‘Tis the Season

Tis’ the season for wreaths, Christmas trees, and Menorahs, as well as a time for gift giving and gift receiving. It is also a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate human compassion and kindness. Tis’ a great time to use your holiday spirit to spread good will, share your love, and give back to others in the community.

We have struggled for years to find the true meaning of Christmas as our holiday season has become more and more commercialized. However, as a result of the recent recession, this year appears to be different. Many have discovered that it is not the possessions we have in life that makes us happy or successful, but it is how we live our lives. As a result, many are donating more of their time to help address community issues and others are downsizing. Kudos to you, if you are one of these people.

As I began to reflect on my personal holiday traditions, I am reminded of two of my most anticipated Christmas shows including Dr. Seuss’ ”How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and Peanut’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Not only are these entertaining, but they attempt to remind us of the “reason for the season.” Maybe this is why they are my favorites.

In the Grinch, Cindy Lou shows us that there is more to Christmas than the glitter, the glitz, and the gift giving. She shows us, and everyone else in “Whoville,” that we need to follow our heart. Likewise, Charlie Brown in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” gets fed up with the commercialism of the holidays as he grapples with the true meaning of Christmas. Charlie Brown, like Cindy Lou remind us, that Christmas is all about kindness, helping others, sharing, and giving. It is a wonderful lesson for us to remember and share with others.

We can follow Cindy Lou and Charlie Brown’s lead and reach out to our friends, neighbors, family members, and others less fortunate. We can show people that we care, that we are thinking about them, and that we appreciate them. People would much rather have the gift of love than a store bought gift, anyway.

We can start new family traditions and teach our children and grandchildren the real meaning of the season. We can teach them about love, compassion and responsibility by showing them how fortunate they are, as well as, how they can make a difference by doing their part. Most importantly, we can share our personal wealth, time, and talents with others who are less fortunate and make a difference in our communities, one person at a time.

So gather your family members, your friends, your church group, your club or your organization and share your generosity in one of these ways:

  • Donate an hour (or more) of your time to a local charity. During the holiday season consider being a Salvation Army bell ringer, serve food at the local soup kitchen, help out at a local nursing home or share your musical and artistic talents by providing entertainment at a local shelter. Use the holidays as a kick-off for a year-long effort of volunteering.
  • Assist with your community’s “Santa to a Senior” or “Home for the Holidays” program. Buy a gift for an older adult in need. Help wrap or deliver gifts to older community members. Contact your local Home Instead Senior Care office or Agency on Aging for additional information.
  • Work with everyone you know to pull together a box of food donations and give them to your local food pantry. Due to the holiday season, the recession, and increased demand for services, our local food pantries are in desperate need of food. Something as simple as one can of soup can provide dinner or lunch for a person in need.
  • Visit or assist a “shut in” who needs assistance. Assist with putting new batteries in their fire detector, take out the trash for them, offer to help clean up their house. Put up holiday decorations for them. Cook a holiday meal to them, or better yet, invite them to your holiday dinner. Drive them to a medical appointment or to the grocery store. The opportunities are unlimited.
  • Contribute to a cause in the honor of an older adult. Most non-profits will offer opportunities to make a donation in honor of another person, then let them know that you have done this. Consider making a donation in honor of an aging family member, friend or community member who has inspired you. What a wonderful way to show you care and to thank them while doing something to help others in need.
  • Go to the local “dollar store” and purchase bingo prizes for your local parks and recreation, nursing home or senior group. Little inexpensive treats are just as delightful as their more expensive counterparts!
  • Invite an elderly neighbor or friend to join you at the holiday church service or another holiday event.
  • Send an anonymous holiday card with cash to someone in need. Or mail a card with your name on it letting someone know how you appreciate them and how they have changed your life. With all the computer and electronics in our world now, getting cards and letters in the mail are a rarity these days.
  • Give a caregiver a break for a few hours. Offer to stay with his/her loved one so they can have a brief respite from care.
  • Take a small lap dog or friendly animal to visit an elderly person or a family with children who cannot afford a pet. Dress them up in silly Christmas bows and ribbons for their amusement.

These are but a few of the many ways we can spread love, goodwill and holiday spirit during this holiday season. I am sure you can think of many more. Whatever you do, do it from the “heart.” You will be glad that you did. Not only will you feel great satisfaction for doing something good, it will warm your soul, and be good for your health. It will also help make this a holiday you won’t forget. A small act of kindness goes a long way!

