A jigsaw picture

“At a standstill” is a phrase not often used these days. Probably because in todays’ frenetic lifestyles so few of us have that luxury. Of course, we retired people do have the ability and opportunity of stopping, standing still and actually smelling the roses. Even so, we often don’t, and our lives become just a little fragmented, sometimes even frenetic, especially like now, towards the end of the year.

Of course, we also know that it’s not a good idea to be still and inactive for lengthy periods; that could adversely affect our heart, our circulation, muscles, and our sagging bits! And, anyway, we need a bit of mental and physical activity to stir us up occasionally. Mind you, a few periods of peace and tranquillity are always welcome. I certainly take my fair share of that stillness and serenity because I find it hard to believe, at our age, that too much of a good thing is bad for us!

Luckily, I am still able to do my fair share of walking and other activities. And, like many of my friends I’ve learned to find solace in my singularity. Although we might at times yearn for companionship, even when walking, the exercise is certainly beneficial. It has the added bonus of imbuing a sense of tranquillity as we seek to settle our sometimes-turbulent minds.

Being part of a family is great, and it is their love that “makes the medicine go down.” But when I sometimes feel lonely there is an extraordinary comfort to be found in the company of our contemporaries, and I treasure the contact and care of my single friends with a similar mindset, many of whom are now residing in care and, while I’m still able to drive safely, I enjoy visiting them.

But, let’s face it, as I become older, I do become forgetful of many things. Even though my eyesight is good, sometimes, my old mind can recall only fragments of my earlier life. It’s as though they are different shaped pieces of a disrupted jigsaw puzzle! At present I am still able to see the whole picture on the lid of that imaginary box, despite it being a bit blurry.

And I mostly recognise those funny-shaped little pieces inside the box of my mind. However, where they all fit…well it’s not easy for me most times. How much more difficult, even impossible, it is for those folk like my late wife Dorothy with Alzheimer’s, when even the box-top view is obscured!

We are indeed privileged if we can identify all the pieces of our life’s puzzle. Maybe they are scattered and disconnected, perhaps some are neatly slotted together, or we can recognise where pieces have been lost. We are even more blessed if we can fit most of the little fragments together and enjoy a sort of overview of the whole picture.

I’m happy that I live in a country where I can still see and enjoy the blurry picture on the lid of my life-box, and I praise God for the blessing of happy memories of life’s big picture, made up of so many bits from times past.

As we approach the end of this year my wish for you, my reader, is that you will rejoice in your happy memories at Christmas time, and that your journey in the New Year will be a happy one – and that you, too, might joyously rummage through the pieces of your own personal life-puzzle!

I’m looking forward to the New Year and hope to add some more notes…. How about you subscribe? – Just scroll to the spot over there on the right and cheer me up!

The personal touch

Several of my friends and contemporaries are now living in care homes and I try to visit them when I can. Upon the transition from our own home, we often have to leave behind some of our hobbies and interests. The most ‘portable’ activity to take, wherever we are, is the ability to read – books, magazines, or newspapers. If we have sight problems, talking books are just the thing, and for most of us there’s TV with enough channels to satisfy almost anyone!

In my visits to friends in a number of care homes nearby I’ve discovered many residents are happy to just chat with others in the lounge, or over their meals. Others are less ‘sociable’, for a myriad of reasons. For newcomers in an aged care facility, it may not be easy to integrate into an established group. Finding and then establishing rapport with kindred spirits doesn’t come easily for many of us at the best of times!

And some people are not easy to talk to or befriend. They may have become withdrawn and sad because of illness or a bereavement. Others are simply garrulous and incessant talkers! Most of us will negotiate our way around relationships in all sorts of encounters. But it does take time, often patience, and always a big dose of love. Some of us are not easy to get along with, wherever we are housed, any time.

Then, as we age, the number of long friendships keeps reducing. We find it does take some effort to form a bond with younger people whose early life experiences are so radically different to people like us. Many of us will have grown up into our teen years without a telephone, perhaps only a battery-powered radio, no computers, no TV; and the milk, the bread, the ice, and the groceries were all delivered to the door! I recall my uncle retiring, years ago, from his bread delivery job, never having driven anything but his horse-drawn bread-cart.

Changes in life are constant: our families, neighbours, schools, our work, and we often move to new residences. When we were younger, we could easily make new friends during those transitions. Later, it becomes difficult, and yet critical, to maintain and develop our friendship circle as it inexorably shrinks. We are often propelled into new surroundings, new people, and places. Those changes compel us to nurture our existing relationships, and not neglect our social and hobby activities and interests.

