Nov 082017

REFLECTIONS November 2017

The Raven Lunatic

 Senior Wire News Service — I rarely, rarely comment on our son’s posts. Okay, I break that rule all the time. Last night our son went to see Apocalyptica in Washington, D.C., so I commented on the picture he posted. Do I know Apocalyptica from a hole in the ground? No, but the venue was beautiful.

When a 19-year-old Harvard sophomore created what would become Facebook in his dorm room, could he have imagined its global reach among all ages? A new study from Visiting Angels ( shared the feelings of some millennials who secretly want to unfriend Mimi and Poppa, who they believe, tend to post embarrassing stuff.

According to the study, here are the top no-nos for Grandma and Grandpa:

  • Posting personal stuff: One in four respondents say grandparents post too much information about their love and social lives. (Got news for you kids, Mee-maw isn’t quite walking to the light yet.) More than one-third said their elders post dirty laundry about family feuds or finances.
  • Rant and rave: One in five believe Gram-Gram goes “emoji crazy” in comments or posts, while 33% of respondents say they don’t like it when their elder relatives get too political or go “holy roller,” posting too much about religion.
  • Tread on personal turf: One in four really hate it when Grandma tries to friend their friends, and 30% really don’t dig Grammy or Grampy posting on their timeline. Half of those surveyed don’t want their grandparents posting on their timeline at all (I get that, and no baby pictures either.) Biggest no-no on personal turf: For pete’s sake, Oma and Opa, don’t comment on appearance, hair, weight, or clothing. (That probably leaves out comments about the Significant Other as well, I’m guessing.)

Surprise, Kiddos, We’re Not Going Anywhere!

In 2017, there are 2.01billion Facebook monthly users worldwide. While much public perception focuses on the social media activity of millennials, don’t sell Nana short. Data from Pew Research tells a different story. Among online adults, the percentage of those who use Facebook in the 50-64 age group is 63% and 56% above age 65 in the most recent statistics available.

Marketers should not ignore us. We baby boomers are here to stay and still make an economic impact.

Like many other people my age, I first went on Facebook to monitor our son. At the time, he was a freshman in college, moving 1,100 miles from home. He’s not the type to call or text daily (or sometimes even weekly), so seeing his posts gave us a sense that he might still be alive.

Over time we developed rules. I rarely, rarely comment on our son’s posts. Okay, I break that rule all the time. Last night our son went to see Apocalyptica in Washington, D.C., so I commented on the picture he posted. Do I know Apocalyptica from a hole in the ground? No, but the venue was beautiful. If he doesn’t like what I post, he just takes it down.

Public Domain,

Since he rarely comments on my posts, if I need to refer to him I use “Junior.” He’s not tagged and generally won’t see it, as in “Junior met Senator Elizabeth Warren yesterday.” This tactic allows the parent or grandparent to brag but keeps millennial eyes off the post. Of course, I’m entitled to this one joy. My cats are all dead; I have no kitty pictures to post anymore. Vacation is but once a year, and I’m not a grandmother.While baby boomers are active users of social media, it is their children and grandchildren who tend to be the early adopters, especially the millennials.

Dr. Tamara Wandel has researched and published on social media topics since its inception in the early 2000s. “Young people are the fastest growing adopters of the newer online platforms, so they’re very interested in trying out what’s trendy. Young people still check in on Facebook, but they’re more apt to post a quick photo on Instagram, keep up with a daily Snapchat streak with friends, or retweet something on Twitter,” said the professor of communication at the University of Evansville (Indiana). “But Facebook remains the most popular social media platform, and its registered users are more broadly representative of the U.S. population as a whole.

She added, “To put in context, nearly 80 percent of online Americans use Facebook, and for Twitter, the amount is closer to 25 percent.”

While the younger folks may lead the way, seniors will likely be bringing up the rear. A British study reported by the Telegraph noted 4 in 10 baby boomers now use a smartphone, up 11 percentage points in a year, while the use of smartphones among the over-75s has nearly doubled from 8 percent to 15.

Some seniors remain resistant. The Telegraph study noted that half of the over-75 group had “no plans to use the Internet.” In my life, my 87-year-old father has no need for Internet as he has AmyNet and AndyNet (that’s us). When he wants to know something, he’ll call one of his children, knowing we have “the box” in our hands.

How did the Cubs do today? What’s happening in the market? Can you find the address of my sophomore year college roommate? Where did the Lincoln funeral train go in Indiana? (Helps that I’m married to a research librarian.)

But, God forbid Grandpa to call either of his grandsons for the same request or express any interest in going on their Facebook pages. That would just be wrong.

Amy McVay Abbott is a newly retired healthcare executive who can be reached @ravensenior on Twitter or amyistheravenlunatic on Instagram. She is not competent at either technology but gives it the old college try.


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Sep 022016
Backpack Press, 2016

Backpack Press, 2016

Every life experiences loss.  Those with two parents for much of adulthood are blessed. Writer Anne Born pulled together a collection of essays about the loss of a parent during  adulthood. I am fortunate to have an article included, which I’m reprinting below.

If you have lost a parent in your adulthood or have a friend who has, please consider buying this book or asking your local library to purchase it. Here is the link for the book which will be available on Kindle in a few weeks

Anne is seeking essays and poems for a second edition for 2017.  For submission guidelines for the next edition, contact Anne Born at

This is what I submitted:

You are Just Like Your Mother

“You are just like your mother.” A college friend of mine tossed this pejorative my way.

My mother and I shared few common attributes.

She paced herself and moved with caution; I run. She did one thing at a time, always linear. I multi-task, weaving a path of destruction like a buzzing bumblebee. Mom focused first on her family. While I love my husband and child, I struggle to balance my career.

Mom’s last decade challenged the entire family. She had vascular dementia, a brain disease that stole her from us. We lost our companion, mother, sister, grandmother, aunt and friend, minute by minute, hour by hour, week by week, month by month, year by year. She was present, but not there. My father insisted we include her in everything, even when she could not take part.

