Goodbye, Old Girl

Sandy Murray shared this Daily Mail article that has been of comfort to her in the loss of her Golden Retriever, which she describes as traumatic. Writer Bruce Fogle describes how the loss of “man’s best friend effects one dog lover … goodbye old girl”.

At the moment, I am unanchored. Emotionally adrift. Not because my marriage has hit the skids, or because my children are unwell. I haven’t lost my job. I’m not even moving home. My mind’s in a stew for a banal, some might say, trivial, reason: my dog died.

It’s not that my dog was particularly special. She was a family dog, a six-year-old female golden retriever, one of the umpteen dogs you might see every day being exercised by their owners. But she was my dog, a warm, soft, beautiful, loving thing.

Macy was a thoughtful creature, a considerate being, a trusting and worthy part of my family. She was my travelling companion, accompanying me on long travels we took together around North America and Europe.

There are some, and you may be one, who dislike the anthropomorphising of dogs: the humanising of their personalities, their feelings, their emotions. To me, there are shades of this. I hate seeing dogs in party hats or wearing antlers at Christmas. But can you seriously refuse to grant a dog the complexities of emotional feelings?

Many do, but I can’t accept that. I can’t believe that dogs don’t have emotions, and the only words I have to describe those emotions are ones I’d use to describe a fellow human. Macy was “jealous” when another dog took one of her toys, “thoughtful” before trying anything unfamiliar, “joyous” when she met people or other dogs she knew, “contented” to be left alone, “purposeful” when investigating the natural world around her, “circumspect” in her approach to unknown people, “contained” in her display of emotions.

Helen Mirren in The Queen reminded me of Macy – guarded, wary, restrained, but no less “human” for it. But there’s a trickier emotion. Can you describe love? Can you put your own feeling of love for someone into precise words? Can you capture in a sentence or a paragraph that feeling of love so that someone reads and understands what you mean?
I know the look of love in my wife’s eyes, but can I describe in words what that look is? (I know, too, her look of exasperation, or annoyance.) You can’t dispassionately describe love from the outside. You have to feel it from the inside in order to know what it is, so you’ll have to take my word for it. As trite as it may sound, I loved my dog and I know my dog loved me.

Why do we love a species that so depends on us? We guide our children from their early reliance on us to eventual independence, but the dog’s dependence is permanent and we love them deeply for it.
An evolutionary biologist would say that is dogs’ trump card – their ability to convince us that they need us for ever and ever. They thrive on our lifelong need to nurture. Macy did this in a number of ways. First, there was that look in her eyes. It was exactly the same as the look of love in my wife’s eyes. So why is it any different from the love Julia need not put into words?

There’s another look she could get in her eyes – absolute, unmitigated, concentrated interest in me. An uncle of mine had that look and women generations younger than he fell in love with him because of it.

So why can’t I fall in love with that look in my dog’s eyes, a look that told me she thought I was the most interesting person she’d ever met?

Then there’s physical contact. Golden retrievers are particularly adept at this. They press their bodies into you. Each time I returned home, Macy pressed her head against my legs when she greeted me. Sometimes she did this in the park, too. Just because. If I were sitting, on a chair or in the grass, she’d come over and press her chest against me.
It’s as if she were saying: ‘I want to squeeze you I love you so much, and this is the best I can do.’

And silence. Is that not the true glue of love: the ability to be together, to do together, to understand each other without the need for words? The ability to feel love certainly predates language.

Being with a dog, understanding her moods, her wants, her feelings, her emotions, without the need for words, returns you to the core of your being, to a time before words, when body language said everything.

As so many dogs do, Macy bestowed unconditional devotion, an unquestioning reliability, a constancy and an immutability. Her intention was always to be there, to leaven anywhere with the familiarity of her presence. After the thrill of the chase, even when lost in the deepest woods, her purpose was always to return, to find me, to be rejoined once more.
Of course, that’s at the core of the most sentimental stories about dogs. Every culture has them: the dog awaiting his master’s return, even from the dead. That’s unmitigated sentiment, but what’s wrong with that? Can another human ever equal the unqualified, unconditional regard that a dog has for us?

Living with a dog is an ongoing process of interpreting. We intuitively interpret what our dogs, with their bodies, tell us, and when we can’t fully interpret we take them to the vet so that he interprets what’s happening.

As well as her owner, I was also Macy’s vet. I’m used to that triangular relationship – you, your dog and me, all interacting with each other.

I usher dogs through life, from the faltering first steps of puppyhood, through the arc of life to the often pain-riddled last steps of stoic old age. I have a relationship with the dog and with her owner.

To dogs, I provide medical care. To owners, I offer experience and advice.

