Est Bonum Vitae

Happy Holidays

Christmas Scene. Holiday Greeting Card Design

Dear Friends:
Here we are, on the verge of a new year. We celebrated harvest as our chance to express gratitude for the abundance we experience around us, despite all our worries. There are many things to worry about, of course. There is small stuff, like whether we should downsize or just remodel and “age in place,” as they say. Medium things, like whether we should support Medicare for all, or work toward a more rational system of immigration. Then, there are the big things, like whether we can save the planet, whether we can end poverty, whether we can find peace and purpose in our lives.
Which sends me off on a riff about a sense of purpose. A purpose for one person might be quite different from another’s. My husband and his sister find meaning in adventure. They want to see everything—Africa, Antarctica, the Amazon, Machu Picchu. They want to hike up things, see a long way, and learn about the local people. They take public transportation and eat at tiny restaurants that serve local food where you have to point at stuff so the waiter can fill your order. My friend Kevin wants to live the carefree life he never had as an adolescent. He’s making nice headway on that.
My son finds his purpose in being a father. My daughter this year has found her purpose in keeping her sanity. My dear Manuela (my daughter-in-law) is redefining her purpose to move back into the world after five years as a full time mother. My friend Daneen seems to think that keeping three children under the age of 7 alive for another year is purpose enough.
I have found a sense of purpose in trying to help people who are facing the end of life, or who are caring for someone who is. People see this as a very noble pursuit. People come up to me at public events where hospice volunteers help out and thank me for my service, as if I were a veteran, even though I’m just serving those who are dying, not dying for those I serve. I have started a website for my work, or rather two., and What a trip it was to learn how to put up a website. I felt plenty overcome many days, but I was finally able to get great help. Manuela designed When she showed it to me, I took it as a great compliment because she said she tried to reflect who I am.
We are doing really well despite the challenges we have encountered this year. As most of you know, my son-n-law, Don, died in July of this year. His journey inspired the main idea for my website—that how one dies is likely to reflect a lot about who one is. It’s not a one-size fits all matter. Alexis, my daughter, did an amazing job of caring for Don and the children through this difficult year. The children are resilient, as promised in the literature on the subject. Lily, my 10 year old granddaughter, starred in the 5th grade play this week (it is the last year of elementary school for her, sigh). She starts middle school this fall. She also made honor roll again and has been invited back to the elementary school next year to tutor kids that need help in the 5th grade.
Emmy has the guts, at the age of 6, to volunteer to sing a solo in the school talent school. She will be the youngest of the soloists, I think. Her teacher tells her she is very brave. He mother tells me she doesn’t really know the words.
Kaiya wants the black boots that go with her new Anna outfit from Disney. Lukas needs a backpack because he is starting preschool. Another Christmas, the end of another year. We’ll be glad to say goodbye to 2018 and hello to the pleasures and purposes of 2019. I hope you find a purpose this year that lights up your life, busies your brain, and supports your sanity.


My book is out!

Living Well Dying Well Cover4_only (3)

As many of you know, my son-in-law, Don, died on July 29, after a yearlong battle with stage 4 brain cancer. I have much to tell you about my experience of the last few months of his life, and I am trying to figure out how to share it. It has been intense, and the meaning of it keeps shifting, along with the emotions. I look forward to putting it together with you over the next few months. I will say this; we are less exhausted now and are able to think about something else, at least some of the time. The children, Lily and Emmy, are doing well at the moment, and continue to have access to whatever kind of support they need.
In the meantime, the book I have written, Living Well, Dying Well, is now out in paperback. My co-author, Dohrea Bardell, and I dedicated the book to Don. It is available on Amazon for $19, and half of the proceeds go to Fielding Graduate University. We don’t expect to become rich and famous, are proud of the work and excited to share it with you. I hope it helps the people who read it. You, my readers (or at least those of you that sometimes read this blog), have helped develop my ideas from cancer to retirement, and through this difficult last year. I realize those of us who want to live a long life have to learn how to cope with loss, especially as millions of baby boomers enter the last stages of life.
Living Well, Dying Well is a guidebook to coping wisely with death and dying. It outlines the many choices available today, from how to extend the healthy life span, to how to plan a funeral, how to understand deathbed visions, and what to say to people who are dying. It’s based on the latest research, but also on common sense. If you do read it, I would really appreciate your feedback on Amazon. Buyers prize reviews by verified purchasers. You can click on the title above and it will take you to Amazon,