When she died four years ago, I was relieved. Her quality of life had diminished. Dad found her daily care challenging. Close to the end of her life, Dad could no longer lift her from her chair. Mom moved to a skilled nursing facility for her final three weeks. Mom shook with tremors and tiny strokes.

On the evening she died, I felt like the next candy pellet in the top of a Pez dispenser. It was my turn now. I was the matriarch. Who am I now?  Who am I supposed to be? What can I take from the life of my mother?

That night, I made a conscious decision to let go of some of me and be more like Mom. How funny that 32 years before, hearing “You are just like your mother” offended me. Now I would give anything for some of her attributes. She was not perfect; we were and are both complex, flawed creatures.

Mom suffered from depression. Her troubles began shortly after I started high school and ended around the time of the birth of my son. Her first grandchild.

When I was small, my mother was the perfect stay-at-home mom, as if plucked from central casting for a situation comedy. With her delicate features and porcelain skin, my petite mother had classic Jackie Kennedy looks. From birth I was heavy, a chubby infant never outgrowing baby fat and towering over the elementary school boys until eighth grade.

Mom never said anything bad about anyone; I am gifted in the art of acerbic sarcasm.

I only heard Mom swear once. A cousin called during dinner to report her father’s death. Mom said, “Sue called,” and burst into tears. My dad, brother, and I laughed because we had no idea what Mom meant.

Mom said, “Damnit, Sue’s father, Mr. McLaughlin, died today.” We all knew this was serious. We were insensitive and wrong. I’m working on the colorful language, being less colorful, that is. As a sales rep, I channel Professor Harold Hill from The Music Man and the players from Glengarry Glen Ross.

Mom’s sweetness didn’t always roll over to her only daughter. She often told my brother and me: “Be kind and good.” Her greatest diatribe on another person was “They are not kind and good.”

Being kind and good meant thinking of the other person first. Mom mailed handwritten notes and “cheer cards” to acquaintances in nursing homes or homebound. She took food for friends after hospitalizations, and she remembered birthdays. Her family was small, but she acknowledged the birthday of every distant cousin. She tried, sometimes oddly, to engage me in family history. After returning home to Florida from our honeymoon, the mail brought a wedding card from Mom and Dad. At the bottom, Mom wrote, “We buried cousin Beulah today.”

I kept the card.

Mom’s kindness resulted in lifelong friends. She was in a literary sorority, volunteer groups, church groups. She supported my father’s work and community activities. Mom led Brownie and Cub Scouts, chauffeured us, baked school cakes and cookies, and hosted slumber parties.

She was often silly and loved silly songs, poems, and stories. She colored with us, played Hide and Seek, and read from the scary Fairy Tale Anthology with the gory color pictures of ogres and trolls.

Mom was a second-grade teacher with a reading specialty degree from Indiana University. When she was pregnant with me in 1956, the Swayzee School Board retired her at mid-year. How untoward for second graders to see their teacher in a hatching jacket. She had married my dad a scant eighteen months before.

In the past four years, I’ve worked hard to channel some of Mom’s excellent attributes. As a social media user, I often know when someone has died or is ill. So, I send the card or flowers or make the call for the entire family.

I make a point to nurture my lifelong friendships. What is better than the comfort of talking with an old friend? I stay in touch with some of my mother’s friends.

Mom was always the first to suggest a party; I’d rather stay home and write. So, for my dad’s 85th birthday, I phoned my brother, and we planned a party for December. I did the invitations, and my brother took care of the photographer and the catering. After the party, I sent pictures out to family and friends, just as Mom would have. On Dad’s 50th birthday she had a surprise party for him and rented a wheelchair. She thought it was hilarious.

Mom was a good listener; I’m a terrible listener. It’s hard to hear what the other person is saying when I’m talking about myself, or talking about my writing. I am working on it; I’ve made myself more self-aware.

Two profound legacies come from Mom’s illness. Witnessing my mother’s decline, my husband and I decided now is the time for travel. We don’t know if the clock is ticking for me, or for any of us, for that matter. Since 2011, we’ve visited ten European countries. We’ve ridden in a gondola on Venice’s Grand Canal, eaten paella cooked outside in Spain, watched the Changing of the Guard in London, and viewed Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” in Amsterdam.

The second legacy is the completion of a circle I did not foresee. When I was 25, my mother was at her worst with her mental illness. I lived in Florida, hundreds of miles away from my parents in the Midwest.

On an ordinary spring day, Mom was unsuccessful in a suicide attempt. I immediately flew through the night to her side. Mom was in a medical hospital and dismissed to a psychiatric center twenty miles away. My father had a difficult time with this. During his childhood, a family member had a breakdown and was removed by force to the local jail.

It was up to me to handle the paperwork, talk to the admitting people. I worked in a hospital, and I knew the drill. It was not easy for me, either. I didn’t understand the concept of the locked facility. I hardly handled it when we left her behind in the sterile, concrete building. The metal door slammed shut and locked us out – my petite, beautiful mother left inside.

Mom got better. Before she died, she enjoyed watching her grandsons grow up until dementia stole her memories.

I lost my long-time job in 2009, and when faced with the rotten economy and lack of employment, I freelanced for five years. This gave me more time to help my father with mom.

The economy improved. I needed full-time work. In February 2014, I started working at a psychiatric hospital and addiction treatment center.

This is mom’s last legacy to me: when a family member picks up that phone and calls my office for the first time and asks for help for their loved one, I feel their pain. I have great empathy for the patients we serve. Our facility is beautiful and has amazing therapists. I wish Mom could have benefited from it.

Once in a while now, someone I’ve known all my life will say to me, “That’s something your mom would do.” Nothing pleases me more.

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Jul 062016

Sunset, Seagrove Beach, FL, 2005

July 6, 2016 — Over the weekend, we watched a TV show that features people hunting for a perfect private island. A couple, Larry and Lubya, toured three islands near Fiji, with a realtor.  Each island had fantastic views. Who can imagine purchasing an island for several million dollars? No wonder these shows are popular; most of us probably fantasize along with the couple about our private island.

