Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Meaning of Life

As I sit down to write this post, I am not really sure how to begin. I am not really sure what content will fill this space. I don't really know how I will bring it to a close.

I know that I want to say something that will affect people positively. I want to make a difference.

I suppose I could move on if things become difficult; if the words to fill the page elude me. But I feel that I have something to contribute and I don't think I can or should move on until I have finished the task at hand.

At Home Instead Senior Care, we believe in a culture of life. We believe in living life on your own terms and aging according to your wishes. We believe in making the most out of each and every day which has been given. That belief is what drives us to serve families the way we do. That belief brings patience and understanding to us in the midst of sometimes difficult circumstances and family dynamics. We want to make the world a better place. We believe that we have something to contribute.

Despite our commitment to life, we are never far removed from death. The conclusion of life is something we face often. In those moments, we take great comfort in the work that we did. We console each other in the knowledge that, for however brief a time we were a part of their story, we made that person's world a better place. Still, it isn't easy. Loss never is.

Throughout the many journeys we have been a part of, we have stood by as the people and families we cared for endured tragic things. We have watched people battle painful chronic conditions. We have seen people become prisoners in their own bodies due to ALS or Parkinson's. We have watched as a person stricken with Alzheimer's slowly fades until the moment they no longer recognize their own reflection in the mirror. Friends have been taken from us far too early and without any warning. In each case there is requisite separation. 'Just part of the business we're in,' we tell ourselves. But that truth is a lie. If it weren't, we wouldn't be any good at what we do.The reality is that losing people hurts. Watching people suffer hurts. Saying goodbye hurts. Death hurts.

Over the last several weeks, the media has been highlighting the story of woman in Oregon who has chosen to end her own life on November 1st rather than fight an aggressive type of brain cancer. Many have hailed her decision as brave. At first glance, I guess I can see that. After all, we believe in living life on your own terms. Shouldn't that include dictating the terms of its end?

But the more I reflect on her decision, the sadder I become. How sad that because of the suffering set before her, she believes that the best decision is to avoid the pain completely. That is and should be her right- both legally and ethically. Still I can't help but think about the innumerable ways in which my life has been blessed by those around me who have endured unimaginable difficulty. In moments of personal trial, I find myself bolstered by reflecting on their courage and bravery in facing those challenges. Those are my heroes.

There is a pervasive myth in our society that beating a disease is the same as winning. The reality is that some diseases, some conditions are still and perhaps always will be incurable. Life itself is the ultimate terminal condition. Facing death, despair is understandable. Choosing to avoid that struggle is pragmatic. Bravery, however, is rarely the reasonable choice.

Each day brings with it an opportunity to create, to share, to laugh, to love, to serve. While we may not know exactly which words will fill the page, we still choose to write because we believe that we have something to give. We are here for a reason. We have a purpose.

Sometimes we fight to win. Other times we win simply because we fight. In both instances, we affect the world around us. We make a difference.

I do not know how my individual story will end but I choose to put words on the page because I believe I have something to contribute. I am grateful for all those around me who have chosen to fight and in so doing made the world a better place.

"This is my quest, to follow that star.
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far.
To fight for the right, without question or pause
To be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause.
And the world will be better for this, that one man scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable star."
The Impossible Dream- Man of La Mancha

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"I Bake Bread" - Minnesota 114yr old Shares the Secret to Longevity

Anna Stroehr has seen a lot of changes in her life. Born in 1900, today marks her 114th birthday. An infant when President McKinley was assassinated, she cites the addition of electricity as the most significant change she has seen take place during more than a century of years on this planet. But don't let that rather predictable observation fool you into thinking that Anna isn't a modern lady.

Anna was trending at number one this morning on Twitter once news of her birthday and her fondness for social media began to hit the news outlets. Like so many teenagers one hundred years her younger, Anna had to lie in order to set up her Facebook account. Apparently, Mr.Zuckerberg didn't account for Supercentenarians wanting to participate. His setup protocol only allows you to go as far back as 100 yrs., a fact which forced Anna to lie about her age when she set her account up several years ago with the help of her 85 yr old son.

A few years back, Anna did an interview and was asked the typical range of obligatory questions. She described the secret to her long life in a two fold manner. "I bake bread," was her first explanation. Second she says "I know it was the good Lord's doing. I sure didn't do anything to deserve it."