Happy Holidays!

Amore: Love, Dating, and Relationships in Later Life

Love ? I love love love you.

Love ? I love love love you. (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

By Denise Scruggs & Cathie Eagle, Lynchburg College

“There is only one happiness in life—to love and to be loved,” according to French novelist, George Sand.  Numerous studies spanning over 100 years have supported the emotional benefits of marriage and love and gone further to link love, marriage, and positive relationships to good health and longevity. As we get older, however, feelings of inadequacy in sex and relationships can be difficult. To feel loved is unlike any other feeling, as it validates us a human being, man or woman.

When in love, our days seem a little brighter and we feel differently than we normally do. We experience joy, exhilaration, and attraction.  We enjoy the warmth of our partner’s presence, even when they are miles away.

The physical side of love is also positive. Holding hands, kissing, giving a hug, or having sex, are good for our emotional and physical health. Aging doesn’t change these benefits. In fact, we are wiser and have more experience in love and life, so romance and love will be more fulfilling.

We are never too old to fall in love, to marry, or to enjoy the health benefits of love. Take eighty seven year old, Frank Foskett, and seventy five year old, Virginia Hailey, for example. After meeting over bingo in a Plymouth nursing home, they were married. They are part of a growing trend of couples falling in love then marrying or living together later in life.  What used to be considered “taboo” in our society, is now welcomed as people are starting to live healthier, more active, and longer lives.

Unfortunately, as we age, our relationships can change significantly. We may find ourselves unexpectedly widowed or divorced. If we are single, we may find that our social support group has dissolved.   Our friends die, some become more frail and move into nursing homes, while others move to be closer to their children.

Whatever the cause, we may find ourselves alone, feeling lonely, depressed and unsatisfied. We may feel something’s missing in our life, and want to seek out the love and friendship of others to fill this void. To do this, we may find ourselves on the dating scene at sixty or seventy years of age. Thinking about having a new relationship can be really scary, but everyone at every age experiences these emotions. Take a chance and reach out or let someone else reach out to you.

Unfortunately, the dating scene we find ourselves in now is very different than it used to be and it’s a lot more complicated. The unofficial “rules” of dating, the expectations, and “how” we date has changed significantly. We now have to worry more about personal safety. We even have speed dating and internet dating.

Sexuality can become an issue when we start dating again. While we may no longer need to worry about pregnancy, we do need to take precautions against STD’s.  It is still our responsibility to keep our bodies healthy and safe.

Family squabbles can also add to the complexities of dating and marriage in later life. Grown children may believe we are too old to date, they may worry about our being taken advantage of, or they may find it hard for them to see their “mom” or “dad” with someone else. They may even worry about losing their inheritance. If we remarry, we may have to deal with angry step-children, who are worried about losing their parent’s affection. The key to preventing these squabbles is to talk with our older children and keep the lines of communication open.
While there may be some challenges to finding love in later life, none are insurmountable. So when you decide you are ready to date again, there are a number of “safe” ways to meet others including:

  • Volunteer, it is a great way to help others while meeting new people.
  • Join a club or organization to find others with interests similar to yours.
  • Take a class at the local college or parks and recreation department.
  • Travel. There are a number opportunities offered through travel agencies.
  • Take care of yourself and learn to like your own company. If you feel good about yourself, and maintain a positive attitude others will be drawn to you.
  • Reconnect with old friends and family members.
  • Participate in church and community activities.

Most of all remember, you are never too old to make new friends, to fall in love, to date, or to marry. While you may still need to kiss a few “toads” before finding your prince or princess, the end result makes it worthwhile. What is the worst that could happen? You have fun and you meet new friends…

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Lessons We Can Learn from Death

By Denise Scruggs, Director, Beard Center on Aging and Jen Horsey, Assistant, Beard Center on Aging

Ben Franklin once said, “Nothing is certain except death and taxes.” Neither are things we look forward to, but they are an inevitable part of life.

Death will impact us throughout our lives. We will lose family members, coworkers, friends and acquaintances. Some losses will be easier to bear than others. Some will be expected while others will be a surprise. Many will leave a void in our lives that will be hard to fill.