Something the male half of the couple said stuck in my mind as he pondered an island with great views.

“You can put your lawn chair toward the sunrise, and turn it around for the sunset.”

Well, duh.  I’ve thought about it ever since. The sun rises everywhere, and the sun sets everywhere.  You can put your lawn chair toward the sunrise, and turn it around for the sunset in Thailand or Abilene, Texas.  While there may not be the Pacific Ocean spread out before you, there are amazing, wonderful surprises all over the world.  It’s just a matter of perspective.

While I’ll never see a sunrise or sunset in Fiji, I’ve viewed beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

I’ve been blessed all my life to enjoy sunsets such as the one pictured above in my beloved Florida. I prefer the moments just after the yellow orb dips into the horizon, and colors up and down the spectrum glitter across the water.

Sunset in my backyard is amazing almost every evening.  Deer like to traverse our yard from the neighboring woods to travel to the lake across the street. We’ve seen as many as seven in the dim, amber light after sunset. To be honest, I’ve not seen that many sunrises in my life, but one stands out. If I never saw another, this morning on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon would fill my soul with enough joy to last a lifetime. We stayed at the Grand Canyon Lodge and got up early (not usual for us) and walked to an area where a large, wooden cross stood against a view to the east.  Seeing the sun rise over the canyon with the cross in the foreground lacks appropriate words or pictures to describe its magnificence. The sunrise view was a once-in-a-lifetime, take-your-breath-away experience. If this scene had a score, it would be “How Great Thou Art.”

Not all our days are beach days or sunrises over a sublime slice of the earth.  But, we have been given a gift; we can “move our lawn chairs” either way and catch the sunrise or sunset, wherever we are. The day after my mother died, the sun rose as it always does. The day my son was diagnosed with autism, the sun set.

Move your  Adirondack or camping seat or cushioned wicker couch often and take in the beauty around you. It’s a matter of perspective.

May 142016

Snow White 5May 14, 2016 — Yes, it’s me, Snow White. Do you remember I won an Oscar in 1939? Child star Shirley Temple presented Walt Disney a special Oscar for his first film-length animated feature “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”   Seven small duplicate Oscars accompanied the larger one. The diminutive Oscars were for my dear friends and former roommates,  Happy, Dopey, Grumpy, Sleepy, Doc, Sneezy, and Bashful.

I am the very same Snow White, who starred as a maiden in the Oscar-winning film nearly 80 years ago.

You probably wonder what has happened to my compatriots and me.

Someday my Prince will come.  I found my Prince Charming at the end of the film. We had a wonderful life together. He swept me off my feet,  out of the woods, and into the high rent district. We lived in his paternal grandmother’s castle. His family is noted for longevity.  His grandmother the Queen, his grandfather the Duke, and his father are still alive. His grandmother turned ninety this year. Pity the poor fool who has to wait that long to be king.

I’m no longer living in the castle. My dear one died in an unfortunate accident in the equestrian competition at the 1960 summer Olympics. Charming’s skill as a calvary officer was well known. However,  his dressage horse Hoof Hearted didn’t get the email and threw Charming over a fence. My beloved met an untimely and unfortunate death.

My children (Barry and Vanna) and I initially moved in with my sister Betty.  Our arrangement didn’t last. Betty’s house was overrun with dogs. The children developed severe allergies.

Barry left us a decade ago and is with his father.  Vanna has an excellent, well-paying job. She helps me as much as she can. But, I can’t live with my daughter. Her great room features a huge alphabet board, and worse,  a  shiny, lighted, neon wheel looms over the house and makes noise.

I took a day job at a hospital, and this week we celebrated National Hospital Week. I love my co-workers, so I decided to surprise them and dress in my costume from my first and only movie.

Can you believe that’s a wig in the picture?  Snow White has snow white hair now. I was pleased to find a plus-sized costume on Amazon. Snow may have put on a few pounds since the movie. So, I look like a tugboat in my Princess costume. The film was a long time ago. You should see my former roommates; they’ve gone to pot. Sleepy has marks on his face from staying in bed most of the time. Bashful is whacked out from taking pills for 80 years for Social Anxiety Disorder.

Heigh Ho. Heigh Ho. Where did the heck those boys go? The word dwarf is now politically incorrect, so I’ll just refer to them as little people. Only five of them are alive.  Due to climate change, Sneezy’s allergies worsened, and the little fellow succumbed to COPD years ago.

Doc ripped out my heart. I’m sad to report he committed suicide. His reimbursement rate from Medicare and Medicaid dipped so low he couldn’t pay his overhead. And don’t mention those three ex-wives.

Dopey always enjoyed working with people with his “sales personality.” He’s now the Midwestern Director for the Donald J. Trump Campaign for President.

The other four had difficulty finding work and moved to China where they got work as Internet trolls.  We hear Grumpy has a lead on some of Hillary Clinton’s emails.

My grandchildren don’t know about my fame. They see me as a white-haired little old lady who works in a hospital, wears Alfred Dunner, and likes to listen to Tommy Dorsey. Perhaps some things are better left in the past.

Apple, anyone?

May 012016

HEALTH May 2016 © Senior Wire News Service

A Healthy Age By Amy Abbott

Make your bathroom as comfortable as possible, for quality time on your throne. Bring your phone, a good book, tablet, and your drinking glass. Use a straw; it makes the medicine go down as Mary Poppins said, even if it is not “in the most delightful way.”

Colonoscopy is a frightening word. Can you imagine anyone delighting in this invasive test that requires abstaining from certain foods, an uncomfortable lead-up, and then the ultimate home invasion?

Following your doctor’s instructions and smart, thoughtful preparation, will make this awkward test more comfortable, and ultimately, successful.