There are times when I have to cut myself loose from the emotional link I’ve made with my patient and speak dispassionately with her owner. “Are we doing such and such because it’s good for the dog or are we doing it because we can’t bear the emotional torment of the only alternative: to painlessly kill.”

But when it’s my own dog that’s gravely ill, there’s no triad. Whom do I talk to about her?

Walking your dog is life-affirming, and it’s probably what I miss most now that she’s no longer alive. It’s as if you’re plaited together, one extended consciousness, awareness overlapping. I see a squirrel before she does, and then she spies one before I do.

On one of those walks, rather than charging ahead in front, Macy unexpectedly walked beside me. Dogs develop ritual behaviours and, because Macy had deviated from hers, there in the park I examined her and felt a mass the size of a chicken egg, fixed firm in her guts.

I pretended to myself, and later to my wife Julia, that it was an ovarian cyst, but I knew that was unlikely. I took her to the clinic, withdrew a blood sample and found nothing unexpected, but I knew I’d have to operate to see what the mass was.

That night, in obvious distress, Macy came to Julia’s side of our bed and, with anxiety in her eyes, she panted relentlessly. I gave her a painkiller and she relaxed, but it wasn’t until the following morning, when I operated on her, that I knew for certain that she had haemorrhaged in her abdomen.

Once the blood was cleared away, I found the site of her bleeding and removed it. There were other sites too, filled with cheesy material, like pus but not pus, and I removed most of them too. But not all of them. There were simply too many.

My fellow vet Veronica and I operated for three hours, removing large parts of her innards. Veronica worked in emergency and critical care in California before she joined me in London, but neither of us was absolutely certain what we were dealing with.

After we finished surgery and Veronica took off her face mask, I saw in her eyes what her mind was thinking: “Poor Macy. Poor Bruce.” What was in my mind was: “Why have I operated?”

Four days later, we got back the results from the pathologist. A wickedly fast-spreading cancer that had originated somewhere on her skin had invaded all her organs, spreading in sheets around healthy tissue. The cheesy material was nothing more than tissue that had lost its blood supply and died.

When we finished operating, I still didn’t know the exact cause of her condition, but experience told me that whatever it was, her life would be short and probably uncomfortable. I didn’t want to lose my dog, but I didn’t want her to wake up either.

I increased the narcotic painkiller and took her home to Julia. There, I continued to add painkiller to her intravenous drip and, lying by the sofa, conscious but asleep, by the light of the fire, she died that evening, not having had the distress of reawakening.

Just that week, I’d received a book from an American publisher, hoping that I’d write a blurb for the back jacket. It was an intelligent and attractive tale, told by Ted Kerasote, a self-sufficient outdoorsman from Wyoming, of his life with a big yellow dog named Merle. Of course, every book about a dog tells the story of its end.

Of Merle’s end of life, Ted wrote: “Rocking back on my heels, I wondered how this could be – his going off while I was cleaning his butt.” Somehow, it seemed apt. A dog is always more interested in another dog’s rear end than in its eyes.
“Half-laughing, half-crying at this thought, I suddenly felt all my joints lose cohesion, as if what had been holding me together had suddenly dissolved. “My dog,” I said to the empty house. “My dog.””

Ted had only his empty house. I had Julia and, although we didn’t need words, we too dissolved.
When dogs are members of the family, when we know they have feelings and emotions so similar to ours, when we grieve for their passing as we do for any other beings we have formed bonds with, we need rituals to help us cope with the end of a life.

Julia and I stayed with her body for a while, my fingers buried in my dog’s hair – for my comfort now rather than for hers – then I wrapped her in a sheet, put her on her bed in the back of the car and drove down to our place in Sussex.
At dawn the next morning, I started digging under a low, bushy bay tree where on hot days she had silently retreated for shade. The clay was as hard as concrete, but this was a satisfying ritual I’d carried out before.

I’ve got two more dogs, Liberty and Lex, buried in their favourite spots in that garden. It’s a final service, a last “thank you” to an innocent. Rigor mortis had come and gone and as I carried her from the car to the hole I’d dug, her head lolled like a flower on an old stem.

Mock me if you must, but I buried with her all the lost tennis balls that she’d found in the park during the previous month and proudly carried back to the car, 11 of them.

Dogs can’t tell their life stories, but sentimentally, and I dare say tediously, we dog owners tend to narrate our dogs’ lives to others.

To those who have not formed an emotional bond with an individual dog, a description of the quiet intimacies in that relationship can be discomfiting.

To those of you who have, let me say this, both from my own experience and from watching so many others endure the grief of losing a dog.

What differentiates the loss of a dog from the loss of a fellow human is the fact that the core values in our affiliation with dogs can be reformed. The emotional value of living in the company of a dog does not reside solely and uniquely within that one individual. A dog dies and that particular dog is irreplaceable, but the value of “dog” can be filled by others.

