© 2019 Health Professions Press, Inc.)  I look forward to purchasing my copy of Jill's book this weekend when I am at the Pioneer Network Conference in Louisville, KY.

What I offer here is a link to an excerpt from Jill's book that is worthy of your time in reading.  She begins by noting that when prospective residents are looking at a community, the bulk of conversations is what the community can offer to the prospective resident. There is never a conversation addressing what the resident brings to the community.  Person-directed living is predicated on Knowing the Person; the all-too-often ignored part of what the resident brings needs to become operational. How can we facilitate purpose and meaning in the lives of our residents if we do not know each person we serve?

The story in this excerpt revolves around a series of thefts in an Assisted Living Community. It has a happy ending because of the sensitive insights and strong sense of advocacy the administrator exhibited.

Read the story  here.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Free Webinar from Pioneer Network featuring Ashton Applewhite

For my readers who may not know who Ashton Applewhite is, she is an author and a leading figure internationally in the movement to raise consciousness about ageism and to end it!

On Tuesday, June 25 at 2:00 EST, Ashton will be a guest for the Pioneer Network webinar.  It is free, but registration is required.  You can register here

If you are not available to listen at the presentation time, your registration will allow you to access the webinar at a later time.

I encourage my readers to go for it!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Francis speaks of imagination and creativity as elements of effective love

“Those who love use their imagination to discover solutions where others see problems. Those who love help others according to their needs and with creativity, not according to preconceived ideas or common conceptions.” - Pope Francis, February 14, 2019

Often I have mused that as Sisters we assume the following false logic: “We love our old Sisters.”  That is an undoubtedly true statement and feeling. But the assumption goes on, “So, of course, we take good care of them.”

Unfragmented, the whole thought is this: “We love our old Sisters. So, of course, we take good care of them.” Love is essential, but it must be proactive if it is to be sufficient. Pope Francis speaks of this directly in his Valentine’s Day message.

In our society, where ageism is so pervasive that we do not recognize it, ageist stereotypes clearly seep through convent walls. This ageism impacts how we view aging, old people (including ourselves), and what is the norm for an appropriate environment and services for these old people (commonly referenced as “they” or “them”). Francis’ statement speaks to the heart of how Sisters can and must approach and implement programs for their elders who need supportive services.

Love drives us to use our imagination to look at what happens and how it happens in our retirement centers with new eyes, with imagination that can envision what can be for our Sisters, not just what has always been.

Francis calls for creativity necessary to meet the needs of our Sisters according to their needs, not according to preconceived ideas, or common conceptions.  Do ageist views of what old age is bind us to preconceived ideas, and blind us to new visions of what creativity could open for our Sisters, and therefore for the world?

Francis is calling for an active love which will transform the present culture of how we view aging and aging services.  In the field of aging services, we call this Culture Change! This movement is a few decades old, and has bold, courageous leaders across the country carrying it’s message forward. It inspires me to know that among this number is a handful of Congregations of women religious whose leaders have listened to and responded to their instinctive knowledge that there can be more for our Sisters in their later years. These superiors have taken seriously their pastoral and canonical mandate to facilitate and nurture the highest possible quality of life for their elders. It is a part of completing the mission for each individual Sister who has committed and spent her life in service to the Church through her particular Religious Institute.

This ministry of service to our own members is merely another facet in the jewel of the works of Mercy which has defined Sisters’ ministry of service as a response to the signs of the times since we first came to the United States as missionaries.

Monday, September 17, 2018

"The Ugly Truth About Ageism: It's a Prejudice Targeting Our Future Selves"

  ©   Imelda Maurer, cdp  September 17, 2018

This blog title is that of an article in The Guardian recently.  I certainly cannot improve on the concepts or the writing, so I include just a few paragraphs from an informative and thought-provoking piece. The entire article can be accessed here.

"We love the elders in our lives and we all hope to grow old, so why does this personal interest not translate into public policy?"  (My own editorializing here ---  it could read, 'why does our love for our elders so rarely translate into environments, policies, procedures, programs and practices that make this love and respect  visible and self-evident to our elders as well as to any observers or visitors to these communities?')

"You see them in most aged-care facilities, seated on pastel-colored lounges, being babysat by a TV they are mostly not watching. Some are asleep, some are sedated, some are cognitively impaired. Seeing them like this, it’s hard to remember they were once young, vital and independent. What’s harder is thinking that it might one day be you."