A colonoscopy, according to the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, allows your physician to check the lining of your colon (large intestine) for abnormalities by inserting a non-rigid tube into your anus and moving it slowly into the rectum and colon. The scope is flexible, making the procedure more comfortable than the rigid scope for a sigmoidoscopy. The flexible scope also offers gastroenterologists an up-close view of colon mucosa, seeing potential problems more clearly.

There are many reasons you may need a colonoscopy, including screening for colorectal cancer. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) of the Centers for Disease Control recommends screening for colorectal cancer using high-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy beginning at age 50 and continuing until age 75.

With no family history or problem that shows up on a test, your physician may retest you every ten years. Polyps or more serious issues may necessitate screening at five-year intervals or less, depending on the problem.

You have your orders. You will report to the gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy in a few weeks. The office asked you to stop by and pick up instructions as well as strange-looking liquids or pills or powders. This is no tea party. In the past decade, improvements from easier prep to imaging enhancements and more tolerable sedation (for most people) have made the colonoscopy a little less dreaded.


What to Expect

A week or two before testing:

  • Some physicians may stop aspirin, to reduce bleeding in case of a polyp removal.
  • Don’t stop any medications on your own. Check with the prescribing doctor or the gastroenterologist. They will make a decision based on your other health conditions.
  • Some physicians may advise you to stop eating salads or red meat a week or days before the test.

The day before the prep:

  • Have transportation in place. Most offices won’t let you drive after the procedure.
  • The Cancer Alliance recommends eating a large breakfast, small lunch, and tiny dinner. They suggest this will make the prep easier.

The day of the prep:

  • Plan your strategy. Reread the written instructions from the gastroenterologist.
  • Mix your concoction with a flavored drink such as Crystal Lite (I prefer to use a flavor I do not normally like, to avoid a later taste flashback.) Go-Lytely™, the strangely named concoction, is still around, but there are other preparations. Miralax™ has a delightful ambiance with Gatorade if that is your doctor’s chosen prep. If given pills, you must drink the required amount of water.Use cold, almost iced water. It’s not a good idea to start the prep unless you are completely prepared to enjoy it sitting down – preps react differently on different people. You may be one that finds it immediately effective.
  • Make your bathroom as comfortable as possible, for quality time on your throne. Bring your phone, a good book, tablet, and your drinking glass. Use a straw; it makes the medicine go down as Mary Poppins said, even if it is not “in the most delightful way.”

During the prep:

  • Frankly, your bottom will be sore. Have baby wipes or diaper rash ointment available.
  • Ask family members to eat away from home. The smell of lasagna while you are on the throne might drive you to drink something other than the prep.
  • The cleaner your colon at test time, the better the test.
  • After the prep, go to bed and get a good night’s rest.

The big day:

  • The test may be anticlimactic after the prep. Procedures take about 30 minutes.
  • Guidelines for this test recommend that physicians take at least six minutes to examine the colon as they withdraw the scope. The “New York Times” reported physicians who take six minutes or longer find more precancerous polyps.
  • On my most recent test, I was given a photograph taken during my procedure. Ask for written test results.
  • You’ll be groggy and probably tired whether or not you had anesthesia. You’ll get sprung into the arms of your loved one several hours after waiting up, hopefully with a good report.

After the test:

The American Cancer Society recommends you ease back into your normal diet. If you experience a high fever, loose or bloody stools, severe abdominal pain, or difficulty in urination, call your doctor.

While most of us would rather go to the beach, a colonoscopy can discover polyps before they become cancerous. Colon cancer is the second leading cancer killer. Many colon cancers are stopped if testing is early and often.

Find my books and columns at

May 012016

HEALTH May 2016 © Senior Wire News Service

A Healthy Age By Amy Abbott

 While we do not know the events that led up to Duke’s illness, medicine tells us that sepsis is of particular risk to older adults. Many of us have compromised immune systems from other disease states. We may not recognize the symptoms.

When television icon Patty Duke died in late March at 69, shocked fans learned her death was caused by sepsis of the intestine. Anyone born in the Eisenhower or Truman administrations grew up watching the iconic star of stage and screen who later became a mental health activist.

From Child Star to Activist

At 16, Duke was the youngest Oscar winner for her 1963 portrayal of Helen Keller aside Anne Bancroft in the film The Miracle Worker. Duke originated the role on Broadway from 1959 to 1961 with Bancroft as teacher Anne Sullivan. Duke also won a Golden Globe for her performance. (Tatum O’Neal stole Duke’s youngest Academy Award winner crown with her honor for Paper Moon in 1973.)

For baby boomers, the characters and theme song of “The Patty Duke Show” still ring in our heads 50 years later. Duke played twins, Patty and Cathy (“when cousins are two of a kind” proclaimed the catchy tune). Patty was frequently in trouble; while Cathy, her cousin from England, was more refined. The show, naturally in black and white, was hokey and we loved it.

The ABC sitcom ran for three seasons and netted Duke an Emmy. For a brief time in 1965, Duke’s pop hit “Don’t Just Stand There” held in the Top Ten hits.

Duke had a long television and film career, with other notables such as Valley of the Dolls, and a turnabout role in a remake of The Miracle Worker as Anne Sullivan in 1979. She won another Emmy for her interpretation of Helen Keller’s acclaimed teacher.

Behind the screen, Duke served as president of the Screen Actors Guild and was a prolific writer. In her 1987 autobiography Call Me Anna, Duke detailed her tumultuous childhood and lifetime battles with bipolar disorder.

Thirty years ago, the discussion of mental illness was not as open or frank as it is today. Duke was ahead of her time with her willingness to discuss a difficult childhood and struggles with mental illness. A second book A Brilliant Madness Living with Maniac Depression Illness, was published in the 1990s.

Duke had three sons and was married to former drill sergeant Michael Pearce at the time of her death. Her former husband and father of two of her sons (one by adoption) was John Astin, an actor noted for his role as Gomez in the television show “The Addams Family.