My favorite part of the interview was when she was asked about exercise. "I never understood people walking for exercise," she said. "If a person does what they're supposed to be doing, there doesn't seem to be any need for that." Geriatric specialists at the Mayo Clinic attached big, fancy words to her recipe for long life. They say that strength training, cardio activity and being part of an active social community are the things that have helped Anna become the seventh oldest living American. Those words are as foreign to Anna as the concept of Facebook undoubtedly is to many of her 100 year old peers.

Long before the sedentary, screen-engrossed, overweight, disconnected-yet-always-connected plague swept through this nation Anna held the secret to a long and happy life. Her recipe didn't call for fancy words or expensive studies. Her holistic approach didn't even require the aid of modern medicine. Anna's secret in those days was just called "living."

After having to fake her age to get on Facebook, Anna sent a one sentence message composed on a typewriter to Mark Zuckerberg. It read simply: "I'm still here."

Happy Birthday Anna.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Overcoming The Parent/Child Dynamic

I can remember a Sunday School teacher once chiding me for being disruptive. "Stephen, God gave you two ears and only one mouth for a reason. He wanted you to listen twice as much as you speak." At the time, those words fell on deaf ears, both of 'em. However, I have found myself returning to those pearls of wisdom on many occasions throughout my life.

Many adult children approach their parents as a collection of problems to be solved. Mom needs help at home. Dad is not safe behind the wheel. Mom and Dad's finances need to be managed more carefully. The real problem is that many times we attempt to solve problems we know nothing about.

Problem: Since Dad passed away Mom lives by herself.
Solution: Mom should move in with us and live in our spare bedroom. She could spend more time with her grandkids and save some extra money.

New Problem: Mom doesn't want to move in with you. She is afraid that she will be viewed as a permanent on-site babysitter. She already raised her kids and, as much as she loves yours, doesn't want to be a mom again. She is 75 and saving money is not on the top of her list. Your dad did a great job of making sure that she would be well provided for. What would she be saving money for other than your inheritance?

Problem: Dad's eyesight isn't what it used to be and I don't feel he is safe behind the wheel.
Solution: We should take away his car keys.

New Problem: Dad's vision is fine except that he doesn't see well at night. He is terrified every time he drives but even more terrified that if he tells you then you will want to take his keys away. Rather than risk admitting his weaknesses and fears, he refuses to address what he knows is going on and becomes increasingly defensive.

Home Instead's own Mary Maxwell once quipped: "Be patient with me as I age. This is the first time I have ever been old." Aging is a new experience for everyone. There are no practice rounds. There are no take backs. The only person who knows less about aging than the person enduring it is the aging child watching it take place in the life of their loved one. Yet it is not uncommon for an adult child to jump into solving a collection of issues they know nothing about.

The 40-70 Rule is a program put together by Home Instead Senior Care to help families navigate some of these tricky conversations. The program includes a downloadable "Action Plan For Successful Aging" which covers a variety of topics important to discuss with an aging parent. Each topic is broken down using an 'Assess, Consider, Talk (ACT)' model which encourages every member of the situation to consider the aging process from a variety of different angles BEFORE talking about potential solutions.

"It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."   Mark Twain

For more information about the 40-70 Rule Program and to obtain your free Action Plan For Successful Aging visit

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

It's a Process Not An Event

Many families are willing to admit that they haven't had "the talk." Statistically, most families won't.
According to senior care professionals, 70% of family conversations about aging are prompted by an event such as a health crisis or other emergency.

I think the idea of "the talk" might be some of what keeps many families from engaging in critically important dialogue with their aging parents. "The talk" is not a single event as the term suggests but rather a series of conversations which bridge the gap between adult children and their aging parents. My parents and I have had "the talk" on a number of different occasions; each time we gain a greater understanding of each other as well as greater confidence moving forward into increasingly sensitive topics.

Home Instead Senior Care's 40-70 Rule Program is a great resource for structuring those conversations. We have suggested that when an adult child is 40 and their aging parent is 70, it is great time to begin a simple dialogue about a number of different issues. The idea of having "the talk" insinuates some sort of huge moment of discourse which can understandably be intimidating for some. What if I do it wrong? What if I mess up "the talk?"

Like so many conversations between children and their parents, the notion that we can simply breeze into each other's lives and suddenly have extremely meaningful talks about sensitive topics that we have never addressed before and then breeze back out just as quickly is asinine.

