Healthy Aging Series written by Mark Neese

Living Is Dying, Or Is It The Other Way Around? (Part 2) | Healthy Aging Series: Part 7

I was in the hospital room with my mother when she died. It was just Mom and me. Her death was a little unexpected because she had been in very good health. I honestly don’t know what caused her death. It had something to do with an infection, but maybe it was congestive heart failure. I feel a little guilty that I don’t know the exact cause. She was doing well, and then she got sick, and then, three weeks later she was gone. It wasn’t traumatic, like suicide or an accident. I would say it was peaceful, but was it really that unexpected? She was eighty-seven after all. Same with my father. He died at eighty-two. Who didn’t see that coming? He had smoked most of his life and had been diagnosed with emphysema, and later with COPD. He had been on oxygen for probably a year, maybe longer. He told us that he wanted to be cremated because the thought of being in an enclosed, confined place made him feel panicky.  Even now, my heart goes out to him.

Because I lived a hundred miles from my mother, her death feels like those videos on social media that you see when you’re scrolling through your newsfeed.  I remember it as a series of video snippets..

Snippet 1: 

I see her sitting in her recliner, watching Bill O’Reilly. She tells us she has an appointment with her doctor this week. A problem with her heartbeat, she tells us. 

Snippet 2:

I see Mom in the hospital bed. Family members gathered around. Visiting with my sons, Derrick in person and Trevor by Facetime. 

Snippet 3:

I see the southern Indiana landscape passing as I drive from Louisville to Evansville to spend time with her.

Snippet 4:

A few days before her death, I see the family gathering around her again as the doctor examines her. There is concern on everybody’s face. 

She’s moved to the hospice ward.

Snippet 5:

My oldest brother calls me on a Wednesday afternoon and tells me that Mom isn’t going to make it through the night.

Snippet 6:

I see the sign on Interstate 64 telling me that I’m now leaving the Hoosier National Forest. Later, I take the exit to Evansville.

I arrive at the hospital and enter a hospice waiting room. It’s full of siblings, nephews, and nieces. All told, Mom and Dad had over fifty grand and great-grandchildren. They were there to spend a few moments with Mom. One of my sisters suggests that I sit with Mom for a while. 

The lights in her room have been dimmed. She’s lying there, breathing peacefully. Her red hair is no longer red. No more twinkle in those blue eyes. The frail exterior belies her strong interior. She looks as if she has just completed a half-marathon. 

In that fading frame was the woman that bore 12 children, endured my father’s big ideas, to include two farms, a horse stable, and a strip club. In that frame was the dim light that guided us to adulthood. 

I sit in the chair and take my mom’s hand and I said, “Mom, it’s Kimmer, I’m her.” No one called me that but Mom. I was born Kimberly Mark Neese. For reasons that I do not want to explain, I changed my name to Mark Kimberly Neese. I spoke with Mom and Dad when I changed my name. I explained my reasons. They were so gracious. Having said that, my parents never called ‘Mark.’ It was either ‘Kimberly,’ or ‘Kimmer.”

I hold her hand and in that dimly lit room, on a cold, rainy October evening, my mother stops breathing. 

She had been there for me at my Baptism and First Communion, my two hospitalizations, and had been there to witness my older brother Timmy drag me home, half-frozen during a winter storm. 

She had been there for me to shoo away Feezoff, the hermit that lived adjacent to our property, when he accused us of shooting one of his dogs. 

She had been there for me, sitting in that theater, as we watched Sound of Music for the 5th time. 

She had been there for me, and she stayed up with me, just me, to watch the first man land on the moon. 

She had also been there to smack me for being, in her words, a brat, when I demanded that we watch something other than the coverage of Robert Kennedy’s assassination. 

She had been there for me when I enlisted in the Air Force. She had been there when I went to Bible College in Portland, Oregon. She had been there for me when I moved to Louisville to attend Seminary. And she was there for me when I divorced. 

From the very beginning, she had been there for me, even to witness my first breath.

And now, I was there for her to witness her last. 

I went to the nurse’s station and let them know that Mom was gone. I asked them to tell the rest of the family. I couldn’t. 

We gathered around her and baptized her with our tears. No one requested a prayer, because nothing could have solemnize a life that was pure.  While they prepared her body to be taken away, we gathered in the hall and began making plans for the funeral service. The sadness diminished ever so slightly as we began living our lives the way that Mom would have wanted them lived. 

In those moments, Mom was being resurrected and becoming the reference point between us and everything else.

This is part seven in the Healthy Aging Series, written by Mark Neese, LCSW, BCBA. To see more entries in this series, click here.