An Untimely Death by a Lurking Killer

Not yet 70, Duke died at her Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, home of sepsis from a ruptured intestine, according to her online biography. The Mayo Clinic defines sepsis as a “potentially life-threatening complication of an infection. Sepsis occurs when chemicals released into the bloodstream to fight infection trigger inflammation responses throughout the body. This inflammation can trigger changes that may damage multiple organs. Mayo reports that if the disease progresses to “septic shock,” blood pressure may plummet and death may be the result.

While we do not know the events that led up to Duke’s illness, medicine tells us that sepsis is of particular risk to older adults. Many of us have compromised immune systems from other disease states. We may not recognize the symptoms.

Because of her celebrity, the news of Duke’s death by sepsis may increase awareness among seniors. Cleveland, Ohio, NBC-affiliate WKYC reported that Google searches on sepsis increased 800 percent after Duke’s death.

The Sepsis Alliance organization was featured in multiple venues on March 30, the day after Duke’s death as awareness jumped across the country. The article highlighted symptoms that everyone (and especially seniors or those with compromised immune systems) should know. The signs of sepsis are outlined in a fact sheet on the Center for Disease Control website.

S – Shivering, fever, or feeling very cold

E – Extreme pain or general discomfort, as in “worst ever.”

P – Pale or discolored skin

S – Sleepy, difficult to wake up or confused

I – “I feel like I might die.”

S – Shortness of breath

These symptoms together seem grim, but someone with a painful bowel or frequent asthma attacks or another kind of compromised immune system may miss symptoms. Your mindfulness to these symptoms in your own or a loved one’s life may help you avoid the tragedy of an early death, like Duke’s.

Find my books and columns at

Apr 222016
Courtesy Erma Bombeck Archives, University of Dayton

Courtesy Erma Bombeck Archives, University of Dayton

Twenty years ago today Erma Bombeck died at 69 of complications from a kidney transplant. Bombeck, a native of Dayton, Ohio, rose to fame as a newspaper columnist, author, and ultimately, regular guest on “Good Morning, America.”  At her peak, she wrote three columns a week for 900 newspapers. She never won a Pulitzer prize and didn’t make it off the then-Women’s Pages.

Her legacy endures today among a new generation of women, and some men, writers, mothers, fathers, and humorists.

The University of Dayton holds Bombeck’s papers and established the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop. I was fortunate to attend the biennial workshop in March 2016. It was much more than a writer’s workshop.  The three-day event was a tribute to Bombeck and her family, as well as a “hands-on” workshop with A-list speakers, writers, and humorists, including Roy Blount, Jr., Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff, Leighann Lord, Alan Zweibel, Amy Ephron and Gina Barreca.

Every day when participants entered the conference center, we were greeted with one of Erma’s old IBM Selectric typewriters. For writers who “composed at the typewriter” on machines like this one and their non-electric predecessors, seeing Erma’s typewriter was magical.

Photo by author, University of Dayton, March 2016

Photo by author, University of Dayton, March 2016″composed at the typewriter” on machines

Why does Erma Bombeck matter today?

My mother read Erma’s “At Wit’s End” newspaper column and all of her books. Like millions of other women, Mom clipped out her favorites and stuck them on the refrigerator. She frequently chased me around the house to read a portion of Erma’s column. Mom, who had a silly streak and an excellent sense of humor, often quoted Erma.

Erma’s writing is ordinary, yet extraordinary. It takes tremendous skill to garner laughter and tears from the same anecdote. Her work is timeless and accessible. In a strange way, my discovery of Erma in my fifties is a link to my late mother, as well as further understanding of her life. All three Bombeck children, Betsy, Andrew, and Matt,  also Boomers,  attended the conference. and I imagine it was beautiful and terrible for them at the same time. Workshop attendees loved their mother, and none of them knew her personally. But, we all knew her, her home, her longings, her view of the world. She spoke for the generation of our mothers.

When I was an adolescent and starting writing, the last person I wanted to emulate was Erma Bombeck.  She’s a housewife, for heaven’s sake. I didn’t then have much appreciation for the love and sacrifice my mother — also, college educated like Erma — had for my brother and me.  No, I wanted to be Joan Didion or Judith Viorst or Gloria Steinem.

Bombeck 2

Courtesy Erma Bombeck Archives, University of Dayton

My first job involved all writing, the second job less writing, and more administration, and soon I was in management with little creativity. I managed an advertising agency account, but my “hands-on” days were over. I still yearned to write.  Multiple life transitions gave me that opportunity in 2009.  I started writing again and haven’t stopped since. Interestingly, my life was less like Gloria Steinem’s and more like Erma Bombeck’s.

As is the case for many female Baby Boomer humor writers, people tell me sometimes I remind them of Erma Bombeck.  I’ll never be Erma Bombeck, but I’m okay to stand in a sliver of her reflected glory. I’ve been privileged to have several of my pieces published on the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop site (click here).  I also had the honor to interview on of the Bombeck (adult) children for a Senior Wire News Service piece.

Erma Bombeck quotes from “Brainy Quotes.”

The only reason I would take up jogging is so that I could hear heavy breathing again.
When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’.
My kids always perceived the bathroom as a place where you wait it out until all the groceries are unloaded from the car.

Rest in Peace, dear Erma.

Apr 212016

Aging brings expected and sudden losses. I think it’s in the contract, and we can’t do anything about it. From early on, we know none of us is getting out of here alive.  And the longer we survive, the more reminders we get of how precarious and fragile our earthly bonds are.

We lose dear ones,  family and friends, acquaintances and co-workers, and beloved pets. With each birthday, our list of those losses grows exponentially. My father, at eighty-five, spends much time at wakes, memorial services, and funerals. Often, on our daily phone conversations, he’ll tell me about someone who has passed.

The irony of life with much love is the continued burden of much loss.

Here’s the thing: loss is difficult to write or talk about. Nothing is more personal. How one person deals with a tragedy may be completely different for another person in that same circumstance. Or what one calls a tragedy, another may see it differently. Our job is not to judge, but to provide comfort.

