Growing up, it was just three of us: my mother (Virginia), her father (Baba), and me. Baba was a widower, my grandmother having died when I was 10. My father died when I was 14. My mom had no brothers or sisters, so, as an only child of an only child, there were only the three of us. We lived within a few miles of each other, in the suburbs of Chicago, IL. I had a wonderful childhood, filled with memories of happy holidays, endless summers, and great family gatherings with cousins. And all this lasted up until my early teens.
My grandfather broke his hip in a fall, and even though he recovered, his health was never really the same. Eventually, because of this injury, he ended up a wheelchair and needing care. It was just me and my mom to do the work. That was never a question, because that’s what just we did in those days; family took care of family. And that’s where my career in working with aging adults started.
As a teenager, I would go to my grandfathers’ after school, making him dinner (usually a Swanson’s frozen dinner), then seeing to his personal needs (yes, toileting and bathing), and then coming home. On weekends I stayed overnight, watching Star Trek and staying up late to watch Johnny Carson. For all of my high school years, my mom and I took turns caring for Baba this way. It was just what we did. In return, I was blessed to be in the presence of a role model of what elderhood should be. I was given a practicum on how to be compassionate, determined, and meet the challenges of aging with grace.
I came to my last career as a clinical psychologist when I was in my 40’s. In between, I had gotten married, done lots of different jobs including teaching, being a para-legal, and even some comedy.
I re-kindled my passion for working with elders when I returned to grad school at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology.
In the 30 years I have spent as a clinical psychologist doing this work, I have woven the values, teachings, and love that I received from Baba, my mother, my husband, Hank, my cousin, Alex, and many other wonderful mentors into what I do.
I was able to use this wisdom as my mother grew older. She remained living independently until her middle-80s. Her move to an assisted living facility was one of the hardest things I ever had to go through.
Confronting the inevitable would have been much easier if only we had had the hard conversations earlier. Things like how to insure she was safe, how to preserve her dignity, how to let go. Instead, we both put on a brave face and made do.
Over time, she came to accept that she was in the best place for her, given her challenges. And, because of her charming personality, she was loved and embraced by staff and residents alike. I was relieved, knowing she was safe and had someone close by, night and day, in case she needed help. I am so grateful to have been with her when she died, bringing a peaceful end to an extraordinary life.
Just a year after my mother died, my husband died. I was left behind to figure out how to navigate this last portion of my life unpartnered.
While I have since retired my psychology license, I continue to use my skill set as a life coach, consultant, and trainer. I love helping people challenge ideas about aging and helping them find the path that is the best fit for who they are and what they have yet to accomplish.
In learning what I need to do to keep going, I came up with Five Pillars of Aging. My desire is to share what I have learned about the challenges that aging brings, especially in the 21st century, with you through my workshops, writings, and consultations. This way I honor the legacy of values from Baba, my mother, and others. I’d love a chance to share this with you!