The Arrival

by Judy Sparanese

She arrived in San Angelo, Texas, after a long, hot, dusty and crowded journey by train. It was early summer and she was eager to join her husband, an army air corps pilot stationed at Goodfellow Field. After months of following him to several bases, it was good to think about settling down for awhile. Initially, she had no appetite due to the hot weather. It was weeks before she was able to eat a decent meal and that turned out to be a bowl of chili con carne. This Irish girl from Brooklyn, used to overcooked meats and vegetables, found the chili to be the only thing she could enjoy eating. Shortly after arriving, she landed a secretarial job for an executive of a local company. Jobs were easy to get in a country turned topsy-turvy by war.

They rented rooms in a big white frame house with a huge porch. Housing was in short supply in those days what with all the military arriving and looking for places to live. They considered themselves lucky to be with a hospitable family, even though they had to sacrifice some privacy by living and sharing common areas with strangers. A few months later, she found herself pregnant for the first time. The nausea caused by the heat was replaced with another kind of nausea which lasted a few months. But the joy of the expected child overcame any temporary discomfort. He was ecstatic in his usual way, dancing around the room at the announcement, lifting her up in the air in his strong arms and falling more in love with her than ever, telling everyone he knew about this exciting event about to happen. In fact, he was ecstatic about everything in his life right now. They had met at a church dance in Brooklyn on the evening of the attack at Pearl Harbor. Shortly after, he enlisted in the army.

They were married January 9, 1943. Children of the Depression, and now faced with the reality of World War II, they were always ready to have a good time, to live for the moment. There was not much planning for the future when the present seemed so nebulous. And they danced their way through time, always on beat, to the music of the “Swing Era.” After basic training, officer candidate school and pilot training, this high school dropout had finally earned his wings and was a full fledged pilot. He was assigned to Goodfellow Field which was an advanced air training base where San Angelo Air Corps Basic Flying School was established in 1940. He spent the duration of the war training men as pilots and carrying out other stateside assignments.

Even though he applied many times to be sent overseas, he was valued as a trainer and was never re-assigned. The child, a healthy baby girl, was born at 4:11 a.m. at Shannon Hospital in San Angelo four days before D-Day. At the time he was 25 years old and she was 24. There was nothing unusual or significant to remember about the birth. It must have been lonely for her to give birth away from her family but there was a community of other army wives in the same circumstances and there was a tight bonding among them. One can only speculate on their hopes and dreams for their future individually and as a family. What was in store for this tiny family with no home and no wealth and a war that seemed to go on forever? In fact, it would be another year or so before victory was declared, first in Europe on May 8, 1945 and then in Japan on August 15, 1945.

No one of their generation was untouched by the war and it changed them forever as they marched forward into the oblivion of the 1950s.

If you would like to honor a parent or loved one, we’d love to hear and publish their story. Contact us for more guidelines on what we need.

The Personal Side of Aging: Don’t Be a Turkey

As we approach Thanksgiving, I am sure that many of you have things to be thankful for.

But I want to take a different approach.  I would like you to actually thank someone. Thank a senior for living the rich lives they’ve lives and for being themselves.

Today’s seniors have lived through more than any generation in history.  Through our biggest triumphs, our biggest atrocities and everything in between, they’ve seen it all – cars, planes, world wars, world peace, civil rights, computers, cell phones and the Internet.

But for some strange reason, because they are old, we forget about the richness of their lives.  We forgot that they were once the war hero, the sports legend, the family man, the politician and the teacher.  We forget that they are the moms, dads, aunts and uncles who made us who we are today.

Where am I going with this?

We’ve created a new feature on the site called Portrait of Our Parents.  This section was created to celebrate the unique and vibrant memories that define our seniors’ lives and the way we remember them.

How it Works?

Portrait of Our Parents is your storyteller to the masses.

It’s your easel to share the memories of your parents and grandparents you don’t want forgotten.  It can be about your aunts, your uncles or any elder friend you admire.