Macy was the fourth dog we’ve had during our marriage, and certainly the most travelled. I’ve surprised myself by how cut up I still feel about her premature death. Maybe that’s because she died young, or maybe it’s because I spent so many months on the road, travelling alone with her, sharing experiences with her and no one else.
Or maybe it’s because she was my first “digital dog”. It seems that every time my screensaver comes on, there’s another random picture of Macy, among lingonberries on the Russian border, ploughing through the surf of an empty Oregon beach, at Florian’s cafe in Venice.

The memories remain, but I know too that, inevitably and joyously, she will soon be followed by a fifth.

Bruce Fogle’s A Dog Abroad is published by Ebury Press (£14.99). Ted Kerasote’s Merle’s Door is published by Harcourt (£10.99).

Let your grown children find their own way

This article contains valuable principles for parents of children of any age, bar very young ones. It is written by Richard Watts, author of ‘Entitlemania’ on adversity as a teaching tool.

Many of us believe the wisdom we distill from surviving life’s obstacle course is best directed at rescuing our kids from the difficulty and heartache of similar growing experiences. More strategic than yesteryear’s helicopter parents, today’s drone parents seek out and destroy perceived impediments to our children’s success. But it is not the successes of life that expose our kid’s uniqueness.

As Michelangelo said of his statue David, “David was always inside the block of marble. It just a matter for the sculptor to hammer and chisel away the pieces that didn’t belong.” Life’s setbacks and sufferings help us to identify and embrace what is most important to us. To separate the valuable from the meaningless. To find our own way. Why would we want any less for our children?

Allow for Stumbles

Most parents love their children. But love is a tricky word. For many parents, love means protecting and making sure no harm comes to our kids. These are well meant efforts. However, I prefer to think of love as an unconditional promise to affirm our kids without interfering in their life course. That used to be called tough love; often as tough for the parent as for the child!

You say: How can I allow my son or daughter to stumble down a path that may be detrimental or destructive to his or her future?

Think of your own life experience: Life took numerous directions your parents may have thought negative. You recall some of these times as being so disorienting and destructive, they caused memories of permanent hurt. Although sometimes painful, these detours provide us contrast, teach discernment, groove a confident path and ingrain the skill of recovery.

Adversity: A Valuable Teaching Tool

Adversity is a teaching tool more valuable than success. Sometimes, wrong choices help our children identify the right ones. And once the right direction is selected, their passion energizes the will to outrun any obstacle because of one thing they have realized: they care deeply about the finish line.

Yet as parents, we often manipulate our child into choices that are preferred by us, with no regard for what our child may have wanted for himself or herself. Parents prefer their children have a certain future, although intuitively they know uncertainty plays a significant role in them finding their path.

The Risk to You

What our children deserve is an authentic story … their story. One they believe in. It might take several attempts at different opportunities. And what is the risk to you? They might fail.

You should respond with encouragement and affirmation, because if we script their lives, they will never identify the inner passion which gives them the self-stamina to drive through adversity. They need to be allowed to stumble, yet recognize with perseverance they will eventually find their way.

One has to be lost to be found. Our children need to determine what personal goal is worth giving their all. Sometimes that requires them to walk into walls. Absent a path of self-discovery, our children will never realize and develop the natural gifts that make the an original instead of a copy.

Rather than raising them to fulfill your expectations, what if you put as much effort into helping them realize their own?

Richard Watts, author of Entitlemania: How Not to Spoil Your Kids, and What to Do If You Have, is a personal adviser and legal counsel to clients, and founder and president of Family Business Office, a legal and consulting firm in Santa Ana, Calif.

Around the world in 90 days!

Traditionally, a Bucket List records aspirational trips to unexplored destinations. Chartered client, Jeunesse Park, took a different route – literally – on her recent travels: she made her Bucket List all about seeing people who mean so much to her.

Around the world in 90 days!

Traditionally, a Bucket List records aspirational trips to unexplored destinations. Chartered client, Jeunesse Park, took a different route – literally – on her recent travels: she made her Bucket List all about seeing people who mean so much to her. Here is Jeunesse’s account of her epic journey to connect with special people in her life. Be inspired!

The Reason

I realised that, having worked so hard all my life, I had left little space for enjoying family and friendships. In recent years, I have lost my parents, my life partner and, in 2018, my close childhood friend and another two friends died. Other friends and family were facing transitions, and some were feeling a bit adrift, even depressed.

I decided to live life to the full while I can still walk, talk and think for myself, to revisit people I care deeply for and places I have lived. To finance my trip, I used money I earned running my family home (all children moved out years ago) as a BnB for four years. I bought a round-the-world trip, not more expensive than flying return to the furthest spot on the planet.