When my maternal grandmother died, I was devastated. Now, I know I was fortunate to know three of my four grandparents until adulthood. My maternal grandmother, though ill with dementia, held my child when he was an infant. When my grandmother Enz died, I was 37. My husband was 25 when he lost his father. I feel guilty about grieving my second-generation loss, but I know that a loss is a loss.

When I was younger, and someone I cared for had a loss or was in trouble, my immediate reaction was to swoop in and try to solve the problem. I now call this “The Big Gesture.”  Now, I’m aware of how little I can do. I’ve climbed onto the moving sidewalk of people who bring food and keep my mouth shut.

What people want are your arms around their shoulders, your touch, your tears, and your open ears to hear them. And not much else. Most individuals who love you will tell you what they need. You must respect their wishes, and understand what they are saying, with words and without. And, a Dutch apple pie can’t hurt.

Our family lost a friend this week. It will happen again. I hear the voice of God calling my name loud and clear. She is saying, “Amy, focus on what is important. Time is short.”

Though I love the sound of my voice, I’m ending this piece with today’s Facebook post from my cousin Bob Montgomery.  He is a wise man. God bless you, Bob.

I learned to smell Lilacs. Seems funny that I would have to “learn” how to smell them, but that is the best way to describe it. On April 21, 2003 (13 years ago today) I had quadruple bypass open heart surgery. I spent the next 10 days in the hospital dealing with complications. On the day I came home I remember the sun was shining and when I got out of the car I smelled a sweet, citrusy, almost like heaven scent. When I asked what the smell was I learned it was from the lilac bush in my own yard. It had been there for years, but until that day in 2003 I had not smelled it. The scent from the lilacs were such a contrast to the hospital smells; those sanitary smells of death and despair that I experienced over the previous 10 days. Maybe I had just always been in such a hurry that I never noticed the smells from nature around me. Maybe a lot of us get caught up in day-to-day issues so that we don’t notice the smell of heaven around us. If that is the case, then today is a good day to slow down and enjoy the beauty and smells around us. I think I will grab a cup of coffee and sit on the patio to smell the virburnum and be thankful. — Bob Montgomery, Plainfield, Indiana, April 21, 2016

Apr 162016

April 16, 2016 — My husband is the Love of My Life. But high on the list is coffee.

I love coffee. I love everything about coffee. I love the smell of coffee. I love the feel of coffee on my tongue. I love the sound our coffeemaker makes as the fresh brew gurgles through the filter. I love the sight of my familiar pink and green mug filled to the brim with the sublime medium-roast.  I love the taste of rich, full-bodied coffee, black with no irritating powders or creams.

Most important, I love the things that coffee does for me. Coffee helps me in ways I beyond my ability to spell them out. Here are a few: coffee gets me up and going.  Coffee kills the morning troll that’s been hiding under my side of the bed since I got up to use the bathroom at 2 a.m. The troll that wants to throw a rock at Wretched Morning Breath Spouse when he speaks nicely to the cat before the sun is up.  That troll that makes me swear every day that I’ll never watch “The Today Show” again if Matt and Savannah don’t stop being so effing chipper. The troll that makes me hate every other human being on the planet.  Dr. Phil (and what does he know?) says that the first 15 minutes in the morning are key to a couple’s long-term happiness.

Really?  Before I have my coffee, I would like to clean Dr. Phil’s molars with a rusty meat hook.

Coffee provides the routine I need in my life.  I’m not talking about connecting with my Android calendar.  If I drink my coffee, as  I normally do, between 8 and 8:30 .m., life is glorious and joyous at 9:30 a.m.  Butterflies, Unicorns and fairies appear, and life is good.

We don’t even want to think about what happens when The Editorial We doesn’t get coffee until, say, 10 a.m.  Bad, bad things happen. The earth stops revolving around the sun.

We’re ending a long week. I had four days of meetings either at 7:30 a.m. or 8 a.m.  I am not a morning person, despite my mother telling me every day of my childhood that I would magically turn into one someday.  Mom, you’ve been dead for four years.  I’m almost 59 years old.  Never going to happen.

We slept in late today, and I nearly killed the Love of My Life when he made goo-goo eyes at our ancient cat and asked him, “Are you my baby kitty?”

No, he is not your baby kitty. He is eighteen years old and just had diarrhea and threw up in my bathroom.

The cat would probably do a whole lot better if he just drank some coffee with his fish crunchies in the morning.

Crossposted at BlogHer.

Apr 132016


Can a new TV movie be instructive to the generations of working men and women about our still unresolved issues of who we choose to believe in situations where one party has more perceived power than another?

“A high-tech lynching for uppity blacks.”  That’s how then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas referred to the sessions with Anita Hill at his 1991 confirmation hearings.

With the release Confirmationa new movie about the Thomas hearings, the water cooler talk begins again about Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment against Thomas and whether the facts surrounding what some perceived at the time as a ‘he said, she said’ dispute will actually see more light  as the federal government’s dismissal of women’s sexual harassment experiences in the workplace.

Given  it’s been 25 years since Thomas was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice, surely some will ask, “Should anyone care today?” For me, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

A quarter of a century ago, I was 34. I had been in my work life for 11 years and was a middle manager in a small hospital. I was a wife and a new mother. Sexual harassment in the workplace was (and still is) as old as work itself, but we didn’t talk about it much.  Organizations didn’t have anonymous hotlines, or webinars and workshops on what sexual harassment was. As a country club waitress in 1979, my co-workers and I felt the hot breath of our disgusting manager on our necks, often in the linen closet. I quit that job as did most of my co-workers. That was a college summer job for me, and the stakes weren’t that high. At least not at that point in my work life.

But for Anita Hill in 1991, she put everything on the line.

Hill, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma, got her Warholian “15 minutes of fame” at the Thomas hearings when  called to testify that he had been sexually harassed her at a former job when she worked for Thomas at both the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

We all know the ending.  Thomas was confirmed and has been a sitting, albeit mostly quiet, Justice for a quarter of a century.  Though virtually silent at all oral arguments since his confirmation, his vote on many issues including cases like Bush v. Gore and Citizens United, has been loud and clear.

