Listening and interacting with older people (older than me, anyways) or my elders, as I prefer to relate to them, can be very rewarding. In addition to the people, relationships and good conversation, I often find elders are a source of inspiration, of what’s important in life, what the core is. It’s as if elders can get to the essence of things, peel the onion, in no time flat, something all mediators relish, and which grandmothers are particularly good at.
Whenever I struggle to consciously make connections between people, things, ideas, many elders I’ve known, richly experienced in Life, seem to intuitively make those connections, go with the flow of what matters…
I also discover much about the elder experience through books. I enjoy reading, and it’s a low-stress way to absorb others’ lessons learned. And, given I increasingly find myself in work situations involving elders, e.g., mediations, I’m always on the lookout for good ones, books that is.
Here’s six good ones I’ve read over the last year and change, I recommend each, and every, one.
- I Feel Great about My Hands (And Other Unexpected Joys of Aging) by Shari Graydon
- You Could Live a Long Time: Are You Ready? by Lyndsay Green
- Tangles: A story about Alzheimer’s, my mother and me by Sarah Leavitt
- One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, a Marriage, and the Language of Healing by Diane Ackerman
- Intimate Death: How the Dying Teach Us How to Live by Marie De Hennezel, Carol Janeway
- A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System Is Failing the Elderly by John Sloan
The first two books (above) are collections of interviews and short stories. The third and fourth are personal stories, told from the perspective of a family member dealing with an incapacitated loved one. Intimate Death focuses on palliative care. A Bitter Pill is a beacon for new ways of elder care. The first 3 books I talked about previously, on this blog, here, here and here.
For a bit more about these books, you can also refer to my synopsis, of each, below. Did I already say that they are all good!
And you, my readers… What person or book gave you a new perspective on aging?
I Feel Great About My Hands: And Other Unexpected Joys of Aging: A collection of (40) perspectives on aging, from notable women from across Canada, all over the age of fifty. The author/editor has written 2 media literacy books for youth (I have one of them in my house), and is past president of Media Action, an “organization dedicated to challenging the underrepresentation, stereotyping and sexual objectification of women in the media”. The women in this book bring a diverse spectrum of viewpoints, and backgrounds. The stories are lively, often irreverent; e.g., exemplified with titles such as A Work In Progress, Levity In The Face of Gravity, My Colonoscopy… Overall, the book celebrates the upside of maturity. “It’s all just fine”.
You Could Live a Long Time: Are You Ready?: The author interviewed 40 elderly people & couples from across Canada, folks who were identified as having come to grips with aging (as best as one can). Summarizing the elder’s insights, the book wonderfully reveals paradox after paradox…. Everything from your emotional circle (e.g., “if you have a life partner, you need to figure out whether s/he is a partner for life”), civic engagement (e.g., “by waiting until you have more time to volunteer, you may miss the boat”), work (“to retire successfully, forget about retiring”), body, brain, finances (e.g., “leaving the party well means knowing what will happen after you’ve left”)…
Tangles: A story about Alzheimer’s, my mother and me: I loved Tangles. It reminded me of my own Mom, who had Alzheimer’s. The author writes both prose and comics, and she uses both to advantage in putting forward a compelling story, her personal memoir, about that most dynamic of all relationships, those with our own family. In addition to authentic and masterful storytelling, the book offered me insights on how to move from conflict to collaboration, and resolution.
One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, a Marriage, and the Language of Healing: Quite an account. A memoir about the author’s experience, as a caregiver, for her husband, after he suffered a serious stroke. Both are writers. Language was/is everything. This book will interest anyone interested in the dynamics of a relationship when things are flipped up-side-down. And this book will certainly interest anyone who is taking on a caregiver relationship and/or exploring new ways to communicate.
Intimate Death: How the Dying Teach Us How to Live: Marie de Hennezel was a French psychologist working with women in distress and with cases of advanced psychosis when, in 1987, she joined the staff of the first palliative care unit in a Paris hospital for people with terminal illnesses. Her experiences there she describes in this book. She is well known internationally re: the end of life and accompanying the dying. The book is highly accessible, and very moving. The author describes herself as an agnostic. There is an existential flavor to her writing. The paradoxes that come with the very elderly are treated with warmth, and amazing insight. Francois Mitterand, ex-President of France writes the foreward, and also plays a central part in one of her stories. There are many lessons in this book for anyone involved with the end-of-life situations, and/or interested in authentic relationships. Brilliant.
A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System Is Failing the Elderly: If you are a caregiver for a frail elderly person, or know someone who is, I highly recommend this book. Written with passion, honesty, warmth, and 30 years of first-hand insight (the author is a primary care doctor), this book explains why its almost always best for the frail elderly to stay away from institutions, and be cared for at home. Notwithstanding the first line of this comment, I think this book should be required required for all health students, medical professionals, health care administrators, and caregivers. Trust me!
Photo credit: Dok1 on Flickr