An Impressionist’s View of Spain

  • By Sue Ellis
  • 13 Sep, 2015
A trip to Spain, which took place 15th-30th September 2015, came to fruition long after its conception. Indeed the conception may have coincided with that of cataracts growing in both my eyes. Time passed and when I eventually flew to Madrid I knew the dates of my surgery for cataract removal would be 21st and 28th October. It was, therefore, with cloudy vision that I viewed Spain.

I traveled with my friend of 37 years, Kristin. She had lived in Madrid during the 1990’s and longed to return to visit old friends and to explore some old haunts and new vistas. My yearning to be in Spain was to experience the new. In the 1960’s I had visited the island of Majorca and, on the mainland, the city of Granada. The latter had generated the desire to not only see more of Spain but to visit Morocco. This North African journey was taken in 2014.

When planning the Spanish trip we decided Kristin would do all the driving and I would navigate. When the sojourn began I was not so sure about the navigating part as I could no longer read the road signs – essential when navigating Spain’s numerous round-abouts. I had brought magnifying lenses, but wasn’t confident my eyes would register through them. So began a journey more stressful than I ever imagine travel would be for me. As I write this my surgery is still 2 days away so I do not yet know how my confidence will return; how the world will present itself to me in the future. To be sure this world traveler will not take my vision for granted in the future. I cherish the moment when I have the good fortune to see the world again. But that is in the future and now I will share the seeing of five places in Spain through an impressionist’s gaze.
We spent five nights in an 2 bedroom apartment in the La Latino district of Madrid to begin our stay. Neither of us had booked via this agency before and we were thrilled with our successful venture. We had been joined by Ingrid from Oslo who stayed with us while we were in Madrid. Being in this city with those who had lived here in the past, introduced me to Spanish customs, food and the language.
Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida Madrid
On our second day in Madrid we headed to the Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida. It is a neo-classic building, now a decommissioned church, built by Charles 1V between 1792-98. The ceiling frescoes were painted by Francisco de Goya, depicting the miracle of St Anthony of Padua. The story is from 13th century Lisbon. Goya illustrated the scenes as if in his own era, painting the frescoes in the light and brightness of Madrid in 1798. It was an enchanting place despite the fact that it is the resting place of Goya’s remains, brought there in 1919. Mirrors tilted upwards allowed one to view the art work on the ceiling without straining the neck. I peered into the mirrors, I strained my neck to look upwards. I could see the colours of flowing clothes but each face remained blank. If I could have been allowed to take photographs I could have zoomed in my focus and viewed the images on my screen. I can see up close. But a clouding haze blurs everything at a distance. I have the bilingual flyer depicting a girl with arms stretched above her head, eyes looking up, her nose finely formed and her long hair flowing behind her. She sports a reddish rust sash. This I can see relatively clearly twelve inches from my face but she was separated from me in situ by a veil.
The route back to La Latina took us through a park area and the Egyptian Templo de Debod which had originally stood south of Aswan in Egypt. It was gifted to Spain in 1968 in appreciation for help in raising the temples of Abu Simbel from the rising reservoir waters behind the Aswan High Dam. I was in Aswan in 1978 and visited the saved reconstructed temples of Abu Simbel.
Egyptian Templo de Debod Madrid
On our walk this September day we passed the monument for the Spanish poet and playwright Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra including the statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in Plaza de España. They were quite amazing close up.
I realize how much I have accommodated my visual loss over this past year. I have stopped driving at night because the halos and glare of headlights cross my whole field of vision. I have stopped cleaning my glasses so regularly expecting it to make a difference. I let the familiar shapes of words on road signs guide me rather than waiting till the sign is about to pass before I can distinguish the letters. I have relied more on recognizing friends by their gestures, shape and walking style than seeing their face. This was especially so if the light was behind them. Then they came to me a dark silhouette. It is only when I place myself in a totally unfamiliar environment do I realize my loss. When I was standing below Goya’s frescoes, seeing the faces completely void of features, I knew how grateful I was that my surgery dates were scheduled.

Claude Monet, the pioneer of impressionist painting said in 1922 “My poor eyesight makes me see everything in a complete fog.” Although he received surgery to remove one cataract, he never had it done on the second. He had been depressed by his diminished eye sight and in 1914 had complained that reds had begun to look muddy. The fog is something with which I can identify. Colours for me may be dimmer but I do not think changed. But for Monet the fog was yellow, vastly changing the colours, and his paintings from his ten years with cataracts show the impact. Indeed it is said that only by reading the paint tube labels did he know the colour others would see. Edgar Degas had a retinal degeneration and his later paintings failed to show defined features and were coarser in texture. The work of both artists became more abstract as their visual acuity decreased.
Museo Nacional Del Prado Madrid
I entered Museo Nacional Del Prado. I let my friend Kristin select the few acclaimed pieces, understanding that the internet and art books at a later date would enable me to “see” them for the first time. But I would have been in their presence and have gained an impression of them, just as Monet and Degas, if they had ever visited the Prado, would have done.

Kristin took me to see the salon with Goya’s Black Paintings from 1819 -1823. Originally painted on the walls of his house near the end of his life they are haunting reminders of the pain of aging, being deaf, fearful and disillusioned with life. There certainly was no joy evident that had been seen in the ceiling frescoes at the Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida, painted early in his life. A reminder of how we change.

Then to the salons of Diego Velazquez. Since I could stand relatively close to these paintings they were clearer that the Goya ceiling frescoes at the Ermita. I could even see the facial expression and texture of the clothing materials at eye level. However once I had to look up, the clarity faded. And so it was that I stood before Las Meninas, the courtly work of Diego Velazquez from 1656, the era of Philip lV of Spain. From its blurred presence I could tell there were many figures, including those reflected in a mirror whom I yearned to see in detail.