Healthy Aging Series: Part Six: Five Ways to Make Time Slow Down

Five Ways to Make Time Slow Down | Healthy Aging Series: Part 6

My wife and I were running errands the other day. We were fighting traffic on Bardstown Road and she shared some of the posts from some of her Friends on her Facebook page. Then, one of her past memories popped up from ten years ago. It was one where we had gone to Waterfront Wednesday for an outdoor concert ten years ago to see Company of Thieves. “Time flies,” I said, with a smile. It does seem to go by faster as you get older. You wake up and it’s December. Before you know it, a decade has passed. 

Disclaimer: It is scientifically impossible to slow down time, and I’m pretty certain that time moves at the same speed whether you’re twenty or sixty. So, I’m really not going to give any suggestions for actually slowing down time.

What I am going to do is give some suggestions for making time more meaningful, or making the most of the time we have. 

Your life is a tape measure.

A friend of mine told me the lesson that his father-in-law gave him about the value of the time we have left. He held out a tape measure to about 12 inches. He explained that the twelve inches represent your whole life. He then shortened it to 3 inches and said, “If you’re lucky, this is how much life you have left when your sixty.” Hold your hand out in front of you with three inches between you thumb and forefinger. Three inches, that’s it.

Making the Most of those Three Inches.

Okay, how do you make the most of the time you have left, whether it’s forty or twenty years? I’ve collected five practices that can help. 

1. Practice Reflection.

Take some time each day, preferably before you go to bed, and think about your day. Think about your actions during the day. Reflect on the people that you had contact with during the day. How did you treat them? Did you follow the Golden Rule? You ask yourself if you could have done things differently, things that happened during the day. Reflection is about self-examination and growth. How did you handle criticism during the day? Did you spend the day honoring the things that you value? Consider the emotions that you expressed during the day. Did you overreact to anyone? Did you blow things out or proportion? If so, what would you do differently next time? 

Reflect on each day’s activities, not for self-condemnation, but for self-appraisal, not for shaming yourself, but for learning lessons.

Tip: Before you go to bed this evening, find a quiet place and write a few lines in a journal about the day, successes and failures, and most important, lessons you learned. 

2. Practice Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the process of disconnecting from time. It is the practice of finding the meaning of the moment. You find a quiet place. It could be a corner in your home in a corner of the forest. I find that mindful-hiking helps me. I get lost in the forest and in my thoughts. I walk without thinking. Without judgment and with full acceptance, I let my ego fall silent and allow the shadow to come to consciousness. At times, I talk to my parents, who passed on years ago, and I let them speak to me from my unconscious. I dream during these times. I let my senses affect me: the bird-sounds, the musty smells, the glossy leaves, and the intermittent breezes.

Tip: Take a one-hour walk in the woods or the park by yourself. Let your mind drift. Hikers experience something called Hiker Dissociation. It’s amazing.

3. Practice Youthfulness.

We tend to take things way too seriously! I’m not sure if this is a side-effect of the PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFESTYLE that has become popular on social media. Maybe it’s because we’ve forgotten how to play. Maybe it’s because we have forgotten how to see the world the way children see the world. Alan Watts, the philosopher said, “The physical universe is basically playful. There is no necessity for it whatsoever. It isn’t going anywhere.” He rejects the idea of life being a journey and compares to dance. Dancing should be fun! Dancing is invigorating! Dancing is play! Watts’ admonition is: Don’t take life to seriously!

Tip: Take some time today and be playful. Turn on some music and dance. And sing. Try to see things that way a child would see them. 

4. Practice Gratitude.

The Stoics used a practice called Negative Visualization. It involved visualizing your life without the things that you value, like your health, wealth, or family. “All things human,” Seneca reminds us, “are short-lived and perishable.” Negative visualization is a for of gratitude. Its ultimate goal is to help us value the things we have and the people in our lives by imagining what our lives would be like without them. It teaches us to have gratitude for what we have. We stop wanting more and teaches us to value the things that we already have. It teaches us the meaning of a goodbye kiss, knowing that it could be the last. Practicing gratitude forces you to stop and think about what you have now.

Tip: Take some time today and imagine your life without someone or without something that you value in your life. Take this very slow and ponder on it for an extended period. 

5. Practice Flexibility.

One of the slogans that I live my life by is You have to adjust to the things that won’t adjust to you. Life will always throw you a curve ball. No matter how hard you plan things, sooner or later, those plans are going to have obstacles. Being flexible means living life on life’s terms. I can go on and on, but you get my point. Rigid people are always frustrated because rarely do things turn out the way they expected. Maybe, being flexible means lowering your expectations of people, places, and things. It insures that you’ll rarely be disappointed with the mundane events that make up our day to day existence. 

Tip:  The next time you get frustrated about something not going the way you planned, take a few minutes and breath. Tell yourself, I can’t control people, places, and things; I can control my expectations.

This is part six in the Healthy Aging Series, written by Mark Neese, LCSW, BCBA. To see more entries in this series, click here.

