Tears of all

Today the loss of my father now gone five years slammed into me. It’s the insult of an unexpected burn or a pinched finger in the door. I’m left empty and angry at the pain.

As I age, I find there is less and less that moves me to highs or lows. Offenses that once brought immediate reaction and judgment have little effect. I absorb their assault as being more about someone else or something else outside of me. And the highs from a good movie, a get together, a beautiful gift that one day not so long ago overwhelmed my senses are warmly appraised but are processed in a more shallow, less complex place.

Deaths and births, small individual actions and the beauty of nature however pull strongly at me, shocking me as they evoke immediate and unexpected response. Responses that I cannot control. I cry with abandon at small flower or a child skipping and I am at the mercy of whatever it is inside of me that I seem not to own.

Next month a new grandchild will pull me into the unique beauty of a birth. Every birth is a fingerprint—never to be copied or confused with any other birth. I will wonder at this beginning as if I have never experienced another child entering this world. I know he’s coming, I will probably there as he takes his first breath yet the volcano of emotion will again slam into my heart.  Caught up in the purest connection of all life as one—my father to me, me to my son and now my grandson—I will stop breathing as I wait for his first breath and then tears will flow that belong less to me than to the world of joy and suffering.

susan_bioSusan Cain McCarty



Good-by Bailey

old Bailey Puppy Bailey copy

Sadly, I am writing this blog about deep loss. This week I said good-by to Bailey, our old yellow lab who lived 16 long years (and a few months). Larger breed dogs often live 10-12 years so we were very lucky to have Bailey with us for so long.

We think she lived as long as she did because she was so easy going. Bailey never rushed or even exerted herself. We had another lab, Mudd, a chocolate lab. He loved to retrieve anything. If you pulled out a tennis ball, you should be ready to invest some time and energy because Mudd would chase it for an hour. Bailey on the other hand might retrieve the ball once and would only trot to get the ball and then walk back, drop it at our feet and go lay down. She was easy to train because she didn’t pull on the leash—that would require too much effort. We rarely had to ask her to sit or lay because she was in repose most of the time.

But time finally caught up with her. She had terrible arthritis in her hips and shoulders; she had a benign tumor that was the size of a puppy on her side making it hard for her to lay on one side (vet said it was too dangerous to remove at her age and it would grow back); she had almost no muscle development in her hindquarters; her sight was bad though she wasn’t completely blind; she was mostly deaf and was becoming incontinent. Lately we had an increasing in incidences where all four legs would splay out and she’d go down and was not able to get up on her own so we couldn’t leave her alone. In spite of all of these aging challenges, she continued to wag her tail, loved seeing the grandkids and she never lost her appetite. With physical help and lots of love, we helped her maintain some quality of life. Still, I knew the time was near but I wondered how I would know when it was time to let go.

The vet told me I should trust myself and that I would make the decision at the right time. Given how long she lived in spite of great physical loss, I doubted his advice. Yet on Tuesday she did tell me. Most days Bailey would get up in the morning, eat, go outside to relieve herself and come back in to nap for hours. She’d go outside again around 1 pm and then sleep until dinner. But on Tuesday, she followed me around the house all morning. I work from home so I spend time in my office and between calls and projects, I rush around picking up the house, doing laundry and washing dishes. Following me rather than resting was completely out of character.

Finally I sat down next to her, put my arm around her neck and buried my face into her soft, warm neck. Tears slipped from my eyes as I immediately realized what she was asking. I said “OK Bailey.” She looked at me, licked my face and then she walked to her bed and was finally able to rest. Later that day our vet helped Bailey move on to her next life.

With great love comes great pain. I ache physically, emotionally and mentally from the loss of Bailey. I have had a headache for 24 hours and my stomach is in knots. Yet it is this intense pain that forces me to think about Bailey and the manygifts she gave me and to realize that the person I am today better for having Bailey in my life. She taught me the joy of just “being” and of non-judgmental love. I pray that she will watch over me and look for me when it’s my turn to make that journey.

By Susan Cain McCarty


Aging with a Dog Blog

By Susan Cain McCarty

I plan to write a few articles about aging with a dog, a topic I’m passionate about since I am aging and have two Boston’s, Chester who is 3 and Bruin, 5 and a very old yellow lab, Bailey, 16 ½. I’ve not only owned several different breeds of dogs with very unique dispositions and personalities but long ago I groomed dogs (way of earning money while in school) and I trained level-one obedience.

There are several important social and safety issues to consider. From a social perspective, you may want to consider not only your long-term living needs but those of your pet, particularly if you have (or plan to acquire) a young dog and especially if it’s a smaller breed that may live a long time and even outlive you. Also, you will want to consider whether your pet can move with you if you decided to change living environments and if not, what arrangements can be made for his next home. Some assisted living residences accept pets but many don’t. Similarly there are a few adult foster care homes that will accept a pet. In a future blog, I plan to write more about the social aspects of selecting and living with a dog into our aging years.