A low cord kept us from getting too close to the paintings but it also separated me from the written information panels to the side of the pictures. At one point I learned over to read the script. A strident voice in severe Spanish came over my shoulder. I knew what the words meant. “I’m only trying to read the words” I said lamely. The resulting Spanish response for all I knew was “I don’t give a flying F, get away from the pictures.” Suddenly I had a need to stand up for all those with visual problems. I took one of the magnifying lenses from my purse and standing straight up expended my magnifying lens. No one bothered me. Trouble was the distance and the lens focal length didn’t match and I was no better off.

From Madrid we drove north. At Santo Domingo de la Calzada we came into the world of the Camino de Santiago. It was evening before we walked the streets and by 9pm they were empty. Street lamps shone on the damp stone houses with doors opening straight onto the narrow streets.
Santo Domingo de la Calzada
The iconic sign of the scallop shell
There were signs for peregrino (pilgrim) lodgings, and the iconic sign of the scallop shell was etched into the paving stones. I stood in the stillness, marveling at the experience. Just being there where millions have trod with aching feet, differing goals and expectations and spiritual journeys. All of us on a different path through life, all searching for a way to take ourselves from the edge of the shell and turn to the centre. There was an eeriness in the darkness. Shadows fell on old wooden doors locked against the night. But it was the street lights that occupied my attention. The balls of light like those white fireworks which shoot out from the centre getting bigger until the edges fade into the night sky. These street lamps, as seen through my cataracts, blazed out to consume the whole street. Leaving the street where they did not reach, oh so dark. My first steps on the Camino are held firmly in my memory.
We drove into the Basque country, the Rioja wine district, the Bay of Biscay coast and came to the ancient town of Santillana del Mar in the Province of Cantabria. Being there in September meant there were fewer tourists filling the narrow cobbled streets of the medieval village. It is situated in a mountainous region filled with caves. For us it was a stopping off ground for the Altimera caves and more important to my story, high in the mountains, the el Soplao. Our timing was perfect. We bought our tickets at our hotel for 2pm. High in the mountains we went to the train platform. The train was like those miners used to go into the mines. We were the only people there and the guide could therefore give us an hour of her time speaking in English. I have been in several memorable caves of stalactites and stalagmites including Majorca’s Caves of Drach (1960s) and the Luray caverns in the Shenandoah valley of Virginia (1970s). But this was different, 40 plus years later.

In an article about different forms of speleotherms (stalactites etc) Rui Nunes wrote of those called eccentric – “The threads of calcite or aragonite are interwoven, making whimsical knots beyond any restriction imposed by Earth’s gravity.” The Soplao caves were filled with such wonderful creations defying gravity with their multi-directional patterns. Some looked like a head of hair caught by electricity and sticking up in all directions, others looked like roving worms. It was a magical experience. However light was focused on the structures with only minimal on the ground we walked. The guide told me there were no steps, it was all on the flat. I could not tell, I walked hesitantly looking down at my feet and not gazing in wonder around me. Until I had to make the decision to trust. A difficult decision. I did not want to slip or fall but I had to give up the control and allow someone to lead me. Oh how these cataracts are teaching me to be humble. As we left the caves by the train we saw a coach load of Spanish students arriving and felt so blessed that we had experienced the caves alone.
Convent of St Teresa, Avila
The final location where my cataracts and I had to interact was Avila, north west of Madrid. This is a walled medieval town and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The event I wish to share occurred in the Baroque church attached to the Convent of St. Teresa. She was a mystic, writer and reformer of the Carmelites. St. Teresa was born in Gotarrendura in 1515 and spent her childhood in Avila. She founded the Convent of St Joseph in 1562 and went on to start 15 more around Spain. She died in 1582.

This convent bearing St Teresa’s name, in the Plaza de la Santa, was built in 1636 after her canonization. The church I entered was built on the site of her childhood home. Most references to the story insist she was born in this house.

An alcove to the left of the main church entry takes one to several intimate areas. Through a glass window one can look down on a small garden where Teresa was reputed to have played. Close by is a chapel honoring her and beyond this a bedroom displaying evidence of a wealthy family. One can look at it though a wall of glass.
garden of St Teresa, Avila
childhood bedroom of St Teresa, Avila
We came upon this area without the crowds. We could sit in the chapel where there were very few chairs. We could be in silence absorbing the hallowedness of the environment. I am not a Catholic, I am not familiar with the lives of saints. But her story is one of adventure, determination, pain and redemption. An amazing read. This quiet corner captivated us. It drew out a spiritual empathy in me for a woman whose life I could not envisage experiencing. Our peace was soon broken by the next group of time counting tourists who looked, chatted and took their photos before leaving.

Did anyone stop to question the meaning of the paintings, did any understand the pain that brought Teresa ecstasy? Did they know of her soul journey and that of colleague St. John of the Cross? Did they know the meaning of the “cherub faces” carved on the walls of the chapel which did not look like cherubs?
Chapel of St. Teresa, Avila
Carving in Chapel of St Teresa, Avila
They looked at the bedroom and made comments about not knowing nuns slept in four poster beds with crimson bed spreads. Then there were those who spoke languages other than English who giggled and left. When all was quiet I went to the glass window which separated the young Teresa’s bedroom from the hoards. The light was dim. I tentatively went forward pointing my toes to determine if there was a step or not. My hand went before me for I had no idea where the glass window started. I did not want to bang my nose on it. All who had been around me had shown no such hesitation.
I know that when I have my new lenses in place I will see the world very differently. Perhaps as never before. Will I soon forget this version of reality by taking my enhanced vision post operations for granted? Only time will tell. But I do know that the memory of travelling in Spain as an impressionist will not change. For the colours of the plains of La Mancha, the mountains in the north and the cold blue of the Atlantic ocean all lend themselves to blurred edges. The clarity in the works of Goya and Velazquez will have to wait.

By Sue Ellis 30 May, 2016

Reaching a diagnosis for many diseases takes a long time. Symptoms appear and there are tests. Symptoms are often denied by the individual or at first minimized by the professional. Symptoms may make past activity and work impossible causing great strain on family resources. In some situation changes in behaviour or memory are insidiously destroying relationships before they can be identified as symptoms of something being wrong.

