Keep yourself socially connected as you age

I have always prided myself on being comfortable in my own company. I realise, though, that this has always been a choice – whenever I wanted, I could call up a friend to make a date.

Now, circumstances have changed: a good friend has moved to Kenya, my sister has been in New Zealand for almost twenty years, and four friends are grieving the loss of a loved one. I long to connect with each of them, loving the times in which we can just savour each other’s company. I am also enjoying the energy of new and revived friendships.

In a Next Avenue blog, Wendy Sue Knecht offers a few helpful tips in finding love and friendship as we get older. See what is of value for you.

1. Re-frame old mindsets

Knecht believes that “with the right mindset, it is easier to find love and friendship”.
The transition for Knecht from singleness to marriage at age 47 was not a difficult one. She says, “Having more self-knowledge made it easier to feel open to new experiences. Being set in my ways was a choice and served no purpose. I made a conscious decision not to be ‘stuck’ in a rigid mindset.”

2. Free others and yourself from perfection

As we age, we learn to accept our flaws, Knecht contends, and this engenders confidence. Youth often holds to strict standards for all to live up to. “Once you come to accept your own faults and imperfections, it is easier to accept other people for who they are. Not only do I not expect anyone to be perfect, I would hate for anyone to expect that of me,” she says.

3. Others don’t define you if you define yourself

Remember those adolescent years when your greatest need was to feel accepted? The best way to do it was to fit in and look like the others as much as possible.
“Once we have the self-assurance of age, it is no longer necessary to find a partner or a friend to define ourselves. You can appreciate others more fully when you realize they are not a reflection of you,” Knecht claims. Learn to listen without judgement, and you can appreciate varying viewpoints and tastes.

4. Embrace quirkiness and celebrate difference

Allowing yourself to be an original is so liberating. Have fun and allow yourself to enjoy a sense of humour. If your friend dresses up and you love your jeans, make it a shared joke between you. Appreciate differences and embrace each one’s uniqueness. I learnt this on a recent Bucket Wheel family vacation to Ireland. I was desperate for all to see the Book of Kells and was disappointed to find I was the only fan. I had to accept that, for the rest of the family, standing in a queue to see a book was not a priority (and kissing a stone was not mine!).

5. Keep an open mind

“Keeping an open mind is key to finding new friends and love as you get older. Never say never; love and friendship could be just around the corner,” Knecht enthuses.

Think of your happiest times – you will find that a good proportion of them were spent with lovely friends.

Make your anger a visitor not a resident

Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, highlights the two kinds of anger in this blog – I found the distinction useful. He reminds us that anger needs to be processed in order for us to live whole and healthy lives.

Why do people get angry? I believe we get angry when our sense of “right” is violated. When this happens, it can lead us to one of two types of anger:

Definitive anger: when someone has wronged us.
Distorted anger: when things didn’t go our way.

Much of the anger people experience is distorted anger. The traffic moved slowly. Our spouse didn’t do things the way we wanted. This kind of anger, however, can still be very intense and must be processed. Ask yourself, “Would it be helpful if I shared my anger with someone? In sharing it, might I improve things for everyone? If not, should I simply let it go?”

Whatever you do, do something positive. Don’t hold your anger inside. Anger was meant to a visitor, not a resident. Processing your anger in a positive way will lead you toward freedom, emotional health, and relational stability.

Did you know that anger is considered a secondary emotion?

Anger is often triggered by something else—usually fear or sadness. So when you feel angry, it’s important to dig down to the true, primary emotion. Why do you feel angry? What are you really feeling?
For example, Bailey might lash out at her friend Libby when she finds out Libby is moving. What’s underneath the anger? Sadness. She’ll miss her.

When Jose’s frustration over his group project at work reaches an angry boiling point, he has to step back to see what’s underneath the rage. Upon investigation, he realizes it stems from his fear that his group won’t take the project seriously and he’ll get stuck doing all the work.
When it comes to anger, there’s often more to the story.

When your partner is controlling …

A controlling partner creates unhealthy patterns that are often difficult to detect. A Psychology Today article highlights warning signs and offers some advice in dealing with the behaviour.

Psychologist Andrea Bonior identifies signs of a controlling partner in her article entitled “20 signs your partner is controlling” (Psychology Today, 2015). The danger, she says, is that we often have the wrong stereotype in mind: “ … the grumpy bully … physically aggressive … openly berates and belittles … commands their partner how to dress.”