Jeunesse’s epic trip included beautiful places and memorable experiences.

Here is a brief travelogue.

The Route

My first stop was London, beautiful in the summertime, where I visited a cousin I have loved since we were tiny girls. We now work together on a Bushman project that is close to our hearts. Together, off we went to Paris to drink wine, eat oysters, walk kilometres daily, chatter and laugh a lot.

The following destination was not my favourite, but it was where (it turns out) I was needed. My brother in Los Angeles needed input on some family issues. I always love seeing him and hope I helped.

A dear friend, the first ever Mexican Ambassador to South Africa who studied his Masters in the ‘greening’ of Mexico City via UNISA, invited me to visit Mexico City. He had translated my ‘Greening Booklet’ and distributed it to a million Mexican schools. I was delighted to stay with him and his wife and explore wonderful museums and galleries. The terrible pollution, and seeing my friend suffering from asthma, was disturbing, though. Like Cape Town, Mexico City is drying up and he introduced me to top water people in government. Some may join us in May 2019 at the W12 Congress in Cape Town for the first 12 major world cities running out of water.

Back in the USA, I spent 10 days with my ex-husband. Forty years ago we had travelled across the country in a camper van. We had planned to camp in Yosemite National Park and for us then to drive north to Seattle, but the park was closed owing to raging fires. The North-West Pacific, full of beautiful natural places where I am most happy, was besieged by fires and choking smoke. This was truly, as the Plume app* describes it, an airpocalypse. We did find some lovely places to camp along the magnificent coast and engaged in fiery climate change, political and philosophical discussion en route. Our marriage had ended badly. This time, we resolved much: with time to chat, we heard each other’s side of the story and agreed that we are friends forever.

My next sojourn, beautiful Seattle, USA, where I had visited my uncle four years before while on a climate training with Al Gore. Back then I believed it was the last time I would see him, so was excited to celebrate his 90th birthday with him. He is quite deaf and succumbing to Alzheimer’s, though remembers his youth. He quipped, “I may be losing my mind and my hearing, but not my sense of humour!” We giggled and reminisced.

My next stopover was the garden island of Kauai, Hawaii, but climate change beleaguered me there, too. I had booked a small AirBnB between a beach and a river. On arrival, flood warnings greeted me as a hurricane approached. I relocated to a hotel, the hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm and my beautiful Californian niece joined me for a week of hiking, cycling and swimming.

I next went to Sydney, Australia to connect with a great environmentalist friend and some family. I cruised the magnificent harbour with a young cousin and her new baby, swam in Byron Bay, where the water is so clear that I could see the flash of fish swimming around me, and walked McMasters Beach with another young pregnant cousin.

I visited relatives who had just lost their son and spent some time hugging trees on his birthday in his favourite spot at the Melbourne Botanical Gardens. His bereft mother, who had not ceased weeping, smiled for the first time. Such is the healing power in nature and in bonding with it and each other.

Finally, I stopped off in Bali for a week. My friend, Solar Marc, took me on his motor bike to visit an eco-village. We wore masks to filter out the terrible air pollution and though the seas were cleaner than when I was last there, the island is tragically nothing like the exquisite paradise I lived in in the 1970s.

Jeunesse undertook a People Bucket List trip, to connect with her special people across the globe.

The Highlights

I highly recommend such a relationship Bucket List. I was on my own, but was never lonely.

My most memorable moments were those spent with people and in nature. Many I stayed with said that I brought good energy and joy into their homes which, along with the feeling of closing circles of life, made this a most fulfilling trip.

I was present in each moment and really appreciated people in my life. Though I visited places I had lived before, I did not reminisce so much as reflect on who I had been then, who I am now, and how I can consciously live the rest of my life.

couple feet dancing on grass


How a couple makes learning together better … 30 years later!

Chartered clients, Brian and Ronelle Baker, have divergent interests, so they seek ways to have fun together.  Now, they are revisiting an activity that was, decades ago, “an unadulterated disaster”.  This time, though, there is a happy ending. Enjoy Ronelle’s article below.

30 years ago we were invited to a dance class (free-of-charge and with no pressure or commitment to join long-term). At the time, we were both working high-pressure jobs, so spending an hour on a dance floor was low on our priority list.

For one hour, we argued, stood on one another’s toes, and almost fought with the teacher. Then, we left the studio, grumpy, disgruntled and annoyed with each other for not being able to grasp something as simple as a ‘swing’.

It takes two to tango

In September 2017, and two friends generously gave us four ballroom lessons.  Of course, we anticipated a repeat of our first disastrous attempt.  To our astonishment, we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Firstly, our teachers, Lindi and Zane, are Job-like patient; no matter how often we fumble, trip or step on their toes, or each other’s toes, they give us the opportunity to “start again and listen to the music”. All credit to them for any skill we may show!