Healthy Aging Series: Part Five

Living Is Dying, Or Is It The Other Way Around? | Healthy Aging Series: Part 5

The first dead person I saw was my Grandpa Pat. I was thirteen-years old. He was sixty-nine. 

We walked past his open casket after the Pentecostal minister preached about heaven and hellfire. He had heard it a thousand times before, mostly from Grandma. Grandpa was unmoved. 

As I grew older, I learned that old people die. The next person in my life to to die was my Grandma Louise. She was sixty-four when she died from colon cancer. Grandpa Jim died at eighty from a stroke. The same for Grandma Lulu. 

Then my sons’ grandparents began dying. Grandpa Al died from a heart attack at seventy. Grandma Barb died at eighty from congestive heart failure. My father died at eighty-two from COPD. And Mom, Grandma Betty, died at eighty-seven from some kind of systemic infection. Old people die. In fact, all people die. 

No matter how healthy you are, no matter how well you prepare for your later years, no matter how much money you have, no matter who you know, no matter what kind of life you’ve lived, you will eventually die.

The issue isn’t if you’re going to die, but how you’re going to die, and by that I don’t mean which illness will you succumb to. I mean, how will you emotionally and psychologically handle the process of dying. How will your death and dying affect others? How well will you divest from this life 

As a psychotherapist, I often say to my clients. “You die the way you lived.” If you were a generous person in the years leading up to your death, you die a generous person. If you were a comforting and reassuring person, you will die that way.  Of course, this does not apply to the people that suffer from various forms of Dementia, Alzheimer, or other neuro-cognitive disorders. 

People that struggle with living, with the thought of dying and letting go, also struggle with dying. 

Jimmy Carter knew about dying because he knew about living. In his book, “The Virtues of Aging,” he answers the question that he was often asked: What have been the best years of  your life? 

Now is the best of all,” was his answer. He has lived a full life. He’s ninety-six years old as I write this. If you consider the word ‘dying’ as synonymous with ‘aging,’ he is dying well.

Betty Neese, My Mom

My mom’s favorite word was ‘serendipity.’ “What a nice serendipity,” she would say when we visited unannounced. I’m sure she saw her death as a serendipity. 

Mom was happy, healthy, and non-judgmental most of her life. She was always learning new things and was conversant on almost any topic. She practiced the Golden Rule. She wanted to know what I had been doing since our last visit. I rarely heard her complain, except to hear how she missed my father. 

My mother died well, because she lived well. Living is Dying. 

The evening that she died, I stayed the night in her very small apartment at the senior-living complex. I slept in her bed. The next morning I explored her bookshelves. I looked around the sparse apartment. She didn’t have much. She had already let go of the things that most of us value. I gathered a few books and left.

I remember her memorial service vividly. I was asked to deliver the eulogy, the good words. I talked about all the difficulties that Mom had experienced, including the loss of three children and banishment by her mother for leaving the Catholic Church. I traced Mom’s footprints through her religious journey. I reminded my siblings that Mom (and Dad) loved us all despite our mistakes and bickering. We used to joke about Mom and her Bubble. Very little seemed to shake her. I concluded and said, “Mom didn’t let stupid shit rob her of her peace and joy.” 

Now, I think, we envy her. 

This is part five in the Healthy Aging Series, written by Mark Neese, LCSW, BCBA. To see more entries in this series, click here.


Rommie’s Thoughts on Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now

Where is your mind? Right now. In this moment. What is on your mind?

Imagine picking up whatever is on your mind and setting it outside the door. It will be fine sitting there. Now, look up. What do you see? What do you hear? Notice I did not ask what you feel.

I’m outside. I hear a soft rustle of leaves. A robin’s song. A buzz. The subtleties of a distant jet.  This is the Now. There are no problems in the Now. Life just is. This is the wisdom of Eckhart Tolle (ET), author of The Power of Now. Every moment of every day is what it is, as if we had chosen it that way, good or bad—and even “good” or “bad” are just concepts of the mind. The things we judge. The things we react to. The things that we empower to literally suck the life energy out of us as if the problem shouldn’t be what it is.  As if we shouldn’t accept life as it is just now. As if we shouldn’t accept, that in large portion, we have likely created whatever “problem” we are reacting to. If we accept the “problem”, what will happen?  We will become conscious. ET’s philosophy is to become aware, conscious, awake to what is. Accept what is as if you had chosen it. Then observe the transformation. The evolution of consciousness, of acceptance, of peace.

Our egos love to react.

Our egos love to argue, to fuss, complain, and demand that life be “better” as if the ebb and flow of life should be something other than what it is. 

I’m here to challenge you to give the “Now” a chance.