I recently lost my mom after she became terminally ill and passed away at home under hospice care. It seems like only yesterday that I talked with her and held her hand. I already miss her and know that these feelings will not go away for a long time, if ever.
While with my mom, I had many opportunities to ponder life and death. Here are a just a few things that I was reminded of during this time:
 Having faith is important, especially at the end of life. Believing in “God” or a higher power brings comfort. It reminds us that life is everlasting and suggests that we will reconnect with our loved ones in death. As a person goes through the final stages of death, he or she often “talks with” loved ones who are already deceased. I saw this with both my mom and my father-in- law. While my mom’s health continued to decline after her conversation with late family members , my father-in-law miraculously recovered from a near death experience when his late twin brother would not “open a door” for him.
 Sometimes we forget how important our family and friends are to us. We often go through life assuming that the people we care about will always be there. In reality, they may not be. Death and terminal illness can come at anytime and without warning. It can leave us with unfinished business and regret for the things we never had time to say or do with our loved ones. To prevent this from happening, stay connected. Spend time with those you care about the most. Be free with your “I love you’s and your hugs. Most importantly, take time to create new memories that will last forever. You will be glad that you did.
 Saying “good-by” is difficult to do. Whether someone dies suddenly or after a long illness, it’s still a surprise. It is still hard to let them go. We are never prepared. Even if we know that death will end their pain and suffering, it’s hard to accept.
 Our loved ones are always with us, both in life and in death. Although, not with us physically, our loved ones will remain alive in our thoughts and memories. Photographs, videos, and personal possessions left behind, as well as time spent reminiscing about our loved one will keep them close to us.
 Life goes on around us while we face death or a terminal illness. It is surreal to go to work, to church, and to the grocery store while we are grieving. Although we are feeling sad, anxious or stressed, life is going on normally for most of those around us. It is during these times that we may begin to feel isolated or alone. We may question our faith. Despite this, we need to reach out to others for help and support, while sharing our thoughts and feelings.
 We are never alone during a terminal illness or death. Although we may feel isolated in our grief, there are many people available to help us. They’re waiting to help, but don’t know how. We need to let these friends, family members, church members, and colleagues know what we need while being open to their assistance. We also need to accept help from professionals who provide hospice, home health, support groups, and other assistance.
 We need to take care of ourselves as we face the loss of a loved one. Although we may feel guilty doing something good for ourselves while a loved one is struggling to stay alive, it is still important to do it. We need a break from the stress and responsibility. We need a good night’s sleep and a balanced diet. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we will not be there for our loved ones when they need us the most.
 It is important to make end-of-life decisions ahead of time. It takes the pressure off family while ensuring that decisions are carried out the way we want them to be. It also removes the potential guilt our loved ones may experience in the event they have to make a decision to take us off life support. So share your preferences with your children and spouse, and seek to understand theirs.

Finally, remember that we are never guaranteed tomorrow. We should live each day as if it is our last. By doing this we will be better equipped to cope with death and dying- whether it is our own or that of a loved one.

Techniques for Facing One’s Fears

MONACO - JUNE 09:  Kevin Sorbo poses during a ...

facing fear

To get what we want out of life we need to acknowledge and experience fear. We need to courageously step out of our “comfort zone” and face our fears head on.  Here are a few questions to help you get started in facing your fears. Take a few minutes and answer these questions. Put it in writing so you can look back on it later.