Anita Hill went back to the University of Oklahoma to teach law, eventually becoming a professor at Brandeis University.

Here’s the back story:  In 1991, Justice Thurgood Marshall stepped down from the court.  Marshall was the first African-American jurist appointed to the court and was a leading civil rights voice for nearly a quarter of a century.  President George H.W. Bush, wanting to appoint a replacement who was more conservative than Marshall, chose federal judge Clarence Thomas, a 43-year-old African-American from Georgia.

According to a white paper from George Mason University:

President Bush’s nomination of Clarence Thomas was instantly controversial. Many African-American and Civil Rights organizations including: the NAACP, the National Bar Association, and the Urban League, opposed the Thomas nomination. These organizations feared that Thomas’s conservative stance on issues such as Affirmative Action would reverse the Civil Rights gains that Justice Marshall had fought so hard to achieve. Women’s groups including the National Organization for Women were equally concerned that Clarence Thomas, if appointed to the high court, would rule against legal abortion. The legal community also voiced apprehension about Thomas’s clear lack of experience since he had only served two years as a federal judge.

Despite the initial controversy, the Judiciary Committee hearings were uneventful. The Judiciary Committee vote was an even seven to seven, and the nomination passed on to the full Senate without a recommendation.

That’s when the real excitement started, in front of the larger Senate committee.  Leading the hearings was then-Delaware Senator Joseph Biden (D).  At the time, my husband, son, and I were driving cross country and listened to the hearings on NPR. There was no satellite radio in those days, just eight hours of driving and eight hours of testimony.  Hill accused Thomas of harassing her at the EEOC “with inappropriate discussions of sexual acts and pornographic films after she rebuffed his invitations to date him.”

Hill’s testimony and the questioning were quite graphic. In the end, the Senate voted 52-48 to confirm Thomas as associate justice of the Supreme Court. Senator Biden had a role that seems unlikely today, but will haunt him forever. He disallowed other witnesses – witnesses who were women –  who would have corroborated Hill’s testimony against Thomas.

Thomas won. Hill and millions of women across America lost.  Changes did grow out of that time. There were no women on the Judiciary Committee at that point.  Shortly after the Thomas hearings, Senator Diane Feinstein (D-California) was elected and today serves along with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota.)  There are still no Republican women on the committee.

For me, those hearings and the outcome left questions that remain today:

– Why did Biden, the champion of the downtrodden, not allow further testimony that would have eliminated the “he said, she said” battle?

– If what Hill said wasn’t true, why did she put herself in the grilling, national spotlight and become an asterisk in history? ( I realize that she was called to testify, and I’m not suggesting she lied under oath, but it is baffling to me.)

– Why did people believe Thomas over Hill, considering the specific and graphic evidence she offered?

– Why are some of the same politicians who supported Thomas dissing the current nominee, Merrick Garland?

Hill has made peace with her role in history and recently talked with the Today Show about it. She said, “I think what we have to do … is to understand why my testimony and my experience — why that was so important to the integrity of the Court, and why it spoke directly to the character of the nominee at the time.”

And aside from the what that episode said about the Court and the character of a judicial nominee, what does this history say about how women were treated then – and now – when making allegations of sexual harassment against powerful men? And can a new TV movie be instructive to the generations of working men and women about our still unresolved issues of who we choose to believe in situations where one party has more perceived power than another? And will it shed new light on facts that should have been taken more seriously when Hill was trying to get the nation to see what really happened then to women in the workplace?

 Posted on The Broad Side, April 13, 2016

Amy Abbott is a syndicated columnist with Senior Wire News Service and occasionally contributes to The Broad Side.

Apr 072016

HEALTH April 2016 Senior Wire News Service

A Healthy Age

By Amy Abbott

But the familiar traditions – embalming the body or cremation – are transitioning as awareness of the environmental cost of modern cremation, embalming, and burial increases. While dying is a constant, the way we handle death is changing.

* * *

You do not need to hire a funeral home to care for your deceased loved one. Forty-two states allow family members to handle the entire process, including filling out death certificates and burial permits.

Many of us have purchased funeral and burial services for loved ones. We are familiar with shopping in a dimly-lighted room where spotlights cast yellow beams on rich wooden caskets and gleaming vaults.

But the familiar traditions – embalming the body or cremation – are transitioning as awareness of the environmental cost of modern cremation, embalming, and burial increases. While dying is a constant, the way we handle death is changing.

  • In Indiana, Abbey Caskets sells the monastic casket, a traditional European-style box often used without a vault. Modeled after the traditional monk’s caskets from the St. Meinrad Archabbey nearby, the caskets are handmade by local craftsmen.
  • A Saskatchewan, Canada, funeral home offers a water cremation process, using lye and water to break down the body. The National Post said the process of “alkaline hydrolysis” or water cremation doesn’t involve embalming chemicals that may leach into the ground. Many Canadians like the idea of a water cremation, though the family of a man with a fear of drowning deferred to the standard fire cremation.
  • A Swedish biologist spent 20 years developing an elaborate decomposition system that freeze dries a body, which eventually turns to dust. Moreover, for the ultimate in returning to the earth, the dust is filtered for toxic chemicals like mercury and heavy metals and placed into a pod made of potatoes or corn starch. Grist magazine reports the pod is buried close to the ground surface. Relatives can plant a tree or place a memorial above the pod, which then literally returns your body to the earth in full, unfettered fashion, no chemicals to stave off decomposition.

For generations, families kept dead relatives in the home, in the family parlor, and then buried them in the family cemetery. After the Civil War, many Americans stopped using their home as a funeral parlor, and the local funeral home became a centerpiece in many communities. The funeral industry grew as we purchased elaborate wooden or metal caskets, embalming services, and vaults that delayed inevitable decomposition and kept water from the body.