Here’s my plan, dear reader: to continue writing, reading, and travelling, to watch quality TV and listen to fine music. They are all able to be done solo – or with others, for as long as possible!

I am always amazed and stimulated by the diversified activities of my friends; one is writing her life story, another is making greeting cards, another is an avid user of talking books, another a crossword addict, and yet others are playing scrabble or cards. Yes, in retirement, a shared activity trumps everything,

Passing time and sharing

Several of my friends are residents of care homes and I am often intrigued to discover the diversity of their hobby interests. Reading is probably the most common pastime, closely followed by TV. Some are still able to enjoy their old interests, others have devised new activities.

The most critical determinant of their choice is eyesight, or dexterity, or a range of other health or physical limitations. When the scope for interesting and challenging pursuits is reduced many find other ways to enjoy their waking time. Some discover writing memoirs and letters, or the joy of just simply chatting. Others are happily able to continue their previous interests or participate in some of the activities on offer, wherever they live.

Visiting entertainers, musicians and artists are always popular in residential care homes. I’ve seen some happy times with concerts by performers, sing-alongs, Bingo (Housie Housie), and book readings and demonstrations. And, of course, some fun times with dress-ups, theme-days and travel shows, often with staff getting into the act!

Audible books are useful to some residents, or simply listening to radio, music, or watching the huge range of travel and game shows on TV or on a computer. There’s an enormous range of interesting topics to be found on YouTube which can be watched on laptops, tablets, and TVs.

Then there are those folk, whether in care or at home, who are often able to continue or even start a new hobby. There are a surprising number of those activities, in various forms: like knitting, sewing, craft activities, cards, drawing, painting, and writing and more. Simple, cheap, or reuseable items are often creatively re-purposed by clever people with busy minds and nimble-enough hands! Most hobbies don’t need a computer or internet access, but many will need some manual dexterity – and maybe paper or materials, and a place to store them, which can be a bit restrictive in some places.

In my continued visits to my late wife’s care home, I recently met a resident who continues his photographic hobby there and regularly records some of the resident activities. But his passion is with a range of subject material – birds, plants, flowers, leaves, clouds – his mind constantly searching for creative ideas. And the beauty of it, is that he sees his results immediately, no film to process!

Not everyone can be active and creative, certainly not all the time. Whether at home or in care we can’t always continue with our loved hobby. So, it’s such a joy when we can see or feel and share the results of our own or someone else’s activities or passionate pursuits. And when that’s not possible, it can be fun sometimes to just be a listener. Who doesn’t want to reminisce sometimes!

Remembering past times is sometimes a great pastime…..

Living solo

Taking one day at time is fine, even a good idea, “sufficient unto the day”. All that sort of philosophy has its place. But living 24/7 alone, I find, is seldom easy, never even close to ideal. No way! My antidote is to get out and about, especially whilst I am still driving safely, visiting shut-in friends, most of whom are also now single, and some limited travelling, while I’m able!

In earlier times (and I mean my earlier times) single people and couples had, at best, only radio for company at home. Oh, and reading – newspapers and books were a delightful home pursuit. Also, especially for the ladies, mostly then homebodies, knitting, crochet and creative (?) cooking. The men also had their work, their pub, the wood to chop, and weekend sport. I recall a period, back in the early forties, when my estranged Mum and I went to live with my elderly uncle for a while.

Then, he had only a wood-fired stove for heating – and cooking! It was wartime, Uncle Sam’s wife had recently died, his only son was overseas fighting a war on foreign lands and my uncle was living, almost, in squalor. It was months before mum could establish a good home base for us all. Sam’s health at first was poor, exacerbated by his subsisting on a minimal diet, so we all benefitted by that move. I won’t go on about that wartime era because my older readers know it all so well. Those were certainly not the ‘good old days’ for many people, and perhaps even less so for those older folk, like Sam, living alone.

Anyway, back to my theme, living alone, today. Wow! That is so different. In this present era, one would think, with TV, dedicated support agencies, more affluence, and much higher standards of living, being alone should be a doddle. And, for the most part, and speaking about the physical aspects, that right, it’s a breeze. It’s the personal side that remains a challenge for many of us.

I am blessed with a loving, caring family who watch over me like guardian angels and they know how I love them. That should be enough, but with the best possible intentions, it’s not quite. The critical element of emotional support that many of we singles crave is often the missing piece, the intimacy of a constant partner at my side, a soulmate.