This blog will focus on safety for you (and somewhat for your pet). Some people agree with and enjoy Caesar, the Dog Whisperer, and others think his methods are too strict. Having worked with many types of dogs, I find his style and methods work quite well. If you watch one or two of his TV shows, you can learn his approach without watching all the other shows: 1) Be the boss or as Caesar expresses it, “the pack leader” 2) Every day, approach your dog calmly and with compassionate authority. If you are anxious or insecure, your dog will sense this and training and your relationship with your dog will suffer.

Those are the keys to a successful relationship with your dog. Oh and one more point—dogs are loving, kind and loyal but they aren’t human. Don’t humanize them. You can’t change dogs into people. They are meant to live in packs and have a leader. They can be your helpmate and your best friend but they are not human and they are not your child. Respect their need to have a leader and be that leader. If you don’t accept that role, they will be the leader and the result is often an axious dog and an aggressive dog. Neither is suitable as an ideal dog. Treat them with respect, consistency, fairness, love and always be the pack leader and you will do well.

One of my biggest concerns is teaching your dog how to be safe in the house with you and when on a walk. Some dogs—often small ones—will circle around you and weave between your legs or jump on you, particularly when excited (perhaps waiting for dinner or for you to attach his leash). This is very dangerous. As we age, our balance becomes impaired and a dog that is underfoot is a tripping and falling hazard.You can end up with a broken arm, leg or hip or at a minimum a bad strain or several bruises. As we age, any physical damage can mean a long recovery. So teach your dog not to run around at your feet nor cross in front of you. You can use your voice, hands or feet to train them to keep their distance until they are called to your lap or to your side.

Some people think it’s abusive to push a dog with your foot. It is if you kick them but not if you are using your foot and leg to gently push them—it’s simply an extension of your arm and you don’t have to bend over. Whether you use your arm or leg, when you push them away, give a one or two-word commandor a noise such as clicking as you are pushing. If you do this often, eventually you can give up the physical “push” and instead use the command or noise (a click or a command such as “move” or “away”). Whatever command and/or noise you use, use it consistently. I click to my dogs just like I did to my horses when I had them and that works fine. Other people think I’m strange and they are probably right but it works for me.

My husband likes to speak in sentences to the dogs. He might say, “Move away you are too close and I’m going to trip,” and he will actually expect them to obey. I’ve told him—remember Peanuts—all they hear is “blah, blah, blah.” Use one or two word commands and you can even use a different language just for fun. But be consistent and they will learn.

Going for a walk

Having a dog when older often means lots of walks—that’s great for you and wonderful for the dog. However, I consider every single walk a training opportunity for myself and the dog.

First and foremost—don’t put the collar on or attach the leash if the dog is jumping and excited. People tend to talk in a higher voice with a dog—a more excited voice or “baby talk” saying, “Want to go for a walk? Walk? Let’s go for a walk”. It’s no wonder the dog is anxious—your voice and probably your body language are axious and excited.Instead, use a calm and assertive voice.

We like to camp with our dogs and when camping, we take them on several walks each day since they can’t roam free. I put the leashes on only when they are calm and not jumping. I then drop the leash on the floor, make them sit and then I open the door and exit. I stand at the bottom of the motorhome stairs and they cannot get up from a sitting position until I say “come” (or “release”—whatever works for you). Once they come to me I immediately pull back gently on the leashes to remind them “I’m the boss and you will start the walk calmly.” They then begin the walk in a relaxed frame of mind and they are listening to me. Whether camping or at home I follow this process. No walk or exiting the house until they are relaxed and following directions.

Second, NO pulling.Maybe you took your dog to obedience training and he will heel but I see few dogs exhibiting such training. So here are simple tips: When your dog pulls on the leash, click or use whatever noise you like and a command like “no pull” while pulling back on the leash (don’t “jerk”—that’s hard on their neck and shows anxiety). There are many devices to help you when walking a dog including different types of collars. Some collars are more like a bridle on a horse and they circle the noise; some are choke chains (never found these helpful and find them cruel but that’s one opinion); some have spikes that push on their skin (they aren’t as gruesome as they look but I’ve never found them necessary); some are a chest harnesses; and some are plain old collars. I think what you use is less important than consistent training techniques. I personally use a mesh harness that puts pressure on the chest;however,what works for me and my dogs and may not work for you. I wouldn’t ask your vet or the person at the pet store for advice—unless they train dogs they probably won’t have the best advice—I’d do some online searching and find qualified trainer advice.