  • What do I fear? Make a list of the things you are afraid of and of the things you are afraid to do. Identify the fear(s) that are holding you back in life and limiting your success. By identifying what we fear, we are taking the first step to conquering it.
  • What are my strengths? List the strengths you can draw upon to help you master your fear. For example, “I am strong”. “I have handled my fear of ______ and it turned out ok. List as many as you can. If you are willing to be temporarily scared as you face your fears, note this as a strength.
  • Who can help me? We don’t have to face our fears alone. Ask for help or morale support. Talk to someone who does what you fear the most or someone who will walk thru it with you. Remember that everyone experiences fear in life, others are just handling it differently. Seek support from others who will encourage you. Find a cheerleader.
  • What is the worse thing that can happen? Look at the “what if’s”. What if I did X and things did not work out, then Y would happen. Try to look at these worst case scenarios realistically without allowing your mind to build up unrealistic situations that will never happen.  By looking at the worse case realistic scenarios, you can prepare for them in advance. At the same time, don’t dwell on past failures. Draw on what you have done right and what has worked in the past.
  • How can I minimize my risks? For each “What if?” consider the potential outcomes and identify what you can do to eliminate or at least decrease the possibility of this worse case scenario from occurring. Doing this is very liberating and puts you in control of the situation. Knowledge is power. The more you know about your fear, your risks, the obstacles, and what to do, the more control you gain over the situation and your fear.
  • What are the steps I can take to face my fear? Instead of eating a whole pie, we eat it one piece and one bite at a time. We need to use this strategy as we face our fear.  Refrain from taking one big leap or eating the entire pie in one bite. Break it down into doable steps and enjoy your success in the smaller bites.
  • Why am I doing this? Look at your reasons for facing your fear? Is it to open the door to new opportunities? Is it to inspire you to do other things? Is it to improve the quality of your life? This will serve as a reminder as to why facing your fear is a priority in your life.
  • What good can come out of facing my fear? What are the best things that could happen if you face your fear? How will it change your life? What opportunities can occur as you open this door? Visualize success and the good things that come out of facing your fear. Fantasize about how life will be after you overcome your fear. Focus on the positive outcomes. For example, if you fear public speaking, take time out to shut your eyes and visualize yourself doing a stellar job when addressing a group. Use this to replace the mental image you previously had of getting up in front of a group and failing.

As you face your fears, take time out regularly to focus on the good things going on in your life.  Pat yourself on the back for the things you have already accomplished. Develop a habit of turning off negative thoughts and focusing on the positives.

Take one step at a time. Use baby steps. It may take longer, but it creates momentum and builds our self confidence along the way. At the same time, refrain from procrastination. The longer you take to act, the more time you have to talk yourself out of it and the more time you have to imagine things going wrong.

Using your experiences and wisdom, and these simple guidelines can help you put fear into perspective and change your life. It has mine. I have faced my fear of public speaking, of success, of failure, cancer and of death, as well as many other fears forgotten along the way.  Life is too short to waste it on being scared. Our time is limited so we should spend our time enjoying it to the fullest.

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Facing Fear

Denise Scruggs is the Director, Beard Center on Aging at Lynchburg College



Roller coasters. Going to the dentist. Horror movies. Becoming old and discarded. Death. Failure. Loneliness. Public speaking. Cancer. Perfection. All of these have a common link and that is the tendency to create fear in many people.

While we all experience fear, it is personal. What one person fears, another person thrives on. Successful people feel the fear and don’t let it keep them from doing what they want to do or have to do. Some people hide their fears and appear fearless while others are more open about them. Many face their fears head on while others ignore them and let them guide their lives.

Some things we fear last a lifetime, while others occur at different periods in our lives. As a child we may fear our first day at school or getting up in the classroom to present a paper. In mid-life, our fear of failure in our careers or fear of not finding a partner may be more acute. As we move into later life, we may fear death more strongly as it appears more imminent. We may fear that our money will run out before we die. We may also fear becoming frail or ill.

Fearing the loss of our independence is a common fear among older adults. While it is one that needs to be faced head-on, we tend to become stubborn, uncommunicative, and unwilling to seek help or advice from family, friends and professionals. We hide the fact we are becoming more frail or forgetful. We keep our head in the sand and hope that our situation will go away. Unfortunately, it usually doesn’t and we, in essence, create the situation we feared the most.

Fear manifests itself in many different ways.  It may appear as procrastination or inaction as we fail to make important decisions or act on situations. It may be an over-reaction to a situation that has occurred when we felt frustrated that we did not face a problem effectively.  It may even appear as expressions of anger, aggression and criticism toward others who are able to do the things we fear the most. We feel inadequate when we compare ourselves to them.

Fear is natural. Fear is powerful.  By causing us to feel anxious and nervous, or even sad, it is also uncomfortable. Fear influences the choices we make and how we live our lives. It can energize us or paralyze us while affecting our personal life, our relationships, and our future. It clouds our reasoning and can prevent us from living life to the fullest or being the best that we can be.

Many fears are self created. They are created in our mind when there is really nothing to fear. It is like the infamous “monster under our bed” we feared as a child, when in reality it was not there.

At the same time, fear can be positive. It can keep us from taking risks that are too dangerous. For example, when coming head-to-head with a big bear in the woods, fear reminds us to proceed cautiously. It prevents us from walking up to the bear and petting him on the head. It gives us the adrenaline we need, if we need to run away.

(To Be Continued  “Techniques for Facing One’s Fears”)