What’s the answer to this deficiency? Well, it depends, as any politician might say. Every person must find their own answer – or at least a version that suffices. Be assured (by humble me) that, with prayerful support, a satisfactory remedy is possible, if only partially. But living in the past is certainly not the solution. The best advice I can offer, as so many learned people have explained, is to live in the moment; to keep seeking to find the enjoyment of the here and now, in company or alone…….

Fit for purpose

That’s an expression you will have come across in relation to goods and services, but I couldn’t help applying it to myself as a rhetorical question: “fit for what purpose?”.  I was thinking about an answer when I reflected on my recent travel activity – one that I had not planned for myself.

A couple of months ago one of my sons unexpectedly whisked me away on a rail and bus trip in northern Queensland. That little adventure turned out to be a bit more vigorous than I would have planned but I was surprised at just how well I coped!

I was chuffed but apprehensive when he carted me off. Had I planned it myself, I probably would not have been so adventuresome, so I was a little apprehensive at first. With my son as a great companion, we set off, had a great time – and returned safely.

I had been away on a solo cruise in the past year but since most other cruisers were partnered, I found mixing difficult and I was, unsurprisingly, quite lonesome. The escapade with my son just reinforced my view that a shared experience is far superior to travelling alone.

However, a more mature person like me travelling alone needs to do a careful audit before becoming too gung-ho!! Right at the start I know that the essential travel insurance for a 90-year-old person is likely to cost more than the trip! Any travel plan needs to be carefully researched and the physical risk aspects need deep consideration. I talk to my doctor before I commit to travel plans.

As we all move along in retirement our travel objectives and capabilities both change. Certainly, the obvious attributes to consider include our mobility, mentality, fragility, and physical restrictions. When we aspire to travel alone or even as a couple, we also need to consider the timing and seasonality (not to mention the cost!).

Despite all those obligatory alert notes and appropriate health-issue cautions, we oldies should continue to think positively and creatively about breaking the tedium of our day-today existence in creative ways. Sometimes, we have to accept that reading about travel (and other things, too!) has become our limit.

Perhaps a local bus rip might be enough to disturb the cobwebs! I took a local bus to my next-door suburb recently; did a little window-shopping, had a coffee, and hopped on the bus for a return home. See, I am adventurous at the local level, too!

Having a physical health and exercise regime is vital for our fitness, but having a positive mental attitude is just as critical! Telling yourself too many times that you could not cope usually translates into a self-fulfilling reality.

So be encouraged, stretch your life’s elasticity, away somewhere or locally, and remain ‘fit for purpose’.

Traps for young players

Or, rather, traps for all players! Age is no barrier to Alzheimer’s, as many have discovered. And the effects and behaviours are very wide ranging indeed. My first glimmer of recognition of its effect on my wife was mostly disbelief. Surely, we all forget things. But back in those early days it just seemed ‘normal’ to be a bit forgetful. Alzheimer’s is more than simply forgetfulness.

Memory is, undoubtedly, the key indicator, but it’s not just that, it’s also a myriad of other variables. It was the unrelenting repetition of irrational behaviour that marked the onset of Alzheimer’s in Dorothy. My wife, the mother of our five children had always been the practical partner. I was often either away with daydreams or away on work; she was always the one devoted and dedicated to the home front. A more committed wife and mother would be hard to find.

The traffic on our road of life was always busy with little time to take shortcuts, or even detours. That journey slowly changed. Our children, one by one, married, and left home.

After I moved out of corporate life, Dorothy and I revelled in running our new venture, a small retail plant nursery. Ten years later, we finally moved into full retirement mode and did some long-deferred travel. During those latter years, our children began to see changes in their dear mum’s behaviour in unexpected ways. As I’ve mentioned in earlier narratives, I almost didn’t see that Dorothy’s frequency of forgetfulness was more than just age related.

It’s common to not recognise the onset or severity of Alzheimer’s. That’s because it most often just sneaks up on us. We are loving people – we make allowances and excuses. We compensate. We shun the increasing reality that there are perplexing, persistent problems in how we are relating to our loved one. We don’t recognise the signals.

Recognition is complicated because it manifests itself in a myriad of mixed-up messages! How we process the responses to constant ‘forgetfulness’ can sometimes cause us to be unaccountably angry, even frustrated. We don’t always see the reason why our lives are changing, and why our responses to our partner’s behaviour are changing, are different, even daunting.