Many people ask us how to go about addressing these issues if they don't currently have a relationship with their parents. I would suggest that the resources Home Instead has made available can be a useful road map towards not only answering some important questions as your parents age but also towards naturally cultivating a meaningful relationship where one previously did not exist.

Have "the talk."

Then have it again.

For more information about Home Instead Senior Care and some of the ways we are serving families CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Build Trust, Take The Lead, Share Your Heart

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend about Home Instead Senior Care. In retrospect, I realize that he was probably just making small talk. However, I found myself holding court for almost twenty minutes about exactly what I was looking for in a caregiver.

Truly great caregivers are diamonds in the rough. They are rare, precious gems which must be mined and polished to shine at their fullest potential. Finding those beautiful people is the single most challenging aspect of what we do at Home Instead Senior Care.

Generally, I find that caregivers fall into two categories. There are those who have figured out how to make what they consider an easy buck by babysitting an old person. They will show up. They will do what is absolutely insisted upon and nothing more. They will move on whenever a situation displeases them or they get a more lucrative offer. Caregivers in this category are a dime a dozen.

And then there are the people who view the work of caregiving as a ministry. These are people who intrinsically understand the tremendous opportunity that we have at Home Instead Senior Care to touch people's lives. Perhaps because they were caregivers for a family member or maybe even needed a caregiver at one point themselves, these servant-hearted angels look at each day as an chance to make a difference.

The unfortunate reality is that there are far too many of the first group and far too few of the latter. The age wave has brought about unprecedented need for services like ours and encouraged many organizations to lower their standards in order to keep up with the increasing demand. While I am proud to say that Home Instead has in no way compromised the qualities we insist upon in our caregivers, we have had to change our strategy somewhat. The task must no longer be to find the best and disregard the rest. Our new challenge is not simply finding the best caregiver but in some instances figuring out how to create the best caregiver.

Many of the applicants who walk through our doors have great hearts and noble intentions. Yet many of them have never had the benefit of a employer who is willing to teach them the requisite skills. As the costs of employing people continue to skyrocket, many businesses expect new associates to arrive ready to work on day one. Hiring someone who must be cultivated and taught is an expense that fewer and fewer enterprises are willing to undertake.

My Home Instead Senior Care franchise works tirelessly to live out our mission of "making Home Instead a great place to be." I believe this is a goal which applies to both client and caregiver. The culture I have worked to create is one which values each individual and is willing to invest in each caregiver with whom we are blessed. It is my heartfelt desire that each of them will look back on their time as a part of our family as one of the more significant experiences of their lives; an experience which afforded them the opportunity to build trust, take the lead and share their heart.

For more information about becoming a Home Instead Senior Care caregiver CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

We Are Family

As the father of a pre-teen son, I am growing accustomed to the almost daily hormone-fueled rants that accompany life at his age. I remember rants of my own during those years. I remember trying to articulate my jumbled emotions to my bewildered parents. During the tougher seasons, I can recall the seductive thought of leaving for college. On that day, I thought, I will finally be free of these fools and can live life on my own terms. But two truths became quickly evident after I moved out of my childhood home. First, I realized that my parents weren't the fools I may have thought them to be. Second, I realized didn't want to be free of them after all.

The desire for rebellion and independence is not singular to teenage sons. It is a common theme which has driven people of all ages and genders throughout recorded history. From Adam and Eve to Lewis and Clark, we don't want someone else calling the shots. However, despite our best effort to loose the shackles of dependence and forge a path of our own we are a people designed to live in community. There is a deeper drive within us to exist in relationship to others. Nowhere is this more evident than in the bond between parent and child.

As foolish as the child seeking total separation from his parents is the notion that an aging parent and the challenges they face are insulated from affecting their adult children. While a parent and child may enjoy different stages of a relationship throughout their lives, the reality that a relationship continually exists should not be lost on either party. The issues that either go through touch the lives of the other.

As a service to the community, Home Instead Senior Care is presenting a public education campaign called "The 40-70 Rule" over the next several months. This program pinpoints the ages of 40 and 70 as being the perfect starting point for an adult child and their aging parent to begin having important discussions regarding their desires for the years to come. After having reviewed the program materials and having seen the devastation which is wrought by avoiding these sometimes difficult topics, I am excited to share these resources free of charge.