In the beginning, you may need to pull back on the leash with some strength, but if you are consistent, by the third walk using consistent training techniques, your dogshould understand what you want from the gentlest tug on the leash. Do this often—don’t let them pull really hard and for a while before correcting. As soon as they are at the end of the leash and you feel any strain, correct them. Never use more force than is necessary to get the desired result. I keep pressure on the leash with my pinky finger and pull gently with that. That’s all it takes most of the time. One word of advice on leashes—don’t use the retractable ones that typically extend from 16 to 26 feet. That’s too much freedom and you aren’t training the dog to walk close and calmly. More important, I don’t feel it’s a safe choice for the dog (or you). If a dog is extended 16 foot in front of you and something catches his eye and he’s not on his best behavior, he has 16 feet of room to go in any direction including the street or someone’s garden. I use a six-foot leash and find that works great for walks.

Have a plan about how you want to walk your dog. Do you want him to be allowed to pee at several bushes, fire hydrants and car tires? If so, that’s OK but decide whether you will allow this early in the walk or at the end of the walk but after 5 minutes of that, they must “walk on” for the remainder of the walk—no stopping unless you decide to take a break. There’s no reason they have to continue to sniff and pee. So give them a few minutes for that but then the rest of the time they must walk by your side or in front of you but never pulling at the end of the leash.

Don’t let your dog cross in front of or behind you. I have two Boston’s and my daughter has two. I like to walk three or four at a time (one of them is lazy and I like to walk for about four miles so sometimes it’s just three dogs). When I walk with them, I assign a “side” and all must stay on the side they are assigned. They can’t switch places or dash to the other side because something smells beautifully rotten. Again, I use my foot so that I can correct immediately rather than bending over. With the front or side of my foot, I gently push them back into place on the correct side and again using a “click” or voice command. Eventually you should be able to use only one: the voice command, click or gentle push.  HOWEVER, if using your foot causes you to feel off-balance, don’t use this technique. Use your hand and/or words.

I never allow our dogs to smell other dogs (unless I know them and the dogs are “friends”) or bark. I am very attentive to other dog walkers. If I see a dog approaching that is in a highly anxious state—pulling on the leash, barking, jumping or growling, I move to the other side of the street. It’s not because I can’t train my dog to behave but I don’t want to put my dog or myself in a situation that could result in danger to either of us.

Finally, if you want to walk your dog but feel you can’t train him to be safe, bring in a trainer but remember—you must be trained as well.

Dogs are such important companions. I encourage those who love them to have them up until the day you die if you enjoy them and they enhance your life. My mother-in-law is 92 and she lost her beloved “Candy” last month. While she mourned her greatly, she also realized that having Candy was critical to her well being given she could no longer drive and most of her friends had passed. Wisely she wanted and acquired another dog that was older but healthy and well trained.

However, the topic of selecting a dog matching your needs, age, and physical condition is a topic for another blog…

If you have an experience to share relating to this topic or any topic about aging that is of interest to you, let me know. You can reach me at scain@caincom.com or 408-393-4794.


Susan Cain McCarty spent over 25 years in high-tech marketing and is still consulting in that role today; however, she acquired a late-in-life Master’s in Interdisciplinary studies focusing on Gerontology. She now has a second careerconsulting as a Geriatic Care Manger helping elders and their loved ones plan for aging.



Freedom is A Phonebook


As Geriatric Care Managers or GCMs, we deal with some tough, tough challenges: Helping people find a new place to live when they aren’t emotionally ready to move but physically must have more or helping families and the oldest old develop coping strategies as Alzheimer’s progresses. But all the challenges of living into older years aren’t big ones.

Today I was at Target buying an Xbox game for my grandsons and an older woman asked the young clerk working the electronics counter where she could get a phone book. Perplexed, the young woman (maybe 19) said “a what?” and the lady said, “A phone book. I have a GPS because I get lost but it doesn’t help me to have a GPS if I don’t have addresses of the places I’m going and I don’t have a computer to look them up.” The girl shrugged her shoulders and was at a loss to provide any suggestions. After all, who asks for a phone book anymore? Where do they even come from?

Chuckling to myself about the confusion of the young woman, I stepped in and asked the older woman who provided her phone service. She said Verizon but she only has a cell phone, no landline and therefore didn’t get a phone book. I told her to contact Verizon and explain she has a cell but still wants a phone book. I hope they helped her.

As I walked away, I realized what a small inconvenience this woman’s problem might seem to many but this older lady was nearly confined to her home if she couldn’t rely on her GPS and that old tissue paper phone book. Seeing this lady struggle with her small problem reminded me to slow down and observe and listen because sometimes all someone needs to enjoy life is a simple answer to a simple question.

As a Nation we are focused on whether we can afford the 78 million aging boomers and debating which medical programs and high tech solutions can enhance and extend quality of life. But sometimes quality of life is a phone book.

~ Susan

Choices for the Future

I find many ideas for blogs while I’m at the airport waiting for my flight. It’s a great place to people watch. Usually I see older adults interacting in ways that inspire me—an older woman helping a mom entertain her little children. A man who is stooped and old but tries to give up his chair to a pregnant woman. Sadly, during my last trip I watched the actions of an aging man that was disappointing on so many levels.