This means that by the time the diagnosis has been made and the family is expected to get on with it, major rifts in its structure and solidarity have appeared. Indeed by the time the family is expected to “pull together,” family members may not be talking to each other; may feel let down, taken advantage of or abused by others.

When this is the reality, how can a family problem solve, decision make and deal with this situation? If this is your position it is imperative that you get professional help. Chances are you are so angry with what is going on that you are all taking it out on each other.

It takes a lot of work to cease from blaming, to stop finding fault. The dynamics are too complex and confusing to be handled alone. It is not a sign of weakness to need help at this time. It is a gift to find someone who will listen and not pass judgment, hear your pain without telling you what to do. This is indeed what every member of the family needs. Families function because of unique interdependencies, everyone has a specific role – bread winner, scapegoat to name just two. When disease hits, the security of this family web is torn apart. Everyone feels a tug of insecurity because that familiar role will be changed forever.

I remember Joe was the patriarch of the family. His word was law. His adult sons were still afraid of him and his wife just did what was expected of her. None dared step out of line. No one stood up to him. The family unit functioned successfully when it played by these rules. Joe was 69 when he started losing his memory, leaving the taps on in the bathroom, failing to dress himself properly and take care of his personal hygiene.

This family did not just have the stress of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease; they had to learn how to relate differently to him and to each other. All their roles in the family changed. The sons, who were now married with children of their own, could not support their mother because they were still holding fear for the man who now shuffled behind is wife everywhere she went.

It is often believed that the only person who is suffering is the person with the disease. The labeled person has the right to grieve and be angry because of the changes that have taken place. But everyone who has been in relationship with that person in the past will have to adjust to a change in their life. We generally deal with change by seeing it as a loss of what was. So we all must grieve.

No one who enters the care giving role does so without needing to grieve the loss of the past. The family unit has been changed and so it must grieve. If the family feels too stressed to talk it over together, or one is alone and has no family to share the grief with, then find a professional to hear the pain.

By Sue Ellis 30 May, 2016

When the diagnosis comes and roles have to change, a caregiver is needed and is assigned. When it is a parent who gets sick it is usually the daughter or daughter in law who must take up the responsibility.  A spouse is expected to care for a spouse.

With the changed role comes a changed life. The goals and dreams, the expectation of what was to come next, get dashed. When taking on the caregiver role, what were your plans for life? Were you looking to get promoted in your job, further your education, retire and start traveling, focus on bringing up the teenage children? Where indeed is your focus? All of a sudden the brakes are put on those aspirations and a new role appears – care giving. The dreams you had may have to be put on the back burner or shelved for life.

Shelved for life! That sends a shudder of reality down the spine. Suddenly the care giving role takes on a new appearance. Is it going to be the thing that stands in the way of what we thought we was going to become in life? Will we be able to achieve what we thought was our life’s purpose? The other painful reality is that we may have been putting off satisfying our needs, reaching our goals, for the sake of others. Their needs had to come first. But we always expected that one day was going to be our turn…

I may be adding a bit of drama here but not without justification. The caregiver will face an identity crisis when the extent of the new role becomes clear. There will be a reaction of anger, frustration and depression and an overwhelming sense of guilt at experiencing these feelings.

When this reality hit me I had a false sense of bravado. I expected that I would be able to cope, that I had the skills, that I was strong etc. This didn’t last long. It did not take long before the feelings of inadequacy and failure quickly flooded in. But they were feelings I was not easily able to share.

It was only after I had worked my way through accepting the changes that I could start to see what I had gained, not what I had lost. I could see that some parts of my life would have to be put on hold but I still had opportunities to have my needs met. I also started realizing that I was learning more about myself and whom I was, than I could have done any other way. I was learning from experience and was able to share that with others. Indeed my experiences were not wasted, they were of use. So often we hear of tragedies striking families and after it is over there has been a greater gift to humanity.

Just occasionally I was aware that there were gifts hidden in dark clouds. I learned about the strength and frailty of relationships. I learned about friendships and value systems. I began to understand myself more. But none of this could happen until I had stopped believing that this was all very bad timing. Once I had accepted the fact that this was my life journey playing itself out just the way it was supposed to be played, that I started growing.

By Sue Ellis 09 May, 2016

Posted by Nick Polizzi from  The Sacred Science

Here we are, in the beginning of yet another beautiful spring. Something is rumbling beneath the soil, a thing of beauty waiting to burst from its cocoon, a promise made long ago that is about to be kept. This is a ripe time of year to reshuffle the deck, shed skins of the past, and give yourself a fresh start.

Here are 5 sacred life practices that have been used throughout the sands of time to usher in the spring and flourish in its green glory.

1) The Art Of Letting Go (of unneeded stuff)

We’re literally talking about physical stuff here. Not mental or emotional baggage, but the stack of boxes in your closet or garage that contain god-knows-what that you’ve been keeping for god-knows-why.

Our clutter collections sometimes feel completely justified and harmless, but I assure you they take up more space in our psyche and energy field than we realize.

I invite you to slap some spiritual symbolism on these cardboard and plastic keepers of memory, and see them as physical manifestations of inner blocks, just waiting to be dissolved.

Crack open these containers, and figure out what you actually need, and what might be useful to someone else. I know it may seem like a thankless task, but I guarantee you will start to feel lighter as you begin to find a new home for these belongings.

The local thrift shop or the Salvation Army are your best buds in this department.

2) Spiritual Scrub A Dub

Yeah, we all know about the importance of spring cleaning, but how about doing it with full presence, as a meditative practice?

In ancient Aztec culture, the act of sweeping held far more meaning than just cleaning your floor. It was considered a sacred art that could affect future outcomes in the household, in commerce, and on the battlefield. Pretty neat huh?

Cleaning out your refrigerator can either be a cumbersome chore or a practice in purifying and clearing the energy of your kitchen – your choice. The meaning you attach to your motion dictates everything.