Right: Ronelle with her dance coach.

Secondly, and this is extremely important, I have had to learn to give up control, as the man is the leader in this endeavour, and the lady has to follow him. This is an interesting at this stage of our lives, but having eventually grasped it, we are now addicted!

Our ballroom dancing classes have introduced us to a whole lot of new likeminded people whom we have befriended and who help us along during our worst “fumbling” days.

We have group lessons every second week – and then once a week private lessons.  We find that we learn a great deal at social dancing events, where we have the opportunity to dance with other dancers, mostly better than us, but we continue the learning process.  Dancing with folks who are proficient makes us look very experienced!

Benefits all round

We are told that ballroom dancing helps prevent age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and that the exercise is highly beneficial.  I can’t comment on Alzheimer’s but our dancing lessons certainly do help to keep us limber – and, at the same time, we are doing some serious aerobic exercises.

We can safely say that we can fumble through the swing, foxtrot, waltz, tango (our favourite) and the rumba.  We have much to learn, but so enjoy our time on the dance floor that we’re happy to give time and money to our new hobby.  It is delightful that at this stage of our lives, Brian and I have found something that we like to do together, as mostly our existing hobbies are divergent.

So, if you’d like a new together hobby, this is the one to try!

Time Together Time Apart

In an article I read in the WSJ by Psychologist Maryanne Vandevere, she expanded on the notion of time together and time apart in an interesting way. She wrote about the role of parallel play in the life of retirees. She pointed out that, similar to small children, who play side by side and don’t always interact with the activity,  successful retirees have a similar process when each learns something new, follows their own passion and their partner also does their “own thing.” Each develops their own interests and it enhances their relationship since both are happy, enjoying their own creativity and mastery. This can bring new energy and excitement to the relationship.  It works for kids—why not give it a try in the second half of life?

Vandevere comments that “individuals who do almost everything together in later life—who are “joined at the hip” usually aren’t as satisfied or fulfilled as couples where spouses have their own interests and , ideally, are learning new skills. She points out that “the model of parallel play meets the needs “for both freedom and involvement.”

What are the benefits, you may be asking?  Vandevere suggests a few, such as more interesting dinner conversations, confidence for each that you can function independently and “tonic for the soul” to have some time and space for separateness and self-reflection. She also points out that challenging oneself can bring both mastery and pride and, as the old adage says, “absence (often) makes the heart grow fonder.” I like her image that “parallel play gives you ‘roots and wings’ and allows you to grow.” She further states that “It promotes the major task for this stage of life: becoming as whole as you can be. “

My suggestion: talk together about your expectations about time together and apart and creatively think about the notion of parallel play in your life and relationship. In the process, you can challenge and develop yourself and have more to bring back to your partner. I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this.

How much sex are older adults having?

Last year, the editors at asked their readers to tell them what question regarding older adults and sexuality they would most like to see answered. The editors narrowed down responses based on common themes, then did an online poll to select the “winning” question – which was three related questions.

Here they are, with answers from experts to provide helpful information:

  • How much sex is going on among older folks?
  • How long can sex be maintained?
  • Are there alternatives?

These are important questions, especially since sex helps us have better relationships and better physical and mental health.

“Sex is a basic, primal human activity, and there is no reason it needs to disappear forever as we age,” said Dr. Abraham Morgentaler, founder and director of Men’s Health Boston and a member of the American Sexual Health Association’s board of directors.

For many years, there was very little information on the sexual habits of older Americans, said John DeLamater, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. One exception was a landmark study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2008. Researchers interviewed 3,005 older men and women in the U.S.

The results:

  • 73 percent of those age 57 to 64 said they were sexually active (defined by the researchers as having sexual contact — though not necessarily intercourse — with at least one partner over the past 12 months).
  • The percentage of those sexually active dropped to 53 percent among somewhat older respondents, those age 65 to 74.
  • Among respondents age 75 to 85, 26 percent said they were sexually active.

The study consisted of in-person interviews with 3,005 men and women. Some were in long-term relationships, some were not. Women are less likely in older age to be in a relationship, as they are more likely to outlive their their husbands or male partners.

“Clearly, in our society, we’ve been raised to believe that intimate sexual activity should occur primarily in a committed couple relationship,” DeLamater said. “And particularly women, when they lose that partner, the older they are, the less likely they are to try to establish a new relationship.”

How Long Can Sex Continue?

The question of how long sexual activity continues into older age depends on a number of factors, experts said. Medical issues may interfere with vaginal intercourse – more on those issues below.

But in couples, how well you get along is vital, too.