Directly across from me in the waiting room sat a large older man—perhaps about 70 and at least 90 lbs or so overweight. He was on his cell phone talking with a business colleague about a meeting they were going to attend. During his conversation, he ate two large candy bars. As soon as he hung up, he dug into his travel bag, took out his insulin pen and injected himself.

What do young people think as they watch people like this man abuse his body knowing their generation will be taking care of him and others like him who chose smoking, drinking and overeating? I think most of us embrace the beautiful older man or woman down the block who is independent and taken care of him/herself but who is wearing out with advanced years. However, it difficult to feel very good about giving time, money, healthcare etc to those who don’t respect their own bodies.

I was embarrassed for the man at the airport, for me and for the boomers he represents. We are a big group of 78 million people in the US alone and every Nation is struggling with resources as this pig moves through the python. There has to be some accountability for those who don’t care about the future. I wish I had answers.

~ Susan

Breaking Bad Habits

Breaking Bad Habits

Judy Zehr Shares Her Journey With Her Mom

Blissful + Kind-Hearted, October 2013
(full version found at http://eepurl.com/GQ8Az)

Hello dear ones,

Autumn is change; dying back, cooling down, tuning within. Autumn is sky. Autumn is clouds.

My Mom passed away this Autumn. Her ashes were spread under the yellowing Maple leaves behind the church we attended as children, where my Mother and Father were married, where we kids were baptized, where I sang in the choir until I became too cool for church and family and singing hundred year old hymns.

My Mom had become ill with c.diff., a superbug created from our over-use of antibiotics. C. diff isn’t so bad for healthy folks, but it can kill infants and the elderly or people with compromised immune systems. Within 6 weeks my Mom went from walking, going out to lunch, shopping and laughing to wheelchair bound, mumbling, unable to lift her head or complete sentences. She could no longer feed herself, or use the restroom. 

I learned so much trying to help my Mom through this, and I don’t want to assume this will be interesting for all, so if you click on any of the linked blue words throughout this text, you will be able to read one of my lessons. That way, you can skip them or pick and choose what has interest for you. The whole list of lessons is at the bottom of this newsletter.

Of course it is the natural course of life to say goodbye to our parents. My Mother had Alzheimer’s, and she hadn’t really known my husband or children for over ten years. The last couple of years she only had a vague recollection of me. But none of that mattered at the end. Love and forgiveness. That’s one of my lessons, when it boils down to this transition, all you can feel is love and forgiveness. As blessed a transition as birth.

ButterfliesFamilyNature. Death is a great companion, a beautiful mediator, a most powerful guardian, a kiss-blowing spiritual sender- off.

When we experience death and loss we are facing, what we call in Emotional Brain Training (EBT),  an “essential pain” of life. When we face these essential pains, heart open, awake, feeling our real feelings and staying in our body (without numbing, avoiding, hiding, distracting, diverting, etc.) we begin to open up to the earned rewards, or silver linings of life. This is at the heart of spiritual and emotional growth, of our own development, of our personal journey.

I continue to be amazed at how helpful the EBT skills are in traveling through life’s challenges staying in relative balance, connection, and awareness. I found these skills  lifesavers in helping my Mom, family and self through this transition.

This season, I am offering an EBT and Beyondtele-group for advanced participants, and a beginning EBT tele-group for anyone new to the work. I am also offering an EBT providers-only tele-group too. If you are interested in more information or signing up, please email me

This too was one of my lessons, stay true to what you love, be real which means flawed, imperfect, broken. Cherish the falling apart, the aging, the dying. Feel, breathe, sing.

May your Autumn be filled with love, song and what’s real,


P.S. I found some very nurturing and supportive tools during this time that I’d like to share with you. Click here and you can see some of the books, meditations and practices that seemed to hold me through this transition.

My Lessons:


My Mom was born and raised in the Midwest, as was I, right near Lake Michigan. There was something so compelling about the big sky, the big lake, and the glorious clouds that showed up season after season and seemed to prompt us to play, explore, believe. Here in Portland, the sky seems small as we have so many hills and huge trees.

If you are a cloud lover like me, and you haven’t seen this TED talk on clouds, please do so ASAP! What an amazing speaker and group dedicated to clouds. It’s title? Cloudy, with a chance of joy.


Both my parents were cremated and had purchased small “plots” under a “Remembrance Wall” behind the church they attended. One of the most difficult moments was seeing my brother put the ashes down into the ground. I’ve heard the same from friends who witnessed a body’s burial … the sinking of the casket into the ground, the first shovels of dirt dropped upon the casket ….the most devastating, breathless moments.

I realized that for me, there’s secret joy in death – the freedom from the body’s pain, the rising of the spirit, beyond the limits of our senses and perceptions. It seems that death is a great uplifting, and for me, spreading my ashes to the wind and sky feels more nurturing and joyful. Have you thought of your last moments, how you want to celebrate and let go?