3) Rearrange Your Home For Fresh Perspective

You’ve probably heard of the ancient Chinese art of Feng shui – which is centered on the belief that invisible forces or Qi bind the universe and can be harnessed for our benefit through the conscious design of space.

It was and is applied to the building of sacred places like temples, tombs, and palaces, but is also a powerful tool for your household.

This can be as simple as realigning your couch and coffee table to create a flow between two doorways, or as involved as determining how your space orients toward the sun, moon, stars, nearby mountains or bodies of water.

4) Planting New Seeds

When was the last time you planted a seed and nurtured it to a fully realized adult plant?

For thousands of years, gardening has been seen as a deep spiritual practice. The act of caring for and observing new life as it springs forth from a simple seed holds many untold teachings for us. Almost all the herbalists I know speak of the inner awakenings they experience regularly in their work with plants.

For some, this is a fairly regular practice (and extra herbal bonus points to you!), but for many of us it is not. We trick ourselves into believing that our lives are too busy to set aside that extra 10 minutes a day to nurture our green friends.

You don’t need to move to the country to start planting new seeds of your own. Our leafy neighbors like light and clean water. Aside from maybe a few tender words each day, that’s about it. All you need is a flat surface by a window to start your own garden.

Yes, you can go out and buy pre-grown plants, but I promise there is something magical about growing your own.

5) Clearing The Air

There is something primordial within us that connects deep meaning to the invisible elemental sea that surrounds us. Many native cultures consider the air itself to be full of life-force and laden with power.

With this in mind, there are a multitude of methods you can use to purify, refresh, and activate the air in your home. Opening all the windows and doors for 20 – 30 minutes is a good start, but you can really spruce things up by burning certain herbs and resins, as well as diffusing the right essential oils in your space.

Some herbs/resins we burn in our home are – Palo Santo, white sage and Copal. You can use a simple bowl, or purchase a more ceremonial vessel like an abalone shell. I like to guide the aromatic smoke into different areas of the room using my hand but if you’re called to use a feather or other fanning device, the possibilities are endless.

In terms of diffusing essential oils, we just purchased a pretty inexpensive diffuser and it works beautifully. Simply fill the diffuser with purified water and squeeze a few drops of your favorite essential oil(s) on top (we use cedar, eucalyptus, and lavender). Turn the diffuser on and enjoy the healing vapors.

I hope these 5 sacred practices serve you well as we walk toward the warmer months. These portals to our ancestral past each hold their own healing wisdom, just waiting to be unlocked.

Stay curious,

Nick Polizzi

Director,  The Sacred Science

By Sue Ellis 09 May, 2016

By Susan M Ellis

“We Are One with humanity and all of life. Business and all institutions of the human community are integral parts of a single reality — interrelated, interconnected and interdependent.”

from the   Conscious Business Declaration

We are encouraged to live in a selfish world of individuality where my needs, my profits, my desires are more important that my relationship to the whole. Such behaviour is destroying us.

But in my spiritual practice I embrace a oneness with all things. I see myself in an interconnected universe where all actions will have an impact on the whole. This means I react when I know the bees are dying partly because of man-made chemicals; when water, which should be a human right for all, is bottled in areas where drought conditions exist and the water is only sold back to those who can afford to buy it. I cringe when corporations sue countries for not allowing their poisonous product to be sold or prohibits them from raping the country of its minerals or forests.

According to a Statistics Canada survey, there are at least 850,000 people diagnosed with environmental sensitivities in Canada. This number went up by a whopping 34 per cent from 2005 to 2010. Such people can no longer enjoy living in the world we have created, often have difficulty finding jobs, housing and medical care. Imagine not being able to enter a hospital or doctors office because you cannot tolerate the chemicals in the air? We have created a toxic world.

To restore my spirit I go to the annual Green Living Show in Toronto and learn about companies selling products and communities working together promoting sustainability, natural and organic products, lessening our carbon footprint and saving what we have.

Joy was added recently when I read about a movement encouraging businesses to learn more about being conscious corporate citizens. They have created a Conscious Business Declaration and those who sign, vow to adhere to these principles.

from their website I learned -

A New Standard for Business in the 21st Century

The Conscious Business Declaration articulates essential principles that we believe will dramatically increase economic prosperity while healing the environment and improving human wellbeing. The Declaration aims to define a new standard for Business in the 21st century, one that will enable Business to become the most powerful engine on Earth for creating abundance and flourishing for humanity and all life on Earth.    

A Radical Shift in Perspective    

The Declaration calls for radical shift in perspective for Business globally, one that is already shared by humanity’s leading spiritual traditions and validated by modern science. It is expressed in the first principle of the Declaration: “We Are One with humanity and all of life. Business and all institutions of the human community are integral parts of a single reality — interrelated, interconnected and interdependent.”

So here is the   Conscious Business Declaration .   Feel hopeful. Pass it on. Know that profit can be made without destroying something to get it.

As a global community of business leaders we are committed to developing the awareness and skills needed to consciously evolve our organizations in alignment with these principles:

  • We Are One with humanity and all of life.  Business and all institutions of the human community are integral parts of a single reality — interrelated, interconnected and interdependent.
  • In line with this reality, the purpose of Business is to increase economic prosperity while contributing to a healthy environment and improving human wellbeing.
  • Business must go beyond sustainability and the philosophy of “do no harm” to restoring the self-renewing integrity of the Earth.
  • Business must operate with economic, social, and ecological transparency.
  • Business must behave as a positive and proactive member of the local and global communities in which it operates.
  • Business that sees, honors, and celebrates the essential interconnected nature of all human beings and all life maximizes human potential and helps create a world that works for all.
  • When aligned with Oneness, Business is the most powerful engine on Earth for creating prosperity and flourishing for all.
By Sue Ellis 09 May, 2016

In recent years attitudes towards care giving have changed. One sees more media coverage of the subject and a growing industry for those offering fee for service. There is a great deal of “taking care of,” but not so much “providing support for” the emotional strains of care giving. In my video Aspects of Hope   I talk at length about why some people should not be caregivers. I should add, not before dealing with some of their issues.