But before we get to the 'How-to's" of having tackling these issues, I think it is important to remember that none of us exist in a vacuum. There is a natural tendency for both parties to recoil from probing questions about our desires. "That's none of your business," we may be tempted to say.
Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

If my parents wish to live out their lives in the comfort of their home, that is very much my business as I will be the one ultimately coordinating the resources and assistance to make that dream a reality. As they prepare to set sail into the sunset of their lives, I must prepare to fulfill my eventual responsibilities as captain of that ship. It is therefore not only reasonable but critical that we have these conversations before the ship leaves its proverbial port.

So let us begin this journey with that one clarification.

We are in this together.

If we work together we can make both of our dreams a reality.

For more information on "The 40-70 Rule" visit

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Warning: Dangerous Children

As a parent of many sons (6 as of the writing of this blog), my life is wild adventureland of dirt and noise. The idea of a quiet home is a fantasy construct that my wife and I harbor no hope of ever enjoying. And we love it.

Having once been a rambunctious boy, I am amazed to have survived my own childhood. The very act of being a child: to challenge, to push to the limits, to see how far you can go until something (or someone) pushes back seems to bring with it the threat of almost certain death. My summer days were spent racing a red metal wagon with a box duck-taped to the top down the steepest street in the neighborhood. Eventually, a car, a speedbump, or a pothole would cause the wagon to swerve, tip over, and disintegrate on impact. The rider would then extricate himself from the wreckage, wipe the blood off of his appendages and along with his posse begin the process of looking for a new box to strap to the top of his wagon of doom in preparation of making another run. If no further boxes could be found, we would head off into the woods on our bikes in search of snakes and drainage creeks with enough water in them for a swim. It is amazing that any of us survived.

To parents of this age, the situation I just described is a nightmare of biblical proportions; children, unsupervised, careening down streets, below the eye level of any car, on wagons not constructed out of high impact-resistant plastic resin, with no visibility, risking the almost certain loss of at least a finger with every crash in what is essentially a coffin of recyclables and duck tape. Oh the humanity. Oh the sweet sweet humanity. When your pulse returns to normal and you are no longer at risk of having a stroke, I will tell you what we did during Texas Hill Country thunderstorms. Awesomeness.

We are children of a bygone era; relics of a better time.

Today's children would never be permitted to flirt with the type of disaster we courted on a daily basis. Today's child is well supervised and kept at a distance from anything that could potentially harm it. As for endangered species, we have created faux worlds in which our children may exist. These environments and play areas perfectly mirror the real things only without any of the dangerous aspects. Predictably, when an endangered species is released into the wild after being raised in captivity it is savagely devoured by the animals who have grown up in the actual jungle. Increasingly, our society is finding itself facing similar challenges. Our perfectly sheltered and safe children are released into the wilderness of the real world neutered of every instinct and ability which would have helped them survive.

In her upcoming film "The Land," director Erin Davis documents a Welsh play space which challenges the traditional American instinct to shelter and protect our young. "The Land" offers children a chance to experience the world around them; a world filled with wonderfully dangerous opportunities. Open fires, hammers, saws, old tires, mud, ropes, rusty metal shipping containers, and trees which beg for a climber all populate the space aptly described as an adventure playground. Missing from the canvas are instructions and rules, protective rubber playmatting, overzealous nannies and anything else which would prevent young humans from creating, appreciating, and learning about the themselves and the world by which they are surrounded.

Even as I type these words, there wells up within me an instinct to reject notions like this. As a parent, I must protect my sons from dangers like these. The poisonous culture shift has infected even a staunch independent like myself. What if they are hurt? What if they cut off a finger? What if they slip and fall and experience pain? As of these fears are legitimate possibilities. These things might actually happen. They are worthy of consideration.

But consider also those things which are not mere possibilities but rather the probable outcome of raising a child in the manner our society has now deemed most advisable. What happens to them when they grow up unable to contend with the challenges the real world throws at them? What happens when noone is around to hand them a participation trophy for the job they didn't get? How will their fragile egos cope? What happens when they confront actual violence which threatens more than just their avatar on some video game? Who will the men of the next generation turn to to protect their families? What happens when they graduate with their advanced degrees and certifications, perfectly programmed to obediently follow the rules yet completely unable to compose an original and creative thought? Who will find a cure for Cancer? Alzheimer's? Write the next great symphony?

What will the world look like if we continue to keep our children from becoming the wonderfully dangerous individuals they are hardwired to be?

Watch the trailer for the upcoming film "The Land" below.