C. Diff.


“Illness from C. difficile most commonly affects older adults in hospitals or in long-term care facilities and typically occurs after use of antibiotic medications. However, studies show increasing rates of C. difficile infection among people traditionally not considered high risk, such as younger and healthy individuals without a history of antibiotic use or exposure to health care facilities. Each year, more than a half million people get sick from C. difficile, and in recent years, C. difficile infections have become more frequent, severe and difficult to treat”.

What to do about superbugs? My Mom went into the hospital with a simple UTI, and came out with this virulent bacteria. She never licked it, even after rounds of antibiotics.

One thing we learned, she was not given the strongest antibiotics at first. She was treated with several rounds of ineffective antibiotics, antibiotics that physicians said work in 75% of cases, and are cheaper, so are first defense. If my Mom had received the stronger antibiotic, the one that costs more money and is not the first line of treatment, would she have been able to survive this superbug? Who knows, but what we did learn, for certain, our elders need advocates. My Mom needed the stronger antibiotic. She was in the 25%. She didn’t get it for months, and by the time she got it, she was beyond repair.

Information and advocacy. We all need it, and need it even more as we age.

Help my Mom

Honestly, it’s my Mom that is and was helping me. At her service my brother, sister and I shared some of the stories, values and “Mother wisdom” passed down from my Mom. Here’s what I shared:


How lucky we are to have grown up with a Mom with such a big heart and strong character.

One thing Mom and I shared was a love for Winnie the Pooh. In fact, she taught me to read with Pooh books. So when Mom was ill I pulled out my old books and started to read. It had been almost 50 years. You can imagine my surprise as I realized Mom and Pooh Bear had amazing similarities – their philosophy of life, their wit and their big heart.

I have four quotes, straight from Winnie the Pooh’s mouth, to show you what I mean:

1. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.

Mom lived in, and had a deep appreciation for, the present moment. In my generation, where I live, out west, people pay big bucks for fancy retreats to try to learn the Betty Zehr style of living – Be Here Now. Even as she aged and lost her memory, caregivers would tell us how much they loved our Mom, how she taught them to notice and appreciate the little things – the cherry tree blooming outside the window, or the pretty cloud in the sky, as if seeing these things for the first time. 

2. It’s more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “what about lunch?”

Mom had a simplicity about her. She didn’t like to analyze things, she didn’t like to get all bothered by ideas, politics, deep discussions. I remember Alison and Dad getting into arguments over politics, economics, society, almost everything, but Mom would always just shrug. She had a “que sera, sera – whatever will be, will be”, approach to life, asking everyone to please calm down, let’s look on the bright side, let’s not worry about that now.

… and what’s for lunch?

3. Love is taking a few steps backward, (maybe even more) … to give way to the happiness of the people you love.

Maybe this describes all Moms, all Dads, all Families. Mom was big on selflessness for the greater good, for family, for community, for nature and life. She put up with cigar smoke, non-stop football, four loud and busy kids, a smorgasbord of pets, I can’t tell you how many wild and other animals I brought home to try to rescue and she’d always help me find a box, or heating pad, or a little eyedropper to try to feed the baby bunny or bird or frog. She rarely raised her voice. She rarely became ruffled. She almost always took a few steps backward to give way to what we loved.

4. I have one more quote, and this final pooh quote really reflects everything I think we are all saying here, with so much love and gratitude for our Mom, and also for our Dad.

How lucky we are to have someone that makes saying goodbye so hard.

Say Goodbye

“Every life comes with a death sentence.”   – Walter White, Breaking Bad.

“I don’t know how you say good-bye to whom and what you love. I don’t know a painless way to do it, don’t know the words to capture a heart so full and a longing so intense.”  – Laura Weiss, The Way It Ends
Sigh, my simple lesson here is that there is no good goodbye. Perhaps you’ve experienced a perfect good bye where all words were said, all feelings felt and shared, all peaceful and whole. For me, I learned that expecting this is unreasonable. My goodbyes always feel inadequate, half baked, tongue tied, marginal.
The heart so full, the longing so intense. Breathe. Maybe breathe together. Maybe curl up one last moment in a shared breath, a syncopated heartbeat. Touch warm skin. Breathe.


When my Mom began to lose her memory, first not remembering my husband, then her grandkids, and finally my brother, sister and me, I made the big mistake of following her lead and I began to lose my memory of her too. I know it is cliché, but I tended to become impatient, hurried when around her, focused on the “to do” list and slightly annoyed.
I didn’t pull out pictures and reminisce until she was very ill with the c.diff. Pulling out the pictures, making a slide show, sharing photos with my family, all brought my Mom back to life and began the extraordinary wave of love and forgiveness.
And that was my lesson. Pull out the photos of your elders and hold the memory, as they lose theirs. Just because they forget, doesn’t mean you have to. Remember the good, the moment of joy, and rejoice in the remembering. Relive it, and it will be a balm for an impatient and annoyed mind.