It takes practice to live, speak, and enjoy the Now, which is really all anyone has.  Becoming conscious of one’s self, one’s ego, one’s identification with mind is the first step towards acceptance, towards peace. ET teaches to observe your thoughts but don’t believe them. Think about when you quarreled with someone last. If you’re honest about your role in the non-peace, it likely comes from a place of fear. A fear of being wrong. A fear of “losing”. Losing what? And even if you “lose”, what does that mean about you, if anything? Can you accept the circumstances without judging them?

Which brings me to resistance. Can you accept the circumstances without resistance?

ET teaches that suffering does not come from the circumstances but our resistance to them. Again, whatever the circumstances are, this is the way it’s supposed to be. Our response, not reactivity, is to embrace whatever “is”. Whatever the circumstances are is the way the circumstances are supposed to be…or they wouldn’t be that way.  It is our reaction or response that determine whether or not we suffer.

Surrender to what is.

ET teaches that “surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to what is rather than opposing the flow of life.” When you stop resisting what is, when you surrender, the past and future cease to have power. 

But what if someone wrongs me? Does acceptance and surrender mean I allow others to mistreat me?  Does surrender mean give up? Give in? Enable disrespect?  What if I have disrespected another person?  Do I accept that, do I surrender to that? ET teaches that “resentment and pain arise from the false sense of self we’ve created for ourselves and others.”  That our grievances are reactions to the artificial egos of others. He teaches how to bring non judgment and equanimity when others overstep our boundaries. He also teaches how to forgive our past selves and what to do when the pain of memories hijack our emotions. Holding on to old wounds is one of the surest signs that we are caught in the egotistic thinking of the false self. However, ET shows us the way to let go and embrace the liberation that living in the present moment, the Now, brings us.

Make the present moment the primary focus of your life.

Rommie OshriehRommie Oshrieh is Co-Founder/Owner of Sage Support Services and True North Counseling.

She serves as Executive Director of Sage and has served as a Case Manager/Supervisor for individuals with Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities for the past 15 years. 

Prevent Falls with Fitness Training and instability exercises

Being Fall-Proof: A Goal of Aging Well | Healthy Aging Series: Part 4

My mother fell at least twice in her senior years. Once on a slippery bathroom floor and the second time in a fast food restaurant. She seriously injured herself both times. I wanted to hire a personal trainer to come to her home to work with her to help her become more stable. Unfortunately, her health declined and she passed calmly due to other health issues. 

I see my mom everywhere I go. Senior adults that wobble when they walk and need help getting around. 

According to the CDC, falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among people 65 years or older. In 2014, 27,000 older adults died because of falls. 2.8 million older adults were treated in the ER and approximately 800,000 of these patients were subsequently hospitalized.

Healthy aging is all about prevention

and one of the most preventable problems that we could face, as we age, 

is falling.

You’re most likely not 65 years old or older right now, but you will be. Remember, everything in the universe is aging, and that includes you. If you don’t start preparing now, you will be at risk of falling someday. 

The good news: most falls are preventable. 

Here is the secret: You have to incorporate instability into your workouts!!!!

First, if you’re between 20-60, exercise is absolutely essential for preventing falls. The best type of exercise is walking and the best type of walking is hiking. As a personal trainer, I love seeing people walk and hiking. 

I was listening to a new podcast this past week called “Live Long and Master Aging,” by Peter Bowles. He was interviewing Olga Connolly, and 84-year old Olympian and Personal Trainer. She was amazing! It’s wonderful to see older adults working well into their eighties. What was her recommended exercise for people: walking?

For the most part, I have stopped running. Not because of any injuries, but because I want to avoid future wear and tear on my body. The problem is, walking doesn’t always activated muscles that you need for fall prevention. In order to become more stable, you need an unstable walking environment. (Incorporate instability into your workouts) Hiking provides that unstable environment in the form of forest or mountain trails. 

Second, you need a stable core!!! I will spend lots of time talking about your core in upcoming blogs. Suffice it to say, your core is as important as your legs for preventing falls

There are several types of training that will decrease your chances of a fall: Center-of-Control Training, Multi-Sensory Training, Postural Strategy Training, Gait Patterns Enhancement Training, Strength and Endurance Training and Flexibility Training.

If you have you want to find out more about becoming fall-proof, seek out a personal trainer or physical therapist that utilizes the Fall-Proof curriculum developed at the Center for Successful Aging at California State University at Fullerton

This past week I became aware of three older adults that fell. One ended up in the emergency room. One end up falling flat on his face. One ended up dying. All three were suffering from either a neurological disorder or cardio vascular disease. It’s questionable if any of the falls could have been prevented. There are many opportunistic diseases that we could fall victim to. In most cases, injuries due to falls can be prevented. 

Aging well really boils down to developing a lifestyle

that will help prevent those injuries and diseases that can rob you of the good life.

This is part four in the Healthy Aging Series, written by Mark Neese, LCSW, BCBA. To see more entries in this series, click here.