On my website is an article entitled   “Why some people should not be caregivers.”   The example is of someone who had no role models of people caring while growing up . The article ends with –

“This is not to say that all those who experienced abusive childhoods will behave the same way when they grow up. But it is worth noting that family behaviour does repeat itself. It is essential that we are aware of our own attitudes towards disability, disease, and giving care. It is important that we recognize our true feelings towards our parents or for whom ever it is that we may be asked to give care. Sometimes it is safer to back away from the responsibility, delegating to others. It is essential we seek professional help be it through counseling or by attending a support group. We must never buy into the belief system that all people can be care givers. It is a learned skill.

Many of us fail to accept that we must acquire the skills, believing we are failures when faced by the first problem. Few of us anticipate ahead of time that we might be caring for another and fail to prepare ourselves with knowledge. We often believe we must go it alone and asking for help is a sign of weakness. In hindsight we may believe we could have done things differently, but we must remember that at the time, we did the best we could.

Face your attitudes and beliefs with honesty and then make appropriate choices when faced with the responsibility of being a caregiver.”

For many years my mother cared for my father who had a progressive dementia. It was at a time in Britain where you “did not air your dirty clothes on the line.” This was your secret and “your cross to bear.” I was living in Canada and working with those with Alzheimer’s disease. I knew this societal attitude was not good for her. Aghast, she heard me blurt it out to her friends. How supportive they became, sharing their own hidden secrets too, but bearing witness to each other.

Recently I was excited to hear about a group of friends in a small community in California who had decided to be proactive. All were aging and all had partners who now, or in the near future, would need care. They were not going to travel on this road alone. This is what I learned from one of the group’s members.

We started out from a discussion group last spring and summer of the book “Being Mortal, Medicine and What Matters in the End” by Atul Gawande.   Website    We were not a book club, we came together over this book and its subject matter. That group met six times and built a lot of trust and camaraderie discussing the shortcomings of American health care for the aging. We were all most concerned about the tendency to over-operate or medicate and rely on modern medicine when sometimes it is better just to die. We were all committed to aging in our homes not in assisted living. Several spoke openly about believing in assisted suicide. That group included husbands, wives, partners, etc.

The group, which we have called “Heart Connections” is now of eight women. (The men tired of talking about this)!! Seven of the eight had done water aerobics together for years, but at that time did not have this current level of intimacy. I am the odd one who is grateful to have known these women and been invited to join them. We struggled for many months after the discussion group ended with the idea from the book about the “Village Network” concept.

(You can Google for more information such as at   Village to Village Network   in the US).

We decided setting up a non-profit was too much work and did not provide the intimacy we wanted.

It is only in the past couple of months that everything has started to gel. Many of our meetings were group gropes with ideas. We range from 67-86 years old with partners ranging from 67 to 94 years old. Only one has serious medical issues, needs help dressing and has lots of pain. The rest are healthy and active. Most of us have family but not close by and we are looking for nearby support as we age. We see these needs as help with meals, rides to doctors, checking up on each other, sharing resource information, etc.

We meet every three weeks for two hours. We have developed an agenda and meeting format to keep it simple. We rotate hosting, moderating, etc. We also have a time keeper and call time out when someone rambles on too long (women do that)!! We meet in each others’ homes. Those who cannot host (house too small, husband in the middle of the living room, etc) provide “simple” snacks.

We invited two to join and learned right away that it is important to first be sure new members can meet during our established meeting time. It is a nightmare to keep changing meeting times to accommodate everyone. It is every three weeks, Monday 3-5 pm. If someone is not free to commit to that, they should not participate. 8 in the group works well, but we are weighing if we should add a couple more.

We started out with three forms for everyone to complete. What will you “give” to the group? What do you need to “take” from the group? Your emergency contacts and medical background information. That is where we are right now. Our last meeting really got into how do we develop a good system to help each other contact family and friends when there is a medical emergency.

We are all grateful we do not need a lot of help yet. We are also a bit apprehensive about how much help we can actually be to each other. I do not think anyone is going to move in and be someone else’s caretaker. But we are gaining a closeness which makes us feel less alone, particularly me. I am newly retired. Though we have lived here five years, I did not have a strong social network. These women make me feel like I could leave my husband alone for a trip to visit my sister, out of state, and someone would check in on him. It is also making him feel more comfortable as he sees this friendship network developing. And my husband is pleased to know he is not the oldest, there is another husband who is 94!

We intend to share this idea with others here in town once we are sure we have something that works. So people don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel, we have decided we need simple documents, formats and procedures to share. Like a franchise or a 12 step meeting you know what to expect when procedures are standardized. Some of us prefer this structure, some are more hesitant about it. We will see if it survives over the coming months.

So this is where we have reached in this journey, and we are pleased to share.

Draft Declaration of Dependence

Heart Connections

Core Belief

One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress.

Jean Vanier

Guiding Principles (Needs and Concerns)

Aging in Place is our core desire as we move forward in our life journey. In our small group setting we are seeking to:

  • Develop Trust and Commitment to One Another
  • Develop the Ability to Ask for Help
  • Keep Confidentiality
  • Build Community

New Members must be able to meet on Mondays from 3-5 p.m. and understand the level of commitment required of the group.

We aspire to develop a model to share with others who desire to start a group on aging in place.

Rules of Order (Meeting Structure)

Each meeting should start on time. (If you arrive late enter quietly AND without interruption).

Each member will have an opportunity to speak for 3 minutes during “What’s on Top”. There is no crosstalk during this part of the meeting. It is the time for general sharing and asking for needed assistance from the group. If you would like to be of assistance, gesture with a thumbs-up and meet after the meeting to discuss the specifics.

If someone wants additional support, she can ask for additional time after all have shared during ‘What’s on Top.’ Group will decide then whether to extend time.

A time-out sign is given if someone goes off topic during meeting time.

At the conclusion of our meeting the group holds hands and recite: “Aging in Place with Love and Grace”.