Love and Forgiveness 

I know we all have constraints on what we can give to and do for each other. But what I learned is that when I nudge myself to give more, to take a more selfless path if possible, the returns are immense. OK, yes, deep fatigue maybe. Maybe it will take a while to get back on my own track, but the love and forgiveness that comes from a bit more selfless path is so worth it.
It sounds so cliché, but “what can I give?” is a much more satisfying question than “what can I get?” And it’s that deep, rolling satisfaction that feels like swinging in the sun, laughing alongside a river, walking barefoot on soft grass.


What do you know to be true? What are you not certain about, but have a hunch? I was pondering this one morning as I walked to the hospital to visit my Mother. I realized that I’m not an atheist, but I’m also not a believer in a theistic universe as depicted in any religions I’ve studied. I’m not an agnostic, although I can empathize with that point of view. It’s studying science that fills me with so much wonder and mystery, so much longing and possibility, that I feel certain that there is something greater happening than the simple structures of our every day lives.  In other words, I was thinking about God.
Here is what happened. I was pondering all this, at 6 am on a beautiful summer morning, walking to the hospital. Suddenly, a very large black and blue butterfly flew out of a bush right toward me. I grew up in the Midwest, and I have never seen a butterfly like this before. It looked like it belonged in the Amazon. It flew right up to me, and then circled around me. I spun around watching its flight. Time seemed to stand still and it’s large glistening wings flapped in slow motion. I stood breathlessly still as it flew away, in a leisurely, curious way, as if to say ….what was it saying?
A butterfly, a symbol of transformation, of the struggle in change and loss and letting go and the stunning beauty, the lightheartedness, the joy of becoming.
So maybe it’s simple. May we move through this life becoming. May we welcome death as another transformation into more profound beauty and mystery.

And every common bush afire with God; 
But only he who sees takes off his shoes,
The rest sit around and pluck blackberries


A deeper love and devotion, a wider, more inclusive net. That’s all I can say.

Earth’s crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes,
The rest sit around and pluck blackberries.

                                    – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I know this sounds redundant and simplistic, but almost everyone I work with mentions the joy and comfort found in nature. Some people love walks in the forest. Others love the tides and drama of the ocean. Some love their pets, their backyard birds and gardens. When we ask, what brings you joy, almost everyone mentions some part of nature that they truly love.
My Mom loved nature. She had a passion for her garden, birds, rocks, water, trees. Once again I realize am nothing without this stunning green planet to hold me and carry me through. (Have you seen the movie, Gravity, yet?) Time to get off my couch and do what my Mom did, volunteer to support the planet and the nature I love, contribute to organizations that are honoring, saving and respecting nature, wake up and speak up — be a voice that will help make a difference for generations to come.


“This is how it is not. It is not that we have a meeting with death somewhere out in the future. But rather we are on a pilgrimage here on this planet and death is our great companero, our great companion. It was She who cradled and protected us as were being born from our mother’s thighs. She steps every step we step, sings every song we sing and weeps when we weep and it is She, death, the best friend, who will midwife us again in the second birth at the end of this life, the birth into the next world.”  – Clarissa Pinkola Estes, The Radiant Coat

EBT and Beyond Groups

EBT, Emotional Brain Training, is a comprehensive program which teaches you the skills to retrain your own brain: the way you process stress and the way you cope with challenges, your mood, behavior and focus. EBT was life saving for me, and transformational for so many of my clients. Why? We learn to move away from numbing, negative emotions and moods, addictions and excesses, and move toward feeling, expressing and experiencing life with joy and balance. Participants find results with all sorts of challenges: weight, depression, mood, anxiety, spending, clutter, relationship problems and addiction.
I have beginning and advanced telegroups available. Call or email if you have questions.


One of the things we did at my Mom’s bedside was sing to her. She seemed to recognize many of the old songs we all loved. If nothing else, we got great joy from singing together and sharing those moments of love and loss. We have begun to “sing our grind ins” in EBT, which means sing to ourselves our new expectations, positive, powerful thoughts, affirmations, new beliefs. Sing to ourselves our hopes, dreams and possibilities. Research suggests that we are more likely to remember, and be moved by, a song than simple words.
We had a bagpiper at my Mother’s funeral (she was very Scottish) and we had a guitarist play the Beatles song “Blackbird”. Here’s an audio version of this haunting song with lyrics. (covered by Sarah McLachlan). Enjoy.

Books, Meditations and Practices:

The Radiant Coat: Myths and Stories about the Crossing Between Life and Death – Clarissa Pinkola Estes  (borrowed from the wonderful Jeanne Tyler)
Reiki Relaxation by BronwenSteine — for some reason this was the only meditation CD that helped me feel better.