Bonior attributes the controlling behaviour to emotional fragility and heightened vulnerability on the part of the controller. While not all controlling behaviour is abusive, it can lead to a rather unhealthy relationship, especially when the controlled person counts themselves lucky to be the recipient of such ‘care’ or ‘concern’, or considers themselves to be, at least in part, responsible for the unhealthy state of the relationship. It may be that neither the controller nor controlled person is aware of the complexity of the manipulative behaviour.

What to watch out for

  1. Creating a debt to which you are beholden
  2. Spying, snooping or requiring constant disclosure
  3. Not respecting your need for time alone
  4. Making you ‘earn’ good treatment or trust
  5. Getting you so tired of conflict/an opposing view that you relent
  6. Belittling you for long-held beliefs
  7. Making you feel that you are unworthy of them
  8. Teasing/ridicule has become an uncomfortable undercurrent
  9. Sexual interactions that feel uncomfortable or upsetting afterwards
  10. Unwillingness or inability to hear or consider your viewpoint
  11. Pressuring you to unhealthy behaviours
  12. Thwarting personal and professional goals by making you doubt yourself
  13. Presuming you are guilty until proven innocent
  14. Overactive jealousy, accusations, paranoia
  15. Using guilt as a tool
  16. An overactive scorecard – keeping tally of your interactions
  17. Making acceptance/attraction/caring conditional
  18. Isolating you from family and/or friends
  19. Veiled or overt threats
  20. Chronic criticism – of even small things

Breaking free

  1. Assess your level of safety: for many, the end of a relationship is a clean break; for others, it may signal danger, says Bonior. Anger and grief may push a controlling partner to threatening behaviour, largely owing to their sense of lack of control. Have a safety plan.
  2. Assemble your support system: It may be your spouse has isolated you or you may have presented a healthier version of your relationship to friends and family. You may be ashamed to relay reality. “It is crucial, if you want to make changes, you strengthen your ties with trustworthy friends and family who can help you through this process,” Bonior advises.
  3. Map out different paths and scenarios: Be specific about short- and long-term goals. Will you stay or go? If you stay, will you go for counselling? Are there ways to make changes? If you leave, what are your financial plans? Where will you stay? “The more you can anticipate the logistical challenges of changes you’re hoping to embark on, the less likely they are to halt the process. Preparedness and predictability equal power,” adds Bonior.
  4. Practise self-care
  5. Understand feelings can be mixed: It’s not uncommon for a person to be motivated to leave or even just have a real conversation with a partner about problematic behaviour. Then, the next morning, things feel much scarier. Or, they determine to leave the unhealthy relationship, and their partner does something so loving that they have second thoughts. The more you anticipate this, the more likely you are to follow through with your original plan.
  6. Ask for help – really
  7. Keep following through – keep your long-term goal in mind and give yourself a break. It is a process, not an event.

How to care for a loved one diagnosed with Dementia

A Dementia diagnosis can send a family into a tailspin. Besides the emotional toll on both the person diagnosed and their family, there are far-reaching legal and financial consequences to be dealt with.

The incidence of Dementia is growing globally, and, as we age, the chances of being affected by the condition increase. Dementia initially manifests in memory loss, difficulty in making simple decisions and inhibited communication skills – confusing and frustrating for the person and his family. As this debilitating disease progresses, co-ordination is affected, even swallowing. Family relationships come under strain with mood swings, and unpredictable and aggressive speech and behaviour.

What is the next step for a family in which a member is diagnosed with Dementia?

Call on resources for help

Don’t be afraid to get help. There are many organisations offering advice, support and services: Dementia SA (www.dementiasa.org), SA Federation for Mental Health (www.safmh.org.za) for legal and financial advice, and Alzheimer’s South Africa (www.alzheimers.org.za).

The CareCompany’s services include companion care, nursing care, home care, dementia care, hospital to home care. They offer a free face-to-face or telephonic consultation to guide you as you seek support – they are in Cape Town. This is followed by an assessment visit and a care plan (www.carecompany.co.za).

The Livewell Villages (Bryanston and Somerset West) offer regular information sessions: on 28 August, in Somerset West, Rose Polkey will speak on: “Dementia from a spouse’s perspective”. You can subscribe to the Livewell newsletter for regular relevant articles (www.livewell.care).