Whether it is a life story, an individual memory or a fireside chat you remember as a child, Portrait of Our Parents can help you share it, celebrate and be proud of it.

So as you think about the holidays, I encourage you to spend a few minutes and write down a story of a loved one that makes you smile.  Share some thoughts of a senior who inspires you because of who they are.  Send us the story–and a photo ideally (it makes it human!)–and we’ll share it with the world.

What are you waiting for?  Share a story today.

My Own Piano Man

By Kenneth E. Strong, Jr.

The dog woke me in the usual way by blowing air in my face followed by two heavy front paws draped over my side. There was no way he was going to let me sleep for just five more minutes. This morning he was unusually early, around 5:30 a.m. I stumbled down the stairs, rubbing my eyes in a determined effort to focus my vision to avoid falling over the dog or down the stairs.

On my way through the kitchen I stopped at the kitchen sink, ran cold water and splashed my face to clear my thoughts. I looked across the sink out the double pane window, into the garden below where the sun’s rays were shining through the trees above like fingers flooding the ground with a warm glow. The top of the blooming dogwood caught my eye; there was just one flower as bright as could be against the others in pre-dawn shadows. Seeing the single white blossom in the sun reminded me of a man I haven’t thought of in thirty-two years.

Henry and I first met on a hot summer day. Henry was sitting in a lawn chair on the front patio of our family nursing home looking at the traffic on Main Street. In one hand he held a small radio up against his ear and the other hand was tapping very methodically on the arm rest of the chair. I stopped the lawn mower and asked him if he thought he was playing a piano and he said,” Yeah.” I responded, “Good for you,” and continued to mow the lawn.

A week or so went by and I happened to be walking by the activities room and sure enough there was Henry with his transistor radio beside him playing the piano. I couldn’t believe it. He could hear a song on the radio and then play it on the piano. Henry had never had one single piano lesson in his life. I was fascinated. Henry Diamond was a Native American from Martha’s Vineyard with jet black curly hair, eyes black as coal and hands the size of a first baseman’s mitt. He stood about six foot five inches tall and was solidly built. To me he looked like a skyscraper.

I was told that Henry was a loner, mentally retarded, withdrawn and very shy. For a while we didn’t talk very much but I noticed that if Henry had difficulty hearing the radio he would become agitated and uncooperative with staff. So I bought him a new transistor radio with an ear plug. I put the plug in his ear, turned on the radio and watched his eyes light up. He was like a kid in a candy store. Immediately I became Henry’s new best friend. And then the fun started. In school I found myself constantly talking about Henry’s uncanny ability to play any song he heard on the piano. I suppose my friends got sick and tired of me raving about Henry.

Finally someone said, “I’ll bet you ten dollars he can’t.” That’s all I needed to hear. That Saturday Henry and I rolled the piano out of the activities room, down the hall into the elevator and out into the back parking lot of the nursing home. We set both radios to the same station. I put in the ear plug and Henry began to play. Henry and I split the money and returned the piano. That first concert began a summer of Saturday afternoon entertainment in the parking lot. On a few occasions we had as many as twenty students listening in awe to Henry play. You should have seen the look on Henry’s face as they cheered and applauded his performance. I made more money that summer at Henry’s concerts that I did working at the nursing home. Henry was happy because he had more money that he thought possible. In those days patient needs monthly payment was just under twenty dollars. Life was good until my father arrived in the back parking lot during one of Henry’s concerts. You should know that my father was the owner and administrator of the nursing home.

Needless to say my career as a concert promoter came to an abrupt halt. After my father expressed his disappointment and how it was wrong to take advantage of a patient I had to put the money I’d won from the bets in the collection plate on Sunday. Henry got to keep his share which I was happy about because it helped him buy more things he wanted and needed. Somehow seeing Henry’s face light up and the kids paying attention to him, showing him their pleasure, admiration and awe didn’t seem like taking advantage of him in any way. Every Saturday afternoon Henry was a star. When he played he was giving me a gift, the only gift he had. When I look at my music CD collection today and see that the vast majority of it is piano related, I think of Henry. To me he was as unique as the solitary white dogwood blossom, one of a kind.