The Way To Love by The Last Meditations of Anthony de Mello

The Alzheimer’s Association Portland Fall Schedule

The Alzheimer's Association Portland Fall Schedule

Sign up today at 800.272.3900

When I Grow Up I Want to Be Wise


I asked my 8-year old granddaughter, Sofia, what she thought “wise” meant. Her response: An older person who is smart and makes good decisions. I guess I would say that at age 8 she is wiser than most of us.

I then began to wonder if we aren’t wise at a young age and for some, again in older years. In between, we are deeply focused on gaining experiences, power, possessions and love, creating a false sense of wisdom.

Why “false”? Because true wisdom as Sofia tells us is not only being smart (“experience” smart, not intellectually smart) but also “making good decisions.” Believing that life experiences and success alone leads to wisdom is not a good decision.

The wise elders I’ve known have had a broad range of life experiences—some held powerful positions and were wealthy but most were of lesser means. Some were religious and others more spiritual. What they have in common is a believe in another power because they know that we can’t get through this life alone and the ability to incorporate life experiences at a “soul” level—a place where we can listen, see and “be” without all the layers of judgment that we learn throughout our life.


Why is wisdom easier in youngest and oldest years? In younger years we haven’t yet incorporated all the taught and lived family and social biases, prejudices and expectations of power and possessions that become the basis for how we view ourselves and others. In older years, as losses accumulate, we realize any success or power or position is fleeting. At that time, the wise elders focus on incorporating all that was good and “not so good” in their past, realizing that all that has happened has made them who they are today and that even in oldest old years we continue to learn, to change, to wake up to a new opportunity to improve and focus on what truly matters in life.

However, choosing a path towards wisdom doesn’t come to everyone. Many become bitter as they view the past as “the best time” or as a time when they made too many mistakes. Meanwhile they exist in a present filled with loneliness and losses—loss of independence, of friends and family, of power and possessions. They may see this as a loss of self and as a time when their God has forgotten them.

Living beyond such tremendous losses and into wisdom that frees us from the weight of a judgmental, power-seeking life is a spiritual journey requiring tremendous faith and forgiveness of self and of others regardless of the injustices we may have experienced. Until we see ourselves as one with all others—those we knew and those we didn’t and one with the universe and with God, wisdom will be elusive.

Finally, wisdom and peace is also about accepting that we aren’t traveling alone. God—whomever that is to each of us—is not only at the center of this journey but is next to us holding our hand, above us watching over each step and beneath us holding us up when we are certain we can’t endure another loss.



Lessons from cooking


I love to cook and always have. I learned to cook by watching my mom and as a youngster, the hardest part was patience—putting ingredients together correctly and slowly and waiting through the baking and cooling time. Today as I made a cake from one of her favorite recipes, I reflected on her patience. The recipe required that I fold in beaten egg whites “until there are no white ribbons running through the batter.” When I was younger—perhaps 40 and below, I would rush the process and usually move on to the next step before the whites were fully integrated. Now I take my time. I enjoy the process of watching the small stripes of white become one with the batter.

At 64, I experience life as a time to move more carefully, slowly, living in the “now” and letting the fullness of each event, each word spoken, settle into and become a new bit of “me”. I fold in the whites of day-to-day experiences more completely.

Of course, I am not always able to live in the present—I still worry about the future—the health and happiness of our children and grandchildren, my husband’s and my health as we age, and affording retirement.  These thoughts lead me to the “what ifs”—what if I hadn’t moved or had stayed in that fulltime job rather than starting my own business, etc.

However, increasingly I realize the futility of worrying over the future, or judging past actions and words of myself and others. I find I am able to move out of distracting and often negative thoughts and back into the present. This new ability to live in the moment, to walk away from unimportant thoughts, to forgive myself and others quickly is a gift of aging. In younger years as we rush through daily life to constantly seeking power and success, living in the now is nearly impossible.

I’ve noticed that our older adult clients—many who are in their 80’s and beyond are considerably more expert at living in the now than I am. Like many life lessons that make us better, stronger, and more adaptable, the many losses of later years are balanced by the gift of forgiveness, tolerance and hope of what is yet to come. I am thankful for my clients and for myself that the gift of now is available as a buffer to loss.

Meanwhile, if you want to watch the ribbons of egg whites disappear as you reflect on integrating your life stories, here’s my mom’s recipe for German Chocolate cake that she probably wrote down in the 1940’s when she was a young housemaker and my Dad was in the war.

German Chocolate Cake

4 ounces German Chocolate if you have it otherwise semi-sweet baking chocolate is OK

½ cup of water (I changed this to ½ cup of coffee—coffee enhances the chocolate)

2 ½ cups cake flour (or 2 ¼ cups regular flour)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt (I use ½ tsp because I use unsalted butter)

2 cups sugar

1 cup margarine (I always use unsalted butter)

4 large eggs separated

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup buttermilk

Heat oven to 350. Grease and flour three 8 or 9-inch round cake pans. I put parchment paper in the bottom as well.