Sociologist Brian Gillespie of Sonoma State University in California studied the frequency of, and satisfaction with, sex among a national sample of 9,164 partnered adults age 50 to 85. His 2016 study concluded that “older adults with active and satisfying sex lives engage more frequently in open sexual communication and setting the mood for sexual activity.” Couples who are “in sync” in sexual desire and activities tend to have the most frequent and satisfying sex, it said. Mixing up different types of sexual activities during an encounter was also linked with more frequent and satisfying sex.

Those respondents answered an anonymous online survey that was posted on NBC News for 10 days in 2006.

Gillespie wrote that his study “has helped challenge the idea that older adults do not, or cannot, maintain a highly active and/or highly satisfying sex life.”

DeLamater agreed that for couples in a good relationship who consider sexuality important, sex “can continue well into the 80s.”

What Can Get in the Way

Of course, sex-related health problems can come up as we age. These include:

  • Erectile dysfunction (ED)  ED can be a side effect of many medical issues, including heart disease, clogged arteries, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, alcoholism, tobacco use, sleep disorders and treatments for prostate cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic. It can also be caused by depression, stress and poor communication between couples. Certain drugs, such as Viagra and Cialis, can help. Some men may benefit from other therapies, such as urethral suppositories or testosterone replacement. It’s important to talk with your doctor about ED and possible treatments.
  • Vaginal dryness. Because of changing hormone levels after menopause, particularly a drop in estrogen, many women lose the natural lubrication they once had. Sex can become very painful. Fortunately, there are solutions. Over-the-counter lubricants are one option. They contain no hormones. Another choice is a vaginal estrogen, which must be obtained with a prescription. It comes in the form of a cream, suppository, tablet (to be placed in the vagina) and vaginal ring.
  • Low libido  Women or men may have less interest in sex for various reasons. Low libido can be caused by anti-depressants and anti-seizure medications, the Mayo Clinic says. In men, it can be caused by low testosterone. Lack of exercise and drug and alcohol use can also cut into libido, as can psychological factors. For instance, DeLamater said one study found that women in their 50s and 60s who begin to feel less sexually attractive may lose their interest in sex. The researcher called it “feeling frumpy.”
  • Medication side effects  As mentioned above, medications can lower sex drive and contribute to erectile dysfunction. These include medications to treat high blood pressure, diabetes, hormonal problems, depression and anxiety. They may also affect the ability to have an orgasm. But it’s worth having a talk with your doctor; a different medication may provide similar benefits without the negative side effects.
  • General poor health  Having chronic pain, such as arthritis or back pain, being overweight or having little mobility can also make sex more difficult or satisfying.

What Are the Alternatives to Penetrative Intercourse?  Click here to read the article on Next Avenue.

Emily Gurnon is Senior Content Editor covering health and caregiving for Next Avenue

Parallel play in the second half of life

In The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle we talk about Time Together and Time Apart as one of the “must-have” conversations for transitioning to the second half of life. It’s not unusual that partners have differing expectations.

For example, Mary, a woman who had primarily worked at home didn’t want her husband, Frank, around all of the time. In fact, she didn’t want him to retire from his work until he had a plan. She didn’t want him sitting around, being bored, maybe rearranging the kitchen cabinets, wanting her to cancel her plans so she would be around and basically being dependent on her for their social life.  A stereotype? Yes. Something that often happens? Yes.

Judy, in contrast, expected that her husband would want to do everything with her and she looked forward to it. He, however, wanted to pursue some other interests that she didn’t share.  Morris wanted to sell their home and move to Florida.  Ruthie, in contrast, hated Florida and wanted to stay in the family home and live near the grandchildren.  Although never spending time apart, they finally reached a creative solution. He rented a condo in Florida during the winter months and she stayed in their family home. Result: they ended up enjoying their time apart and learning new things—and saw that their relationship improved when they were back together. Thomas, in preparation for retirement, learned to play a new musical instrument and joined with other musicians for “gigs” while his wife continued in her usual activities, getting together with her friends and volunteering. Creativity in how to spend time together and apart is crucial for couples, whether you’re married or not.

Next month, I will chat about how pursuing your own interests can be good for your relationship.

Loving the Languages of Love

There is no doubt that this is a time of year for family and friends.  If you haven’t read Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, please do. Because reading a book all about loving the people in your life will honestly add to the joys of your season – as well as to theirs.

If you’ve read it, you’ll know that people generally have a preferred way of receiving love. Some people like gifts – something special that reminds them of you. A couple of my closest girlfriends would much rather meet for lunch and a laugh than do too much gift-swopping. Another of my girlfriends loves getting hand-written cards – something filled with words that make her feel special.