Embalming is popular in the United States and Canada, and while not required by law, is often done to preserve the body for viewing. Embalming only delays decomposition, which is the natural process of returning the body “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” as the Old Testament describes.

Cremation has gained favor, in part because families today are nomadic. Adult children often move far away from their place of birth; older adults retire to warmer climates. The cost of moving a body from one part of the country to another is expensive. Reducing a body to ashes that can be moved in an urn seems a likely solution.

According to the Cremation Society, in 1999 only about 25% of Americans opted for cremation. In 2013, the last year complete data was available, the U.S. cremation rate was 45.3%. By 2018, the U.S. cremation rate is projected to reach 50.6%.

More individuals are concerned with the energy used for cremation. The Peaceful Return site, devoted to information about burial, notes cremation systems may use between 1.2 and 2.2 million BTUs (British Thermal Units) per hour. One gallon of gasoline provides 124,000 BTUs, so cremation uses precious fossil fuels. Cremation can also release 540 pounds of carbon dioxide into the environment, according to the Funeral Consumers Alliance of California. shared some facts about death services you may not know.

  1. You do not need to hire a funeral home to care for your deceased loved one. Forty-two states allow family members to handle the entire process, including filling out death certificates and burial permits.
  2. The law does not require embalming for the first 24 hours, and the process of embalming may create a health hazard by exposing embalmers to toxic chemicals. The site noted, “A dead body is less of a threat to public health than a live one that is coughing and breathing.” Refrigeration is, however, suggested.
  3. Caskets do not protect a body from decomposition. Likewise, vaults do not preserve a body and are not required by law. Most cemeteries, however, require vaults so the ground does not sink.
  4. Cremains are not like sand, but more like pulverized seashells, and can be legally scattered on private property.

Regardless of the choices we make in life about death; we can do our children a favor by making those wishes known in writing and putting aside funds to cover final expenses. Nothing will ease the pain of loss, but planning and pre-payment can eliminate some frustrations.


Apr 072016

HEALTH April 2016 Senior Wire News Service

A Healthy Age

By Amy Abbott

 What are some of the ways the healthcare system is addressing these shortages and how can you get the care you need? It’s a mishmash, but here are four approaches: telemedicine, retail clinics and urgent care centers, mid-level providers, and delayed retirement.

Whether your aching knee needs an orthopod or your grim outlook needs a psychiatrist, we seniors are finding it nearly impossible to see specialists on a timely basis. And since we’re one of the biggest users of health care, it’s a problem.

A major study released by the Association of American Medical Colleges examined the physician shortage and projected how it will evolve through 2025.

  • Physician supply will increase, but demand will outpace supply.
  • The Affordable Care Act will add up to 2 percent demand.
  • In 2025, the demand for physicians will outpace supply by a range of 46,000 to 90,000.
  • The shortages will, however, vary by specialty. For example, there may be a shortage of between 12,500 and 31,000 primary care physicians. Specialists are worse. The shortfall may be between 28, 200 and 63,700 non-primary care physicians.

The study noted that because physician training can take up to a decade, a shortage in 2025 needs to be addressed now.

What are some of the ways the healthcare system is addressing these shortages and how can you get the care you need? It’s a mishmash, but here are four approaches: telemedicine, retail clinics and urgent care centers, mid-level providers, and delayed retirement.

  • Telemedicine. Telemedicine may be the new buzzword in health care. Originally started in rural areas, the Chicago Tribune reported in February 2016 about 800,000 remote visits happened in urban areas this year. Patients like the idea of not traveling to another city for care; physicians like the idea of a reduced overhead and more time with patients.Some physicians add telemedicine to their practice while others solely practice telemedicine. If you are still employed you may have access to a medical professional for low-level problems via a telephone system as part of your employer-provided health insurance program. The Tribune also noted that state parity laws require coverage for telemedicine via private insurers that are comparable to office visits. The number of states with parity laws has tripled recently.
  • Retail Clinics and Urgent Care Centers. You can’t throw a rock without hitting one of the new retail clinics. They are popping up in every corner drug store and Big Box retailer. Urgent care clinics have been part of the landscape for some time now. Seniors who don’t like waiting in an office may enjoy the convenience of getting a flu shot before buying the weekly groceries.The Convenient Care Association reported more than 20 million patients were served by retail clinics. The Chicago Tribune noted 1,800 retail clinics in 40 states and the District of Columbia – and the numbers keep growing. Retail clinics offer basic care, from flu shots to urinary tract infections and bronchitis. Retail clinics are not for serious health conditions.Nearly 10,000 urgent care centers are available throughout the states. These centers initially opened to offset the crowding and wait times of emergency rooms. You will generally find a physician on staff at each center, unlike the retail clinics which may use mid-level providers.
  • Mid-level providers. You’ll find mid-level providers at nearly every level of care.
    Advanced nurse practitioners have a degree beyond the registered nurse, and physicians assistants have 26 months of medical training, and 2,000 hours of supervised clinical practice.Nurse practitioners can operate an independent practice while physicians assistants must do so under the supervision of a doctor. Nurse practitioners have been around for half a century, but today take on a greater role in providing care. They can practice independently in 19 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Delayed retirement. While some articles suggest that physicians are delaying retirement due to the doctor shortage, I could find no significant evidence of this. In the last five or six years, many physicians delayed retirement due to the recession but didn’t claim it as related to any shortage.What I did find documented is that baby boomers want to work longer, and medical organizations are accommodating them in new ways which is having the same effect on delaying retirement. However, providers are moving to part-time or flex-time positions, many are taking on telemedicine responsibilities, or doing “shift” work in an emergency room or as a locum tenens. Roughly translated from the Latin, locum tenens means “to hold a place” and describes a type of physician who works on a temporary basis in a hospital, practice, or clinic.

The bottom line: The patchwork quilt of our healthcare system is a work in progress.  We have to control those health conditions we can control. The best use of the system is staying healthy and out of the system.

Where Have All the Doctors Gone?