In small pan (I do this in microwave), heat water (coffee) and add broken up chocolate. After it’s melted, let it cool.

Sift flour, baking soda and salt into a bowl and set aside. Beat room temperature margarine (butter) and add sugar until fluffy. Add egg yolks one at a time incorporating before adding another. Beat in chocolate and vanilla.

Alternately add in flour and buttermilk beating until smooth after each addition.

In a small bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold 1/3 of eggs whites into the batter until you can’t see any ribbons of egg whites. Then folk in remaining egg whites completely and quickly. Divide the batter into the three pans and bake. If you can’t fit all three pans in the oven, put the third one in the fridge.

Bake about 20-30 minutes testing for doneness. The cake should spring back when you touch it gently or test with a toothpick.

Coconut-pecan frosting

1 can condensed (sweetened) milk

2 eggs

1 cube margarine (unsalted butter please!)

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

1 ½ cups of coconut (best if you lightly toast this in the oven or in a pan on the stove in advance)

1 cup pecans chopped (I also toast these lightly)

In a medium sized sauce pan over a low flame, slowly heat butter, condensed milk and eggs, continuously stirring. Let come to a slow boil for a couple of minutes (stir carefully so it doesn’t burn on the bottom). Remove from heat, add vanilla, coconut and pecans.

When the cake is completely cooked, assemble the cake, spreading frosting between the layers and on the top of the cake—no need to do the sides unless you want to. The frosting is very sweet so doing the side of the cake can be overwhelming.


You found the right assisted care facility but can your parent stay there long-term?


Be very careful when you help your parents move to an assisted living facility because they may be kicked out just when they settled in and think of the place as “home.”

Why?  Assisted care is just that—“assisting” a person who isn’t doing well at home and needs help with what are referred to as “activities of daily living” or ADLs. These include bathing, toileting, dressing and transferring (from bed to walker or wheel chair, etc) and help taking medications. Think of ADLs as the “personal” chores of day-to-day life. The assisted care staff is more “custodial” versus the “skilled” care of a nursing home. However, an RN is often on staff of the assisted care facility and able to administer some procedures such as insulin injections multiple times each day if needed. The decision about what is offered can vary from facility to facility and the monthly fee usually increases with escalating care needs.

When searching for the right facility for clients, most have said they will even keep the elder if they should suffer Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia.  As long as the client isn’t on an IV or some type of advanced procedure, they would be able to live out their life within the assisted care facility. This is important to older adults and their adult children because transitions are extremely difficult for elders. I’ve known of cases where within a few days or weeks of such a move, the very healthy elder died. The move was simply too much to absorb in a life already filled with losses.

Since few older adults will require skilled care provided in a nursing home, the assisted care facility should ideally be their last move. If they suffer a fall or pneumonia or other disease or injury require skilled care, they may be required to move to a nursing home for a brief stay to recover but then they should be able to return to their assisted care facility.

However in a two situations we recently experienced with elders we knew, the elder was asked to leave the assisted care facility. In these cases, it was determined by the assisted care facility administrators that client’s level of care had escalated and now required skilled nursing care that could only be provided in a nursing home.

On the outset, while sad that the elder must move again, it seems reasonable if the care required had truly gone beyond what was normally provided in assisted care.

However, in each of these cases, the children of the elder and the elders themselves stated that while they needed more support dressing or transferring, etc, they weren’t on IVs, in a coma or requiring advanced medical procedures or experienced nursing beyond medication management.

What these cases had in common was that each of the elders had outlived their personal financial resources and had transitioned to Medicaid support which pays less than the rates typically charged by facilities. In both cases, these facilities said they would keep clients who began as private pay and moved to Medicaid so they couldn’t ask the clients to leave based on the change in finances. However, they could make them leave if they could prove the elder required skilled care. I found it interesting that in two cases mentioned, the assisted care facility had been taken over by a large chain. One can’t help but wonder if the new owners wanted only private pay clients in order to maximize their income potential.

In both circumstances, the elders and/or their adult children filed a grievance and both won their cases allowing the older adult to remain in the assisted care facility.

If you think it’s possible that your parent could outlive her resources when moving to assisted care, be sure you understand the facility’s policies about Medicaid. Additionally, if your parent is asked to move, you can and should appeal.  As part of this process, get an ombudsman involved. If you are in Oregon, go to: http://www.oregon.gov/LTCO/Pages/index.aspx. If you are in any other state, Google “long term care ombudsman in XXX [your state]” or call the local Area Agency on Aging (AAA).


Finally, when considering the possibility of moving your parent to a facility, call a geriatric care manager (GCM). We are experienced in listening to yours and your parents concerns and needs and advising about programs and support available that may allow them to stay at home. When moving is necessary for safety, we will help select the right facility that will support safety while also encouraging maximum, capable independence.

~ Susan



Post Navigation