Have you or someone special been fighting an aggressive disease that’s threatening to end life as you know it? Has it progressed to the point that you know time is short?  After fighting breast and bladder cancer for years,  Ann was told that she had brain cancer.  Her doctor talked of yet another operation and told her to stay close to the hospital. But Ann knew she could not be cured.

Ann did not follow her doctors’ advice. With her husband, she created an amazing adventure. They travelled to her favorite location, a place they had never visited together, and embraced life in the moment. Ann kept a journal of this trip. In it she recorded everything: the joy beyond measure moments; the sick, fearful moments; the angry, I’m-not-ready moments; the curiosity-about-death moments; the humble, open-to-grace moments; and the deep awareness that she had loved well and been loved back moments. Ann held nothing back.

Her sister, Marilyn, published this journal on a website for all to appreciate. I have asked to place a link to it here on my AGING WELL page. Indeed, Ann aged well, even if death took her at age 63.

Please follow the link to Ann’s Webpage and her Journal:  http://annchapinmorgan.wordpress.com/

For Caregivers: Living Well with Your Own and Others’ Limitations…

For Adults with Aging Family: Finding Your Place on the Family’s Aging Journey…

For Healthcare Professionals: Optimizing Your Role in Someone Else’s Family…

Upcoming Events

  • October 18, 2012: Luncheon Workshop, Roma”s Restaurant, Louisa, VA: Thursday, October 18, 2012, 11:30 – 1 pm. NARFE – Re-Thinking the Aging of America: What it can mean for each one of us! Contact: Kate Killum, champaign_kate@yahoo.com  
  • November 16, 2012: Luncheon Workshop, Chicken Soup for the Caregivers of Seniors Luncheon, Lake Anna Winery, Spotsylvania, VA: Friday, November 16, 2012, 11:30 – 2 pm. Fee: $15 per person; reservations required by November 13th. The program was designed to give honor to National Family Caregivers Month. Dr. Mary Ann Massey is the keynote speaker at online pokies this event. Call: 757-503-4440 to make your reservation or for more information.
  • January 5, 2013: How to be Happy TODAY on the Way to Where You are Going, a workshop for spiritual and personal growth, St. Mary”s Catholic Church, Saturday, January 5, 2013, 9 a.m. – 12 noon. Contact: Sharon Mugford smugford@stmarysrichmond.org
  • February 9, 2013: Women”s Annual Day of Reflection, St. Bede Catholic Church, Williamsburg, VA, Saturday, February 9, 2013. Contact: Pamela Rudder – pamelarudder@mac.com;  Topic to be determined by December 2012.

March 10, 2012 – Baltimore, MD – Seminar on Aging

Seminar on aging. This event is part of the Mid-Atlantic Congress on Pastoral Leadership, Baltimore, MD; Hilton Hotel, Inner Harbor

For information and registration please go to:

December, 2011 – Webinar – Details to Come

November, 2011 – Webinar – Details to Come

Featured Healthcare Professional: Dr. Mary Ann Massey

Audio Introduction of Featured Professional Dr. Mary Ann MasseyI’ve been in the healthcare business almost my entire adult life. My primary focus has been mental healthcare. What do I mean by that? To me, it means that I have counseled men and women through all stages of their maturing years; couples in crisis over love, communication, finances, children, and each other’s fidelity; families who struggle with similar issues with a higher frequency of child related conflict; and seniors looking to grow old gracefully.

Some of the seniors have no money, others never struggle financially. Some are alone while others have strong family connections. Some are confident and independent while others are frightened for their future. All of them must face life differently as they age. All of them have sought counseling to speak confidentially about issues they don’t wish to address with their family. My heart has gone out to them.

The world is changing all around our seniors. Science and technology have advanced to such an extent that our elders’ options continue to multiply each year. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Often, they don’t know how to embrace their new choices. They seek counseling to make sense of it all. Sometimes, they talk to come to terms with their families who ‘want the best for them’ but don’t receive well what my clients say they want. We work on clarifying their thinking so that they can communicate their desires better without feeling devalued by their adult children.

When my dad was in a nursing home/rehabilitation center for a year, I watched many families try to share their side of the story. In the dining room, one Sunday when I was visiting dad, a mother and daughter were sitting at a table near enough for me overhear their conversation. What I heard broke my heart. The mother was trying to tell her daughter how hard it was for her to be there, that she was lonely and lived for her daughter’s visits. She wanted her daughter to know that she’d welcome more frequent visits if her daughter could manage that. The daughter looked terribly frustrated, got defensive immediately, did not take a moment to let her mom know she understood. Instead, she dove right into her own story. She visited her mom three evenings a week, worked full time, was a single mom of three school-aged girls, and barely had time for herself. There wasn’t another hour in the week to read a book let alone come back to the nursing home. She told her mother that she felt like nothing she ever did was good enough. And there the impasse sat. Neither had much more to say. The daughter kissed her mom goodbye after dessert and told her she’d see her in a couple of days.

Incidents like the one above are more frequent in our world, whether parents live with their children or in another establishment. The mental health component of healthcare is as vital as the fields of nursing and doctoring, care managing, aides, home health caregiving, and the range of special folk who tend to the very ill or dying among us.