Agenda Format

Read the Core Belief, Guiding Principles and Rules of Order

Share “What’s on Top” (go around the room)

Share where we are on “Getting our Affairs Together” (go around the room)

Attend to Agenda Items

Identify Homework when Applicable

Identify next meetings Agenda Items

Share New Information and Reminders (go around the room)

Identify specific tasks for each member for next meeting

Conclude the meeting


Rotate Moderator/Agenda Preparation/Reminder E-Mails

Rotate Timekeeper/Tinkerbelle

Rotate Hostess who is responsible for snacks

Update Excel File

Note taking is optional


Heart Connections Proposed Agenda   Date: April 11,   2016

Read the Core Belief, Guiding Principles and Rules of Order

Share “What’s on Top”

Agenda Items:

  1. Approve Revised Declaration of Dependence
  2. Do we want to use the group process for “Getting Our Affairs in Order”?
  3. Review Emergency Contacts for changes and additional questions
  4. Identify who has Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare
  5. Identify who can pay the bills if you are incapacitated
  6. Identify Key Person for Family Network
  7. Identify Key Person for Friends Network
  8. Discuss Groups Direction and Membership

Identify Homework when Applicable

Review Medical Data and Takes for changes and additional questions

Identify Agenda Items for Future Meetings:

Review Basic Data

Medical Data and Takes

Advanced Directives and Legal Documents: Attorney who prepared will/trust and date

Judy on Hospice

Share New Information and Reminders

Carol’s place can be our default meeting location, with as much notice as possible

Group data will be kept paper based and redistributed when updates make it necessary

Kathy offered to accompany people to critical medical appointments to assist with clarification questions and recording.

Identify tasks for each member for next meeting

Agenda Preparers/Email Reminders/Moderators



Conclude the meeting by holding hands and reciting “Aging in Place with Love and Grace”.

By Sue Ellis 06 May, 2016

When the care giving role has finished, the individual usually experiences a loss of identity. Here are ten ways of transitioning successfully from being a caregiver to creating a new life.

“Now you can get on with your life” are the words of comfort we hear when our role as caregiver is over. The depression that we sink into, and others cannot fathom, is grief for ourselves. Others will attempt to help us get over the grief for the person lost from our life but will fail to realize that it is the loss of self for which we grieve later. Indeed we don’t realize this for ourselves at the time. Since we have spent a long time putting the needs of another first, we fail to understand how much of self-identification was tied up in those needs.

I was a caregiver for almost 10 years. Grief followed my partner’s death. But my “depression” did not hit till 18 months later. It was a period of transition – from one self to the next. From one identity, one image of self – to a new me. The transition has a big question mark at the beginning. “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?” “Who am I, anyway?” The journey is that of our own transformation.

How do we successfully transition?

1.   Recognize that this is the task at hand.
2.   Re-evaluate the role that we have played and now lost. This means look at it as if we were writing a job description. We do not need to dwell on criticizing how successfully we performed, but focus on what skills we acquired, what tasks we accomplished, what creativity we showed. Society does not place value on the role we have played. We must not fall into the trap of belittling our own accomplishments. We must familiarize ourselves with whom we have become because of this experience. We have been forever changed.
3.   Recognize that over time we searched for recognition in the role we played. To do it well, the caregiver role became us. It was how we identified ourselves. Others related to us through that role. Any socializing we had was a respite from that role. Any emotional support we received was to help us cope with that role. Most of our conversation was about the talk of care giving. Then it is over and all the professionals who shared the challenge have disappeared. We are not supposed to need them any more. But they were the people who validated who we were. All those routines that had become our life – the doctor visits, the care giver support groups, the volunteers – have all gone. Suddenly we are naked. We have no identity and we are alone. The task at hand is to build a new identity.
4.   Don’t deny the pain, look at the fears, and accept the feelings for what they are. We are learning how to face change. We are learning how to let go of the past – of whom we were, of what was. We are in a transition where there is no going back. A time when this moment truly is the most important of our life. For it is the only moment that is real. The only moment that counts. How we live it will determine what is ahead of us.
5.   Find a mentor who has been there. If no one is available chose someone who is prepared to listen without thinking they must solve problems. Only you can forge the future path. It must come from within you, not the suggestions of others. The gift others can give you now is the ear that witnesses your progress. Their only task is to stop you from dwelling on negative repetition. We used to call this being a “broken record.” Sometimes we used to imitate playing on an imaginary violin to indicate the repetitive telling of a sad story. We do not make changes when we are repeating the same old story over and over again.
6.   Slowly open new doors and test how you feel. My breakthrough came when I started reading books on spirituality and healing. I will list a few that have impacted my life and caused me to shift my views, beliefs and attitudes. They moved me from being a victim of my circumstance to being the captain of my ship. This is not a complete list but examples of books that helped me look at the world, life and me in a different way. They helped the change process.

Anatomy of the Spirit / Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can – Caroline Myss
When Things Fall Apart – Pema Chödron
The Four Agreements – Don Miguel Ruiz
My Grandfather’s Blessings – Rachel Naomi Remen MD
Home with God – Neale Donald Walsch
Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor E. Frankel

7.   Let go of self restricting beliefs and attitudes about yourself and your future. “Poor me,” “my life is over,” “I shall never be able to…” – they will not serve you well. They are a devise to stifle facing change. If we see our cup as half empty – it will remain so. If we see that same cup as half full then there is room for more. When we believe in “can’t,” then that is what we will experience.
8.   Let go of the need to make yesterday a living presence today. Instead use the knowledge gained yesterday to make today more successful. The brain cannot distinguish between what is happening now and what you are remembering from the past. To remember the pain of the past is to bring it back to make it real – a conscious decision. The brain can’t tell the difference. The brain can only bring into awareness one thing at a time. Again, you choose what you focus on.
9.   If you experience real difficulty focusing on the now, finding it so much easier to retreat into the past, we must develop rituals to stay present. Going for a walk and consciously focusing on everything we see is a helpful exercise. Quickly we realize how much we are missing when our thoughts are not here. Actively listen to the conversations of others. Don’t concentrate on how you can segue conversation to go back in time with you. In conversations with others, discipline yourself to only talk about new information, not stuff they have heard before. This is a powerful exercise because it forces you to bring newness into your life – what you saw on your walk, the book you have just read, the TV program, the baking you have tried, today’s weather, sports teams etc. Now you are creating new life, not regurgitating the past.
10.   Gradually the new you will emerge with new dreams and aspirations. They may have to be adapted to fit the budget or the limits of increased age, but we are no longer letting the budget or our age be the excuse for not doing something.
11.   To be a caregiver is a gift. Often a painful one that we were unprepared for, but the new butterfly that emerges from our transitional cocoon could never have seen life if we had not met the challenge.