If only. If only I had recognised earlier – just some of those symptoms! If only I had responded, not just with love, but had sought help to identify a reason….

If only. That was my mistake, blinded by love and ever ready to make allowances, I didn’t see it coming…. It’s a trap for young players and lovers, and especially we older ones!


Walking and talking, or just walking and thinking, and working. That sounds like a tongue-twister or maybe a misprint, but it is neither.

Sometimes being constantly present with a partner who has Alzheimer’s is really hard work. But being able to share time walking outdoors can be a superb way to ease the burden and find some quality time together.

If mobility and the weather permits, a casual walk together in a park is a wonderful way to relax. It was always a perfect way for me to make a happy and healthy connection with my late wife Dorothy. She had always loved her garden and especially in the earlier days of her diagnosis, we walked every day we could.

It was a lovely way for us to be together in a calm and relaxed way as we walked hand-in-hand in our nearby bushwalks and public reserves. Visiting shopping centres, however, was always fraught with tension and unexpected encounters. But a walk in the bush – sweet!

Sometimes we would talk a lot, sometimes hardly at all. It was easy to find a stimulus to help us enjoy shared time together. We would speak or nod acknowledgement to other walkers, enjoy looking at trees and plants, even the shape and variety of leaves, stones, and insects and especially, birds. Outdoors or indoors, we looked for an exchange of minds, if not words. Yes, a walk in the park is great therapy!

A walk in the park may not be the right stimulus to achieve an improved connection for you and your mate but it worked for us, right through our life travels. Being out in the fresh air continues to help me break free from frictions and stress – to find a closeness to nature and to be at ease.

Now, as a single silent walker, especially now in Spring, I still stop and look and smell the bush, the gardens. And I also remember all the walks we had together in our travels to so many different places for over half a century. Now that was multitasking – on whole different level….

FYI “For Your Interest”

Recently, I had cause to check my bank statement and thought about that word ‘interest’. Having an interest in something or someone else is always pleasant as long as we are not just being nosy! To have an interest in a range of activities is a positive way to maintain a good balance in our lives. The lack of interest, bank or of any kind, is a sad state of affairs.

We often use the term healthy interest, meaning both a good earning capacity and an inquisitive desire to learn more about a topic or a person.

In that personal sense, having a strong interest also seems to make a big difference to how we feel. I recently visited a friend living in a care home. My friend’s interests seemed to revolve around the quality of the meals to the exclusion of almost everything else. It took me quite a while to steer the conversation around to other topics that I knew had been so important in his earlier life. Once we started to talk about his love of singing and reading, it opened up a happy time of reminiscing and re-creating lots of happy earlier times.

I’ve noticed before how other older folk who’ve had strong interests in younger days usually enjoy talking about them; finding a sympathetic listener is usually the problem. Of course, it’s the same with me, and others like me who live alone: we all need to interact with someone, anyone, at some times. Sharing our thoughts and loves is always easy with a partner. But without a confidante, we can become morose and boring and sometimes it’s difficult to break out from that inward-looking perspective. Getting the balance right – loneliness or boring someone – isn’t always easy.

Usually, I take the easy way out, just remain isolated, then ‘stew in my own juice’. But luckily, I am also pretty inquisitive. I’m stimulated to learn how my friends are coping, so off I go and do some visiting. My own state of mind improves as I exchange greetings and we share something of our current (and maybe, past) lives. Regardless of our relevant disabilities, the mental stimulus of our being together is usually enough to activate some lively discussion and break the tedium of our separate lives!

Recently I visited another old mate in a nursing home to discover him playing bingo with a group and I was invited to join them. As we played, I was soon reacting with the other players I didn’t even know! Sharing that activity actually enlivened him, me, and all the others around us in unexpected ways.

Nothing works better at lifting my spirits than an encounter with another human being! Failing that, reading a book is useful, so is walking, or cooking or making something. But talking with another person about their exploits, their interests, and their families, is always of interest and a stimulant to me.

So, don’t fret about bank interest, just take some interest in someone else. I find it pays dividends all round!

Time of our lives

Last month seemed to fly, probably because so much happened – and it all happened so quickly. Or maybe it just seemed to fly because I’m slower, or was it because I was ‘on the go’ a lot? Time is so easily measured, but how we use it somehow affects the way we perceive it. Five minutes waiting for a bus can seem like an hour, yet five minutes reading a good yarn is over in a flash.

