Top 25 Songs for Aging Baby Boomers

Sixties albumby Jan Simpson Benvenuti

Recently, one of my hip brothers turned 69. Still handsome and fun-loving, his long history of being the life of the party is undiminished by age. He remains a hilarious story-teller, a talent inherited genetically and nurtured around the dinner table by my father, the youngest son of Scots-Irish immigrants. While the health benefits of positivity are espoused by researchers and clinicians alike, it remains the default in my family ethos, an ethos not fueled by alcohol consumption but the sheer joy of being alive and navigating life together.

Over the years as the youngest sibling – MUCH younger, I might add – I’ve observed my parents and now my siblings navigate health challenges with grace and laughter. In my family, humor matters. It is the glue that binds us, that helps us confront challenges with joy and celebrate successes with humility.

Yet this year, I struggled to find an appropriate birthday card for my brother who is transitioning toward elderhood. A snarky one about age would not do; he has a sensitive soul. Photos of half-naked women seemed inappropriate and ones with elderly men wouldn’t resonate for someone who remains eternally 35 in spirit.

Then, I found it at Hallmark: TOP 25 FAVORITE SONGS.

Here they are. If you don’t get the references, lucky you. If you do, enjoy the laughs along with us.

#25 Let’s Get Physicals
#24 Ain’t No Burrito Mild Enough
#23 I Wear My Bifocals at Night
#22 A Hard Day’s Nap
#21 Who Left the Milk Out
#20 The Long and Winding Nose Hair
#19 I Can’t See Clearly Now
#18 I Just Died in Your Arms (Call 911)
#17 Moany, Moany
#16 Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on the Bathroom Door
#15 I’m Bringing Saggy Back
#14 To All the Girls I’ve Disappointed Before
#13 I Want a New Drug Plan
#12 Hey, You, Get Off My Bumper
#11 Rock Me Gently, Dammit
#10 1-900 Is the Loneliest Number
#9 Achy Breaky Hip
#8 It’s Only Muzak (But I Like It)
#7 Groovy Kind of Love Handles
#6 I’ve Had the BM of My Life
#5 The Sound of Silent (But Deadly)
#4 Stair-Lift to Heaven
#3 Baby Got Backache
#2 Y.M.C. eh?
#1 Waking Up is Hard to Do.

BOOK REVIEW: The Heart of the Hereafter, Love Stories from the End of Life

by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

The Heart of the HereafterEach month I read dozens of books, articles and research reports about aging and healthcare, looking for tidbits of information that I can share with you, knowledge that will make your family life easier, healthier, more joyful. After 25 years in healthcare, it’s rare that I find a book that makes me pause and reconsider how we care for the dying. The Heart of the Hereafter, Love Stories from the End of Life, is one of those books.

Author Marcia Brennan, Ph.D., is a professor of Art History and Religious Studies at Rice University in Houston, Texas. She also is the Artist In Residence in palliative medicine at the renowned M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Curious about her role, I anticipated that her book would describe anecdotally how art therapy can help a patient cope with their cancer diagnosis. Far from that, Dr. Brennan becomes our guide to life’s greatest transition – death – using art as the language to describe what words cannot.

Dr. Brennan briefly provides context about historical guides to the art of dying called the ars morendi, small printed books widely used in the 14th century to help people understand the dying process and acknowledge the moment between living and death, when an individual is suspended between worlds. “Sometimes when I visit people at the end of life,” she writes, “I get the sense that they are inhabiting multiple worlds at once…their physical appearance changes and they become extremely beautiful.” This state of grace, a moment of sustained peace and comfort, a convergence of the physical and spiritual, is captured through her stories about 10 patients, including a child, who are dying.

In “The Heart,” Dr. Brennan brilliantly demonstrates how she creates a complete summation of each patient’s life in a single poem, words that are transformed by a visual artist into a charcoal drawing. She places their reflection in the context of her deep knowledge about religion and art, centering each story around the different types of love that influence and transform a person’s life. The result is breathtaking, especially as each patient acknowledges the accuracy of her work, comforted by her understanding and a sense of accompaniment when facing the transition between worlds.

The news today is full of stories about how to navigate the last years of life. Housing choices, hospice care, insurance coverage and legal plans are mundane but necessary decisions that distract families from what truly matters: being present with loved ones in the last months and moments of their lives. Dr. Brennan, a stranger to the patients she meets, reminds us that our role is to listen and affirm, to remain open to whatever arises, to acknowledge that “the end of life is all about life itself and the many different types of love that we experience as human beings.” This book is a gift to us, one to re-read each time someone in your life approaches the end of their own.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Click this link to purchase The Heart of the Hereafter: Love Stories from the End of Life

c2015 Circle of Life Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.

What Immigrants Teach us about Aging

Bowne Park 2014 by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

Last Sunday, my early morning walk took me to Bowne Park in North Flushing, NY an oasis of trees, grass and walking paths surrounding a pond in the borough of Queens. I wandered past the neatly manicured lawns of single family homes first built by the successful physician and attorney sons of Irish and Italian immigrants, now inhabited by their Korean and Chinese counterparts. I joined the dog walkers doing laps around the park, past the basketball court where my son once played, perfecting his three point shot through a chain-link hoop. On one end of the court, a future Jeremy Lin practiced his layup while on the other, four grandparents stretched in synchronous motion, practicing their tai chi.

Ahead, an elderly woman stepped up and down the on the lower rung of the climber where my daughter once scampered gleefully showcasing her skills on the slide and jungle gym. On my left, another did gentle pushups on the back of a park bench near which two men and a woman chatted, speaking in tongues and sharing a laugh.

I live in two worlds. In one, I engage with global leaders worried about an aging America. State governments shudder at the cost of long-term care. Health care providers predict rising demand while business leaders offer employees flexible benefits and housing leaders construct more assisted living complexes, anticipating future demand from aging boomers. In this world, I speak nationally about strategies for supporting an older America, coach families who need guidance through the perplexing maze of available options while encouraging entrepreneurs bursting with ideas that can make a difference.

In the second world of my personal life, I see easy solutions that are blind spots to those whose vision of the future includes separating seniors from their families. I returned home from my walk, climbed the front stairs, and unlocked the door of my mother-in-law’s home that I have shared for the past twenty years. Despite the street appearance of a single family home, the interior opens to three separate apartments each inhabited by family members. As children and teenagers, a visit to grandparents by my children meant running upstairs while a trip to their great-aunt and uncle required a loop outside to the backyard and three steps back inside to knock on their kitchen door. My husband, his brother and cousins were raised in this home along with their grandmother after whom our daughter and niece are named.

This week, we put the family home up for sale. At 89, it’s time for my mother-in-law to transition to a new home closer to her physician son. With only two days notice, 19 realtors attended the open house, and we received 15 offers within five days, all but one from Asian families planning to use the home as it was intended, a place of inter-generational love and support, with walking access to stores, the post office, buses and the railroad, a 20 minute commute to downtown Manhattan.

In few decades, my husband and I will need to downsize. Will we move into a retirement community in a sunny locale, find an assisted living community to live with strangers, or will we build a new three family home and invite our children and theirs to grow old with us? Only time will tell.

c 2014 Circle of Life Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.