That summer with Henry taught me two things. First, Henry taught me to look beyond what I think I see. The phrase, “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” comes to mind. Each person we encounter has a musical score in them that can make all the difference in your life if you look diligently for it, beyond their physical appearance, ethnic background, education, religion, where they live, or the color of their skin. The music is there and worth discovering. You may find you’ve got a hit song on your hands. The second thing I learned was to block off the back parking lot. I’ll bet Henry could have paid for a private room if I had blocked that driveway.

If you would like to honor a parent or loved one, we’d love to hear and publish their story. Contact us for more guidelines on what we need.

Senior Care Blogs – Best of Web 2011

The good folks over at have nominated us as one of handful of senior care blogs for their Best of the Web 2011 awards. If you’ve gotten as much from our articles as we have writing them, we’d appreciate your support and a “Like” to vote for us.

Some links:

There are lots of great people out there who are working hard to change the face of elder care.  Whether you vote for us or not, go vote and show your support!

The Unpaid Family Caregiver

The Unpaid Family CaregiverIs this the picture you had of retirement?

I’m referring to the one on the left!

Are you checking in on your elderly parents living at home? Is one parent more mobile than the other and caring for their spouse? If so, how is this affecting the health of the caregiver? Regardless of who the caregiver is, the additional burden can easily drain all of their reserves. Then everyone’s safety and health may be at risk.

A lot of attention has been given to medical assistance for our frail seniors that is available at home, as well as assisted living facilities of all types. The public may not be aware of an entire industry of in-home, non-medical care that is available today.

If you are checking on elderly family members at home: Has the house and the refrigerator had a good cleaning lately? Are they eating healthy? Are the bills paid on time?  Is bathing a safety concern?  Are menial chores such as shopping, cooking, laundry, and housecleaning a challenge?

The caregiver may expend all their energy completing these tasks with no energy or time left for doing the things they enjoy. If money wasn’t an issue, would you hire help? Would there be more time for everyone to enjoy life together? I’ll bet this is the case. All these services are now available in the home.

Ryan Malone’s new book: “Saving Money on Senior Care: How to Make Aging Affordable” discusses many issues impacting families’ ability to pay for senior care and takes a no-nonsense approach to educate you on the six most impactful options: reverse mortgages, VA benefits, life settlements, Medicare planning, long-term care insurance and the unique senior line of credit.

The Unpaid Family CaregiverMoney is available to pay for in-home care, especially for those who are “house rich and cash poor.” In 1989, a government program was created to enable seniors to stay in their home by paying them for the equity in their home. The upside to this program is that there are no credit or income requirements and no mortgage payments. Yes, it’s a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM or Reverse Mortgage). It’s called a Reverse Mortgage because it pays you. This program has changed a lot over the years and I have seen it change people’s lives. It can ease financial strain and relieve concerns about losing the home. The loans are FHA insured, non-recourse loans. That means if the home is sold and sales proceeds are insufficient to pay the amount owed, FHA will pay the lender the amount of the shortfall.

Four important points about this safe, Government program:

1)      The bank does NOT keep the title to the home

2)      There are no mortgage payments

3)      Stay in the home as long as you want to and can

¨       It must be the primary residence

¨       Must pay homeowner’s insurance and property taxes; maintain the property

4)      The loan is paid off with proceeds from the home sale

¨       FHA insures the loan and pays the lender any shortfall

For more information and a calculator:

A free booklet from The National Council on Aging:
Use Your Home to Stay at Home: A Guide for Older Homeowners Who Need Help Now”

Now, what would you do with the extra time and the money you may have had to pay for care?