The person I am today, ten years after my care giving ended, is not the person I would have become without the experience. I am filled with gratitude and know I have become the person I was supposed to be in this life.

By Sue Ellis 06 May, 2016

By Barbara McDowall of

Just back from almost 2 weeks in my favourite part of the country, kind of my spiritual home away from home – Canada’s east coast and PEI in particular. When I spend any time along our Atlantic seaboard (Nova Scotia in particular), I invariably find myself asking “How can I live and work here”? And I feel I am getting closer to having an answer to that question.

Along the way to PEI, I happened to notice one of the ubiquitous roadside signs. This one said PEACE BEGINS AT HOME. It got me thinking about what that meant to me. Personally, I had to ask myself how peaceful was I within myself (my home), so to speak?   Based on my level of personal peace, what was the impact of me being peaceful on the world around me? To paraphrase Forrest Gump, “peaceful is as peaceful does.”

With that awareness how can I then make a positive contribution to world peace through intentionally and consciously becoming more peaceful within myself? What would I need to change about me to make that happen?

To change or improve any habit or skill most often requires some kind of unlearning/relearning or training regimen. With that in mind, what regular program or practice will help me shift my focus to peace within. What works best for me is a regular practice of daily meditation of no less than 30 minutes first thing in the morning and 30 minutes at the end of my day. Frequent affirmations such as “I am a peaceful person and I bring peace to the world” are helpful in reminding me who I am and wish to become more of.

Gandhi said it so well many years ago – be the change you wish to see in the world. If I wish to see peace in the world, I must be grounded in peace, to the point that should I meet someone who doesn’t speak my language, it is clear I am grounded in peace because I am that person in the world – they can see it in action.

Peace is not something that can be imposed externally. World peace will become a more probable reality every time one or more of us intentionally and consciously choose to be peace in the world. Thankfully, this energy is an ever-increasing part of our world today. Witness the prominence of Eastern philosophies which support personal awareness, personal responsibility as essential components to creating an aware and responsible world with a commitment to ending judgment and shame.

Buddhism continues to offer me the opportunity to love myself, to love others, and to love my enemies. It offers the compassionate lens to our common “suffering” and our ability to look at ourselves as microcosms of the world. If we can be honest with ourselves, fully loving and approving of ourselves, our innately compassionate hearts become engaged in this life, as we open up to our commonality and our shared wish for a better life for ourselves, for our children and for our beloved planet.

I am grateful for that roadside billboard and for its reminder of one of many truths – as within, so without.

Barbara McDowall is a spiritual teacher, mentor, doula for the dying and celebrant (weddings, baptisms, celebrations of life). Located in Toronto, Canada, she is available for consultation by phone or in person. For more information, and visit

By Sue Ellis 06 May, 2016

Written by: Jenn Weesies

Each February everyone puts a lot of effort into demonstrating their feelings towards their loved ones. They make or buy gifts, plan special excursions and recommit their lives to each other. They act in such a way that makes their special someone feel loved, cared for and cherished. Some people though, will argue that this demonstration of affection toward loved ones shouldn’t just occur during February but should happen all year long as well. Caregivers and family members of people experiencing incontinence are constantly striving to provide the best care for their loved ones to demonstrate their affection. However, as many know, caring for their loved one’s unique incontinence situation can be difficult.Incontinence is not uncommon. Urinary incontinence affects more than 200 million people worldwide and nearly 25 million American adults are currently experiencing temporary or chronic urinary incontinence. According to the National Association for Incontinence (NAFC), incontinence characteristically affects more women than men. In fact, one out of four women and one out of eight men experience incontinence.

Enhancing the quality of care you are providing your loved ones experiencing incontinence means improving the quality of control with the right products and right fit at the best price. Here are three ways that can help you demonstrate your affection towards your loved ones experiencing incontinence by ramping up the quality of your care.

1. Buy hospital grade incontinence care products to keep your loved one comfortable. Hospital grade incontinence care products are far superior to the products that you can buy at a local superstore. These products are better quality and can increase your assurance in managing your loved one’s incontinence. They provide the highest level of protection, superior odor protection, the best fit, and the latest technology to quickly draw wetness caused by urinary incontinence away from your loved one’s body. With hospital grade products you can be sure that your loved one will remain dry and comfortable all day long.

2. Buy from a knowledgeable home health care center or medical equipment supply company. Highly regarded home health care centers and medical equipment supply companies focus on ongoing personalized management for your loved one’s unique urinary incontinence situation. They can provide personal support over the phone, online and in the store to find the best incontinence care products for your loved one. Briefs, protective underwear, pads and liners are available in gender specific fits and an array of sizes and protection levels. Home health care centers and medical equipment supply companies can offer insight to customize incontinence care products for your loved one. They can also recommend products that are easy to get on and to change, improving the ease of care. Their knowledge can enhance quality of life for individuals dealing with incontinence and can help caregivers and families provide more supportive care.

3. Enroll in a home delivery program to save money and time. Experienced home health care centers and medical equipment supply companies can connect you with money and time saving options that other stores cannot. The best offer discreet home delivery programs that can supply caregivers and family members with the convenience of on-time supplies at their doorstep with a range of cost effective savings plans. These programs allow you to order the highest quality products in bulk. After all, buying and ordering incontinence care products should not have to take precious time away from spending moments with your loved ones.