We’re all wired to connect differently, which is why Chapman writes about what he calls “five love languages”. They are:

  1. Words of affirmation
  2. Acts of service
  3. Receiving gifts
  4. Quality time
  5. Physical touch

His view is that feeling connected is about giving and getting in a way that resonates. Your grandson  might love hugs, and your granddaughter might prefer shopping with you. Think of the people in your life right now. Which category might you slot them into? What are your love languages?
(Click here for the online test.)

I read a recent article with practical ideas on “speaking” these languages. Here are my own suggestions to spark some creativity – and fun – for the festive season ahead.

Words: Give a loved one a jar filled with a month’s worth of pieces of paper, each with a written word or phrase with what you appreciate about them. This will appeal to both gift- and word-lovers. I went to a coffee shop recently that served milkshakes on pages of old books. While I’m not suggesting we destroy books, there was something special about a dining experience served – literally – on beautiful words. Use old magazines as gift wrap for a wordy person you know: they’ll love the thought. Or start a new tradition: at your next family birthday, go around the table and have each person say something special about the birthday boy or girl. Working words into your connecting can be a beautiful way of bringing people together.

Acts: If you have someone in your life who values what you do for them above what you say to them, then the challenge is on to work out what will be best. What about popping in with a homemade cake? Or having pizza delivered to their home? Keep an ear open for what needs “doing” in their lives. Anything from making a cup of tea to helping with a DIY chore to feeding a friend’s pets while they’re away shows love.

Gifts: If someone you love likes gifts, then make mental notes (or written ones on your smart phone) of the things they love. Your gifts don’t have to be expensive: sometimes a care pack with their favourite kind of tea and biscuits will feel like the most extravagant gift in the world. They also don’t need to be big. They can even be the opposite of big, in fact: a gift-lover loves opening gifts – that’s half the fun – so what about a box in which you have more smaller gifts beautifully wrapped, letting the special person in your life savour the gift-opening. Gifts are often about feeling known rather than feeling spoilt, so look out for ideas to help you literally share the love.

Time: You’ll spot the quality-timers: they linger at parties, happy to chat all night. The thing to do with your time when it comes to a loved one who loves quality time – is give it to them! Factor in face-to-face time with these people in your life. If your time is limited, why not tie in an activity you both love? Some kind of exercise or craft is a great idea. One or two meaningful engagements let special people know that they are loved.

Physical touch: Not everyone wants to be hugged tightly but for loved ones who respond to touch, something as simple as a pat on a shoulder or handshake can mean the world; a hug might light up someone’s day. Ever thought of giving a foot massage “voucher” to a loved one as a gift? Or painting someone’s nails? Don’t underestimate how transforming touch can be.

So, no pressure to celebrate the season for giving – a little differently, this time. And, if you do try to “speak” a new language this holiday, let me know how it goes.

Lots of love – all five kinds – to you then, over the holidays.

Warm regards

7 unbreakable grandparenting laws

I have very fond memories of my grandmother reading me the Sunday newspaper comics when she visited on that day.  She seemed to have a congenial relationship with my parents and, certainly, I felt her love.  Little did I, as a child, know that these family relationships can be fraught, with boundaries often unclear or ignored.  So, the advice in this article by Barbara Graham, a columnist, is helpful.

On the one hand, it was so simple. There was a new baby, Isabelle Eva, and there was nothing to do except love her. That was the one hand. The other hand, belonging to her parents, held all the cards.

I soon learned that I could love my granddaughter fiercely, but I had no say — in anything. She was mine, but not mine. Although this is perfectly natural and should not have shocked me, it did. For many parents used to being in charge, deferring to the rules and wishes of our adult children and their partners is humbling. Here are seven guidelines that — so far — have kept me out of hot water:

  1. Seal your lips.Even if you’re an expert, your adult sons and daughters will assume you know nothing about childrearing. Your advice and opinions will not be welcome, unless directly solicited. (Even then, it’s iffy as to whether the new parents really want to hear your answer.) Tread lightly.
  2. Love thy grandchild as thine own — but never forget he or she is not thine own.I was confused about this in the beginning. I was at the hospital when Isabelle was born, and I thought we were all one big happy family. Not. I had to win over her parents. They loved me — I knew that — but did they trustme? In the early days I felt as if I were auditioning for the part of grandparent. Did I hold Isabelle properly? Didn’t I know that you never put a newborn down on her stomach? It took me a few blunders to secure their trust — which must be renewed every so often.
  3. Abide by the rules of the new parents. The dos and don’ts of childrearing change with every generation. Had I listened to my mother, I would have held my son only while feeding him (every four hours) and not a second longer, lest he turn into a “mama’s boy.” These days, with all the childrearing information online, most new parents are up to speed, but we grandparents definitely are not. Baby slings? Mutsy Slider Stroller? Who knows what these are or how to operate them?
  4. Accept your role. If you’re the mother of a new father, you may not have the same access to your grandchild as a maternal grandmother, at least initially. New mothers are often the primary caretakers of babies and tend to lean on their mothers for support. This is not a problem, unless you think it is. Your grandchild will love you too. Anyhow, all grandparents — whether on maternal or paternal side — are at risk of being shut out if they fail to observe any of these commandments. Think of yourself as a relief player in sports game: on the bench until your adult children call you up; then do as they say if you want to stay in the game. (We’ve already covered this, but I think it’s key.)
  5. Don’t be surprised if old issues get triggered when your child has a child. For many people, feelings of competition with their grandchild’s other grandparents provoke traumatic flashbacks to junior high school. This is especially true now, given the proliferation of divorce and stepfamilies. Not only that, some grandparents are able to lavish the kids with expensive gifts, while others live much closer to the children than their counterparts. Still, a little goodwill goes a long way. The heart is a generous muscle capable of loving many people at once, and most of us are able to get past the initial rush of jealousy to find our special place in the new order. (Yes, of course we still secretly hope that our grandchildren will love us more than those other people. We are, after all, human.)
  6. Get a life. Sometimes I’ve become overly embroiled in my concern for my son and his family; at other times my desire to be an integral part of their lives has taken precedence over things I needed to do to maintain my own sense of well-being — and I’ve paid the price. Hence, my mantra: “I have my life. They have theirs.” We are close and connected, yet separate. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.
  7. Let go of all expectations. When Isabelle Eva was born, she lived around the corner from us, but when she was two months old her parents moved overseas. I was heartbroken; my expectations about my involvement in her life were turned upside down. Yet once I was able to let go of my agenda — it took some doing — I found I still felt deeply connected to Isabelle and vice-versa. Now we visit her as often as we can and, in between visits, Skype and talk on the phone. There are bound to be unpredictable plot twists in every family narrative, but unless you are raising your grandchildren, your adult children are writing their own story. Who knew that grandparenthood would offer so many new opportunities for personal growth?

Ultimately, the good news about being a grandparent, and not being in charge anymore, is that nothing is your fault, either. Roxana Robinson wrote, “It’s like being told you no longer have to eat vegetables, only dessert — and really only the icing.”

Barbara Graham, a columnist, is the editor of the anthology, Eye of My Heart: 27 Writers Reveal the Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother, which tells “the whole crazy, complicated truth about being a grandmother in today’s world.”

Two into Six goes Two Cont.

After six years of retirement, this Chartered client shares two significant lessons they as a couple have learned about this new phase of life … as life does not always go to plan!

Lesson # 2: Care for the kids, too

We had not anticipated what our move would mean to the children who still lived in or near home. Our eldest son had lived abroad for a few years, his life was more established and he had his own circle of friends. In time, our middle daughter married and moved away.

There are many considerations for young people today as they make their way in an ever-changing world. Gone are the days where your salary would cover your rental, medical aid and pension. When we left, we wanted to ensure that our youngest daughter was in a safe complex, so we needed to supplement her income.

She felt pretty lonely, although she had a good circle of friends and was quite active. She missed being able to come home for a meal and a visit … we had left a bigger void than we had ever imagined.

Unfortunately, her job was subject to enormous seasonal changes and the winter months were exceptionally difficult. At times like this, it seems that there is so much that adds to the pressure. Someone drove into her car, it was not her fault, but because of her age the insurance didn’t cover much. The break-up with a pretty nasty boyfriend led to a downward spiral.

After much consultation and deliberation, we decided that she should come home to us and get some professional help. The distance felt huge, so bringing her home for a time seemed like the best option. She has made excellent progress and is doing really well. She has decided to stay on and is enjoying a smaller town. It has its ups and downs, but for now it is working well.

When you, as a parent, are trying to help your child find her financial feet, it is completely understandable that you might provide a living space at home even when she is an adult; but, there should be some plan to have a handing over process in which you require her, gradually, to pay rental and/or to make an increasing contribution to her living costs.  This is because you, as a parent, have an equally strong desire to see your children growing in their independence. This goal may be a moving target, depending on circumstances, but the principle is sound.

Our daughter currently lives in our flat, which gives her the space she needs.

Final reflection

Life changes, and so do our circumstances, and so the retirement plan needs to be flexible. We are fortunate that we have been able to help out as we have, but the figures don’t look the same six years down the line. We are grateful to our team at Chartered who have been able to help us adapt our plans as life looks so different to the plan!

This is the second instalment in a two-part article entitled: Two into Six goes Two. It is a Chartered Client’s article on the two unexpected lessons that she and her husband have learned in their six years of retirement – important financial considerations that can easily be overlooked. Read the first instalment below:

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