About the Author: Linda Lewis is a reverse mortgage specialist with FutureSafe Financial Corporation and lives in California.  You can follow Linda at her website at

Seven Ways to Talk to Your Parents About Getting Help at Home

It can be difficult to acknowledge the fact that your parent needs some help with day-to-day activities, let alone introducing to them the idea of hiring a professional caregiver for help. Your parent is likely to react to this decision with some resistance. Approaching the subject requires patience and tact. However, there are certain considerations to keep in mind that can help you approach this conversation with your parent with greater success.

Below are some ideas to consider, based on our years of experience with families facing these struggles:

1. List advantages. Make quality home care provided by a hired caregiver desirable to your loved one. Some benefits for hiring in-home care for your parent may be: rather than having to move to an assisted living facility or nursing home, they can remain at home; in-home care is often less costly; they will be given one-on-one attention when their caregiver is there.

2. Focus on independence. Explain why hiring a caregiver is a way for your parent to maintain their independence in their own home. Of course, this is easier said than done. Perhaps paint a visual picture for them. Have they already fallen once or twice? Explain what could happen if they fall again – how it could lead to broken bones, surgery and hospitalization, followed by a lengthy recovery period. The same method could be used if they frequently forget to take their medications, or often miss doctor appointments.

3. Try a different approach. If your parents are still living together, try suggesting that in-home care would benefit their spouse. They may be more willing to accept the care for the sake of their loved one, even if in reality, it is equally beneficial for both parents. If they live alone, focus on concerns or activities that are important to them.  For example, your parent may deny needing help, but may be amenable to someone helping with housekeeping and preparing some meals. They may acknowledge that they don’t like to drive at night but still want to attend their weekly bridge game.

4. Make it about you. Explain to your parent how much you worry about them. Or if you have been acting as primary caregiver explain that it has become too much on top of career or parenthood responsibilities. According to a recent study by Genworth, 55 percent of Americans say being a burden on their family is their biggest concern regarding long term care issues. Take this into consideration when approaching your parent about accepting in-home help. You might say, “Mom, I worry about you…and even if you tell me I shouldn’t, it keeps me up at night. Would you try having someone come in once a week for me?”

5. Mitigate fear. An elderly person can act hostile towards a hired caregiver at times, but this action is most likely out of fear. Prior to attempting to alleviate this fear, it is important to understand it. Common fears include loss of independence, losing control and dignity and financial worries. The presence of an outsider is likely to leave the elder feeling vulnerable. Take this into consideration when communicating with them, and respond with empathy rather than with frustration. Realize how your own emotions may be impacting the conversation and increasing resistance. It is important to choose an appropriate time and place for these discussions and set aside time for them.

6. Test it out on a trial-basis. Try hiring an outside caregiver for in-home help on a short-term basis for respite, or recovery care, after being discharged from the hospital or after a fall. This provides an opportunity to show your parent that having a caregiver is not something to fear and often leads to them being open to receiving ongoing care. If they currently rely on you, another family member or friend as their primary caregiver or source of help, try using vacation as an excuse to bring in a professional caregiver while gone. Explain that it is for your own peace of mind.

7. Get advice from a professional. Try discussing the situation with your parent’s primary care physician (this is most likely someone they have known for years and trust). If they share your concern for your parent, they are likely to help by talking to them, explaining why in-home care is the best option for them. Another option is to consult a geriatric care manager, a professional with special expertise in making these assessments. They will be able to provide you with further advice on how to prevent resistance when introducing the new living arrangements with your loved one.

Photo Credit:  Eggybird

About the authors: Alex Chamberlain is executive director at EasyLiving, Inc., a fully licensed, private duty home health care company serving individuals and families in Pinellas and Pasco counties in Florida.

Shannon Martin, M.S.W., CMC, serves as Director of Communications for EasyLiving, Inc. and Aging Wisely, LLC. Shannon has worked for Aging Wisely, a professional geriatric care management and consultation firm, for over 8 years.