"So why have we failed to do better by our elderly needing care? Why do we settle for conditions that leave many of them bored, lonely and poorly fed in a way we would never tolerate for ourselves?"

"One underlying cause could be deeply entrenched ageism. It often begins with the language we use. According to writer Ashton Applewhite, if we diminish our regard for the senior members of our society verbally, we are likely to do the same when it comes to the way we frame policy – removing their dignity and sense of agency in condescending generalizations that assume vulnerability and dependence instead of resilience and independence."

"Unlike other prejudices such as racism and sexism, which are manifestations of fear of the other, ageism is unique in targeting our future selves."

 “No prejudice is rational,” says Applewhite. “But with ageism, we have internalised it. We have been complicit in our own marginalisation and it will require active consciousness-raising to correct that, just as the women’s movement did."

Are we ready to engage in active consciousness-raising around issues of ageism?  For my readers who are women religious, there is an urgent call here for us to engage on this issue for the social justice issue that it is! 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Culture Change: Let's Not Make it a Cliché

Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Reissued September 5, 2018

There is a wonderful revolution taking place in (albeit all too few) nursing homes across the country. As long as there are parents who say to their children, ‘Promise me you’ll never put me in a nursing home,” or any of us groan to think that we may spend our last days in a medical institution that is foreign to any feel or sense of “home” with all its deep and deeply personal implications, then there is need for this revolution, this transformation, to spread.

It goes by several names: Culture Change; Transformative Nursing Homes: Resident-Centered Care; Person-Centered Care; Green House Model; Household  Model, Wellspring

What all these terms have in common is a philosophy that holds to the following values and attitudes:

          The resident is put back into the driver’s seat, making as many choices about his/her daily life as possible. One implication is that activities and care revolve around the resident as much as           possible, as contrasted with an institutional model where schedule and staff convenience take precedence.

           It is an environment that honors the culture of aging as life-affirming, satisfying, humane and meaningful.

          The place has the feel and look of HOME. Just two evidences of change in the environment:
            No medical carts rumbling down the hallways.
            No centralized  nurses' station

Although the culture is not transformed by merely instituting programs, or doing away with a centralized nursing station, studies have shown that in communities where the culture has transformed to a resident-first culture, certain practices/programs are present. That information can be used as somewhat of an evaluation of how far along on the journey of culture change a community has come. It is accessible at this link:   http://www.artifactsofculturechange.org/ACCTool/  .
Once on that page, scroll down to the "Artifacts of Culture Change Downloadable Version".

Culture change is a deep, challenging transformation of attitudes and values which is dependent on strong, knowledgeable leadership. The leader must have a deep belief in these transformative values and the leadership ability to shape staff so that these values permeate every cell of their being. Anything short of this is not transformative change and the result will not be ‘culture change.’

The win-win part of culture change is that this transformative mode of operation costs no more than traditional, institutional care. In fact, there are many reasons why the cost is probably lower. That’s a topic for another day.

Steve Shields, CEO of a transformative community in Manhattan, KS speaks of what made it possible for him and his staff to move forward in their journey of transformative change. He is quoted in Beth Baker's book, Old Age in a New Age:  When Action Pact consultants first introduced the concepts of culture change, "The vision was painted so strongly and in front of everybody that it became holy. Truly."

I spoke with Steve about that quote and asked him what he meant by saying that culture change is ‘holy.’ He said simply and straightforwardly, “It is holy because it liberates our elders and returns hope to them.”

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Interpreting What We See

Sometimes the very field we are in as caregivers or advocates under one broad definition or another can lend a bias to our observations that is not always in the best interests of those we love and serve. Our conclusions may not reflect what  choices they may rightfully make or want to make.
We may think we know better because of our professional background, or because of our position or status. We may be acting from a conscious desire to keep the ones we love and serve safe from making poor decisions.
Sonya’s experience described below and what she took from it spoke to me strongly of just one example of implicit bias that exists in all good people. It was her Facbook entry posted earlier this morning

It happened again today. Blue the Elder Dog (Chief Executive of Cuteness and Herding for Sonya Barsness Consulting) and I went for a walk. He walked very slowly and wobbily, breathing heavily. He didn't make it around the block. I picked him up and carried him into the house. As I sat processing this, he came up to me and started barking, nudging his ball towards me. 
And it hit me - he is reserving his energy for what is important to him.
How often do we make assumptions about what our beloveds need and want? Do we notice what brings them to life?
And so we played.
Blue the Elder Dog has been promoted to Senior Chief Executive of Wisdom.

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?