Demonstrate your feelings towards your loved one experiencing incontinence all year long through providing them the best care and incontinence care products possible. Seek the help from a knowledgeable home health care center or medical equipment supply company. They have resources and support staff dedicated to making your job easier and your loved ones happy and comfortable.

About the Author Binson’s Home Health Care Centers began in Center Line, Mich. and has grown to the home health care center it is today. Currently, there are centers in Michigan and Florida. For more information about incontinence products and programs call Binson’s at 888-246-7667 or visit:

article from Content Crooner

By Sue Ellis 06 May, 2016
A habit is a constant, often unconscious inclination to perform some act, acquired through its frequent repetition. If the habit is objectionable, we call it a “bad habit”.
It’s possible to control your habits and make a positive change in as little as 30 days. Focus on one habit at a time.
Caregiving bad habits often lead to increased stress and sometimes, even to elder abuse.
Elder abuse often starts as psychological abuse. If a caregiver doesn’t properly deal with her/his stress, they may start to wreak havoc by means of threats, fear, humiliation, fear, manipulation, or other bad conduct. This may include frequent harassment, criticizing, insults, or denigration.
It is important to be aware of any signs that you may be heading in the wrong direction.
Some of the signs include:

1. Trying to do too much, resulting in not getting anything done
2. Doing the wrong thing, regularly
3. Procrastination, everyday
4. Having no clear cut goals
5. Improper or no planning
6. Not completing tasks
7. Negative self talk
8. Guilt trips
9. Lax hand washing
10. Holding in, or offering no support
11. Smoking
12. Drinking too much
13. Junk food, poor diet
14. Emotional eating
15. Too much caffeine
16. Compulsive spending
17. No time off
18. Sleep deprived
19. Constant bad temper
20. Can’t or won’t delegate
21. Disorganized
22. Holding breath
23. Can’t prioritize
24. Time management problems
25. Can’t make a decision

Take an honest inventory of yourself. Make it a point to correct those bad habits. Habits are a matter of self-control. When you break bad habits you will be much more successful.

Here are 15 ways to reduce or diffuse stress which will, in turn, help alleviate bad habits.

1. Be honest about your bad habits and stress level.
2. Give your care-receiver a hug every day.
3. Do something nice for yourself each week.
4. Remember to breathe deeply.
5. Take a few minutes each morning to repeat an affirmation or focus on calmness.
6. Take at least a 20 minute brisk walk every day.
7. Choose 1-2 people to whom you can vent your frustrations. You need a good listener.
8. Choose to be happy.
9. Before you go to bed each night, review your day, and let go of the bad stuff.
10. Relax with a cup of tea.
11. Listen to your favorite music to relax.
12. Count your blessings
13. Be assertive with a smile on your face.
14. Keep a journal.
15. Try aromatherapy. Spritz some lavender on your pillow.

Being a caregiver is one of the most difficult jobs you can ever have. It is important to take good care of yourself so you can take good care of the care-receiver. It becomes even more critical the longer you are a caregiver. Put the odds in your favor and keep those habits in check.

Author Resource:- Rebecca Colmer is an Eldercare Advocate, Author, Speaker, Publisher, and Caregiver Expert. You can find   books published by the author.
By Sue Ellis 06 May, 2016

By: Rebecca Sharp Colmer

The caregiver role is complex and differs for everyone depending on the needs of the care-receiver.Many times, in the beginning, there may only be a few needs, such as providing transportation or helping with shopping or cooking.

Over time, needs increase, requiring additional services, until the care-receiver is fully dependent on the caregiver.Here are some tips to help you get started:

1. Every caregiver should know as much as possible about the care-receiver.You should know their characteristics and personality style. For example, you should know their likes, dislikes, family members, ailments, etc.

You should know if the care-receiver is outgoing or reserved, task-oriented or people-oriented. Once you get to know them better you will be able to understand their needs and behavior patterns.

2. Every caregiver should know and understand his/her responsibilities, duties, and tasks.As a caregiver, you have a responsibility to be sensitive to the needs of the care-receiver, and to find a way to satisfy their needs.

This may require you to enlist the help of others. The duties of the caregiver usually change and increase over a period of time. Set up and follow a care plan.

Recording essential daily information will assist everyone on the Care Team. It also allows another caregiver to take your place fairly easily.

3. Stay updated on the health condition of the care-receiver.

As the health of the elder deteriorates and more needs start to surface, it is important for the caregiver to find out how to cope with them.

Keep a log of his/her daily activities (medicine taken, food intake, sleep habits, temperament, etc.) so that you will always have a snapshot view of their current health.This information will help the doctor get a more complete picture of the condition of the care-receiver.

4. Assist as little as possible in tasks the senior can usually handle himself/herself. Just as it is not easy being a caregiver, it is not always easy being a care-receiver.

The gradual loss of independence and control over just about everything is difficult to accept. Remember, seniors have the right to their dignity and pride.

5. Caregivers should express warmth and concern towards the welfare of the care-receiver.

If the care-receiver has a poor self image or feelings of inferiority, the caregiver may have to provide reassurance while ignoring negative behavior.

A caregiver must have patience (and stamina) for change in moods.

6. Be a good listener. Many times seniors may simply want you to listen.They want to share their stories. Caregivers must be careful to avoid put downs and choosing sides.

Pay attention and be able to connect the dots between past, present, and future. Listen intuitively or use your sixth sense to hear underlying messages.

7. Smile a lot. Be a good friend and companion. Be as positive as possible.

8. When friends and family neglect to call or visit, do not hesitate to remind them.

9. Ask for help. Advocate for what you need. Sharing the care of a loved-one benefits everyone.

10. Maintain your self-composure and avoid stress. Elder abuse can occur as a result of caregiver stress.

It is imperative that you are aware of and deal with stress.

Author Resource:- Rebecca Colmer is an elder Care Advocate, Author, Speaker, Publisher, and Caregiver. You can find more caregiving tools and resources at her website:
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