Having spent the last ninety years travelling on this bus of life, I can tell you it seems like that time went in the blink of an eye! Last month was busy, as usual, but the second half simply flew. The speed went up a notch when my entire family gathered for my birthday. All the family but one grandson (who is away overseas and who made a special phone call) were able to gather in Melbourne for my birthday. I am still recovering from the joy of that time we spent together to celebrate. The one other person who couldn’t be there, my dear wife Dorothy, was present in my mind and I’m sure her five children held her in their hearts, too.

It was a very special time for me to reflect on all the past years but, as I have probably said before, it’s the ‘here and now’ that we must enjoy and to live as well as we can. Looking back and reminiscing is, of course, important; it shapes us and prepares us for today and tomorrow but living fully in the moment is what I aim for. That feeling of being present was what I strove for on the night of my birthday dinner with all our family, but…I was so overcome with emotion that I could hardly even speak! I had planned a little speech to specially thank our daughter for her role in finding the venue and meal arrangements and to thank her brothers, who all had a hand in ensuring the night worked so beautifully. Didn’t work! I was struck dumb and fumbled my way through a short, ineffectual talk about ‘olden times’, not a thank-you speech! Never mind, over the preceding months, I had written a little book about my first ninety years and gave a copy to everyone; far from complete, but a little glimpse into my life that might be of interest in another few generations…

I know, from the all the happy talk and stories on the night, that we all had a fun time together. Some of our children had pieced together a slideshow of some old photos, which was great fun. And my family travelled from Queensland and northern and southern Victoria; no mean feat to assemble all our five children with their partners, their children, and their children – four generations of us. And all together and all good mates. How great is that! I love them all dearly. The tragedy is that I don’t remember now if I actually told them that on the night! I seemed to be in a trance-like state for most of the evening! The night was rounded off with a tear-jerking little chorus by our youngest grandchildren who sang a little song they had composed! It was an updated version of the one that they’d sung to Dorothy and me on my eightieth birthday. I wonder if they will be able to sing it to me again in another ten years?

I thank God for my life, my wife, our children and their loving partners, their children with their partners and children and the next generation of babies – now three, and more to come! I feel so blessed to have such a family, and I continue to pray for my friends and all who are affected by health problems, especially those whose partner is affected by Alzheimer’s, and others who are experiencing family difficulties and particularly those who are alone with no family. May you, my reader, also know the love and peace of Christian fellowship.

Wandering & wondering

The quote “Not all those who wander are lost” is from the poem “All That Glitters Is Not Gold” in Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. It simply means that just because someone likes to explore, it doesn’t mean they’re lostHaving a nomadic lifestyle doesn’t necessarily mean you are without purpose, like me as I prepare to set off to warmer climes in the next few days.

But not until I have passed four-score and ten years. Our little family (well, not so little these days!) have arranged a birthday celebration for me. We will gather from various places around this great country; a rare chance to meet up with each other – some for the first time. The youngest great grandchildren will have their introductory meeting with this old bloke, to be cuddled and enjoyed; one of the little ones will get their first ever snuggle from this dear old Great-Grandfather. Hard to believe I am still here to do that!

This gathering, where we will all sit down to a catered meal together, away from the rush and bother of our ordinary lives, will be another memorable occasion for me. And, despite the indisputable fact that my memory is gradually slipping away, it is an event that I hope will be a significant milestone for us all. It will be a chance to discover, and rediscover, each other in happy ways that will linger in our minds, forever; certainly, it will for me.

No doubt some of my extended family will have often met and spoken before and shared stories before that dinner. Despite all the social media opportunities that abound, I hope it will be extra special for them; to be together and share a meal and enjoy chattering in real time. I’m sure we will re-discover the art of face-to-face conversation hasn’t yet been lost in this techo world.

Nothing beats a good chinwag up close and personal! I hope the gathering will be a happy relaxing time, it surely will trump a funeral! The last time most of us met as one group was at my dear Dorothy’s farewell, well over two years ago. I know she would be pleased for us all to be meeting for a special birthday. My special prayer is that she will be with us in spirit, laughing and chuckling at how no one looks any older than when we last met! And what a joyful way to welcome the newest babies, even the one that’s ‘well on the way’ but not expected for a few more months!

Why did I start this story with the words about wandering? For two reasons, Firstly I knew that, once I started typing, I would begin being sentimental and loquacious. Secondly, after the party I am wandering off (again) on a little excursion. One of our sons is taking me a on a ‘Bucket list’ rail journey to northern Queensland. He’s there to make sure I don’t get lost…….still just exploring!