As a matter of urgency, take some financial and legal advice from experts. This is a priority before a formal medical diagnosis is made, as financial and legal decisions may be taken out of the family’s hands if a plan has not been put in place. Check wills, trusts and power of attorney, so that the person with the onset of Dementia can still have input. This is why early detection is important.

Some checks before diagnosis

How do you know that forgetfulness is not just a natural symptom of ageing? Dementia SA identifies 10 early symptoms of Dementia:

  1. Memory loss
  2. Difficulty in performing everyday tasks
  3. Problems with language
  4. Disorientation to time and place
  5. Poor or decreased judgment
  6. Problems with keeping track of things
  7. Misplacing things
  8. Changes in mood or behaviour
  9. Changes in personality
  10. Loss of initiative

Financial considerations

In her article entitled “The difficult reality of living with Dementia”, Sylvia Gruber (The South African, 2016) cites the costs of care: 24/7 in-home care can cost R25k-R30k per month, or R20k-R25k in retirement villages, in addition to base living fees. Add on nursing and medication fees, and you are looking at a substantial change in your financial plan.

Gruber comments: “There is a heated debate in South Africa for medical aids to include dementia as a disease that should be included on the prescribed minimum benefits (PMB) list.”

Caring for the carer

Ensure that you have a support system. If family is far, draw on friends’ help and experts’ services. Be kind to yourself. You may have to relinquish the notion (if you are holding onto it), that home is best. Facilities are set up to provide a safer and more comfortable environment than you can often offer. If you do opt for home care, consider the changes you need to make to the structure of your home to avoid accidents. You need to consider if you can cope with the demands of caring for your spouse or family member.

Dementia in the news …

Retirementor, Alan Hosking, drew our attention to this Wits study on scientists slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s: click here.

Opinions That Matter

We constantly listen to feedback and are exposed to many different viewpoints in our lifetime. It eventually becomes difficult to know whose feedback and opinions really matter. We all have a desire for approval, but when you link you social and psychological well-being to the approval of others, you may have to take a long hard look at exactly whom you will allow to influence your sense of self-worth.

There are various types of feedback: some are constructive, many are negative and then there’s the “suck-up feedback”, as Brené Brown puts it. We even get feedback from people who don’t really know us at all … people who feel compelled to judge our decisions and actions without understanding where we’ve come from or how we got to this point. Critical comments are rife on social media, and even if it comes from someone completely unknown, it often stops us dead in our tracks.

If you had to listen to, and take all the feedback you receive from all corners of your extended social circle to heart, you would so exhausted trying to please the world, striving for perfection, that you would not be brave enough to fully enter the arena of life. You simply cannot afford to mould yourself into what others need you to be.

Decide whose opinions matter

It is hard to be brave when we define ourselves by what others think. At the same time, if we stop caring about what others think, we’re too armored for authentic connections. So how do you get clear on whose opinions matter?

Here is a lovely exercise from Brené Brown’s book Dare to Lead – she calls it the Square Squad exercise.

Write down the people whose opinion really matters to you in this small square. Notice how small the square is – you can only jot down the names of the people whose integrity you value, as long as it fits into the square. Your square squad or integrity partners must be a small group, so take as long as you need, edit your list until you are left with only a few.

Now fold it and put it away. I keep mine in my purse, so I am constantly reminded of whose opinion counts in my life.

Then, take some time and reach out to the people in your square squad. Let them know that that their opinions matter to you. Tell them that you are grateful for having them in your life and thank them for caring enough to be honest with you.

Your square squad comprises people who love you because of your vulnerability and imperfections, not despite them. They are not yes people. They are the ones you can count on for honesty and support, despite your setbacks, mess-ups and failures.

Pay attention

I recently used this exercise during a training session, and one attendee told me afterwards that he experienced an AHA moment – the three people in his square squad were the people he was spending the least amount of time with.

Life is peculiar like this. We tend to spend time with people who make us feel guilty for not spending time with them, and those who really matter are right at the back of the line. It’s because we know they will love and support us no matter what.

On this note, I wish all our special women clients a joyful Women’s Month – may you keep the company of those who truly matter.

Remember always to be inspired, be brave and be on purpose.

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

Dancepiration

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.

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