I met a physical therapist at a party a few months ago. She and I chatted a bit and before I knew it, she was telling me several stories that came from her patients. They wanted to talk about their families, how much of a burden her patients thought they were becoming with their many ailments, treatments, needs for doctors, et al. A week later I had a meeting with my attorneys. They specialize in elder care. When they read my book, they asked for copies to keep in their office. “We deal with these issues all the time,” they said, and proceeded to share with me heart-wrenching anecdotes. We talked about how we could collaborate so that they could respond better to those who came to them for estate planning…but needed so much more than plans to disperse their monies when they die.

I am in a wonderful profession. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Communication is challenging in every generation and definitely between generations. The older I get the more I appreciate the enormous differences among us in how we think, what we value, the traditions that have defined us, and the fears that compel us to cling too hard or detach too much.

I fell into this profession in a strange kind of way. When in my twenties, family members’ needs led me to Al-Anon. After several years of attending meetings, I realized I had great compassion for people but lacked the skills to really help them. Fortunately for me, I lived a mile from Syracuse University where one of the best graduate programs in the country existed. I applied, I was accepted, and I never looked back. I thrived at SU because my heart found the training that would allow me to do what I was meant to do.

What aspect of healthcare has called you? What aspects do you find challenging? Where do you wish you had more training or support? Your input on these and any other related topics would be highly valued as it our goal to build a thriving online community that may answer many questions and open the door to ideas yet unthought-of. Click here to contribute your thoughts…

Signature of Dr. Mary Ann Massey
Dr. Mary Ann Massey

“Who Will Care for Mother …”

When a double tragedy befalls a family, siblings and friends make it possible for one of them to take a six year leave-of-absence to provide round-the-clock home healthcare.

Key Points:

• Double tragedy

• Significant in-home care needed for parent

• Determination to avoid professional care

Sister Marie is 85 years old and has been an Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic nun for 63 years. Currently, she is employed as the associate to a pastor overseeing two small town Catholic churches. At the time of the story, she was an administrator in a large Catholic High School serving 4000 girls. Her mother was not considered elderly; she was 74. She was not considered sick; she worked part-time in a department store and shared a home with her husband. In a moment, her life changed forever.

Dr. Massey’s Comments…

When tragedy hits families, we never know the day or the hour. If you get sick or are struck by a car, are you prepared? Have you talked with your family about contingency plans? Do your children or selected others know your desires? Have you shared a power of attorney status with anyone yet –even if you are only in your 50s or 60s? Have you developed an estate plan, including health directives?

The double tragedy is heart-wrenching, and could throw any family off balance. Here, one parent lies in a coma while the family conducts a funeral for the other. Shock and grief surround the siblings as they discuss their options. They manage their emotions and honor each other well. Yet, families deal with tragedy differently. Some people: a) rally, but fall apart later; b) some fall apart immediately, using misplaced accusations, judgments, and hurt to mask loss; c) some let time lead to the optimal choices for the surviving parent’s care; and d) some stay in shock longer than others and have little to offer. You may be familiar with this range of reaction. Meanwhile, the surviving spouse wakes from a coma, and faces her personal shock and grief. Could you be sensitive to her situation? Imagine the challenge for a woman who went to work in the morning to come home four months later unable to speak, or to move her right side, or to find her husband waiting for her. One cannot calculate her private grief. Can we manage our own loss well enough to care for a surviving parent with respect and tenderness?

Let’s consider decision-making in this family. Shock reactions would probably determine early choices. If siblings are at odds with each other, seeds of conflict would form immediately- even if months passed before problems erupted. It’s important to guard against judgment and blame and wait for emotions to settle down. Choosing a primary caregiver takes time and discernment, often much discussion. How would your own family choose a primary caregiver? If you are not able to take that role, would you be able to talk about it with your family members? Sister Marie does not mention how she became the family’s primary caregiver choice. She does not mention how she was able to assume the duties of a nurse or doctor by reading books, observing physical therapy sessions, and asking questions. She does note the enormous support of neighbors and friends, and the availability of doctors.

Let’s talk about In-home care. This caregiver was on deck for six years. She does not speak of burnout, or the help provided by her brothers along the way. We have to presume that her success was predicated on lots of help. Caregiving work is impossible without outside support. Caregivers easily burn out early. Care for the caregiver is talked about openly these days. Support groups exist in most communities. Online support abounds. Seek help, take breaks, focus on other aspects of life when possible.

The mother’s journey was painful. She improved with daily rehabilitative therapy. Then, suddenly, she had another stroke, never spoke again, and became a bed patient. She got out of bed with the help of a Hoyer lift. She had a feeding tube. She lived two more years with very limited ability. What a spirit of survival must have guided her. What a massive amount of love must have encouraged her along the way. Many caregivers would emit their frustrations, feelings that the loved one readily observes, understands, and then reacts to. How often do you involuntarily make matters worse by venting feelings on those in your care? In my therapy practice, I notice that it happens frequently when folks are weary and their charges are demanding. What I am not privy to is the response, mostly internal, of the one receiving the wearied looks, sighs, sharp tones, and grunts. They are probably ready to die, to give up, but it is not their time. They look at us and know they are a burden. All families would benefit from talking with each other about their feelings. “I bet you want to die, mom?” and “I think you want me to die, daughter/son.” After acknowledging the truth in these statements, consider the freedom that comes from candid conversations. “Yes, sometimes I get very weary. It’s a hard job caring for you. But I love you and I don’t want to lose you. Life is challenging for you, too. Let’s try to enjoy this time more.”

Sister Marie talked with her mother often using a blinking eye signal. Her love and patience guided the ‘conversations.’ What would you do?

MAM signature
Dr. Mary Ann Massey

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