Right now, I am busy building a website where I can share my work. Wow! I never thought I would attempt that at my age. This month, however, Marilynn Price-Mitchell, the most productive person I have ever met in my life, has been an inspiration to me. She graduated from Fielding and published a book in her mid-sixties. She used her research to build a successful practice as a consultant and speaker in the area of teaching civic responsibility. Over the past 6 years, she has attracted over 2 million people a year to her website, placing it in the top .01% of all the websites in the United States.
She is my hero, and I am only 10 years older than she was when she started. Ten years is nothing, right? Talk to you soon,



As I notified you in my last communique, Larry and I went to Indonesia to dive (him) snorkel (me). The time we spent in the ocean in Raja Ampat (it means the Four Kings, and it was a Regency under British rule) was amazing, but this note is about our sojourn in Bali. The first three days, we stayed in a Grand Hyatt. I wrote something for you about that and send it along soon. The last five days we spent in Ubud. Ubud is a city, but also a Regency. They have a royal family and it is quite wealthy and powerful. They also seem pretty beloved by the people. Since I had worked every morning in Raja Ampat (you know, like Ernest Hemingway in the Florida Keys or Singapore), I thought I would try to get away from death, you know, from writing the Book on Death and Dying (not the title).

We had been told by some friends that seeing a Balinese family cremation was an interesting experience, as they cremate several bodies at the same time, since individual families cannot afford big funerals by themselves. But, I decided not to try and figure out how to find one and how to get there, but just enjoy the wonderful resort we had booked in Ubud. On the way to the resort, however, our driver told us that we were lucky to be in Ubud at this time, because the King of Ubud had died and a procession to the crematorium would take place the day after tomorrow. My path yawned before me. Of course, Larry has a second cousin who happens to live in Ubud and can get us onto balcony above the procession where his friend owns a shop on the main street. Are you kidding? Apparently, I am not to escape my education about death this week.

So, as we stand on the balcony (there are no lights or air-con in the main street stores, as the lines have been cut so the floats can get by). Hundreds of people in little bands representing Hindu temples, clans, and (I think) motorcycle organizations parade by. The people in each group wear the same outfits—sometimes traditional looking and sometimes basically black tee shirts tout their organization. We are wearing sarongs because two elderly women accosted Larry on the street, wrapped a sarong around his waist, and wouldn’t let him go until he bought two.

In the second act, the musicians arrive—several bands of drummers, mostly. Then come the princesses in sedan chairs and full regalia atop floats with a floral theme, carried by a number of very fine looking young clan or temple members. The third act begins with the passage of a two story float in the shape of a black bull with golden horns. It is carried on the backs of maybe 60-100 young men, of whom, I believe our driver is one. They change the bearers from block to block, however, so I can’t make him out.

The second act crescendos in the appearance of a two story float in the shape of a black bull with golden horns in which the old King will be cremated. Despite the bull pyre, Larry continues to believe that it is the Queen who is being cremated, and denies that the driver said anything about the King. The third act crescendos with the passage of a float that appears to be a four story tower with the heads of various gods perched on the front of the first three floors. Above the third godhead, is a balcony on which sits the casket of the dead King (upon which sits the new King). The priest stands aside the casket on the right. The new king is waving to the excited throng lining the streets. Then, he leans back on the casket and takes some selfies. Yes. Selfies.

The tower has gigantic wings on either side, which make the float too wide for the street. The wings tear the limbs off of the trees that line the street, until one of the wings falls off. The float lurches to the other side of the street, narrowly missing two beautiful blonde girls and, apparently, injuring one of the bearers. This doesn’t stop the parade for long, as an ambulance is following the tower and the injured bearer is whisked by his comrades from under the bamboo lattice, on which they carry the tower, into the waiting ambulance.

We left shortly after that only to wonder all afternoon how the casket got from the third story of the tower to the inside of the bull. They must have had a door in the bull’s rear end, I venture, and they slide it into the bull that way. We didn’t stay for that part. It was way too hot and the crowd was huge, but it does leave many unanswered questions in one’s mind.

The selfies thing is clearly the most remarkable. The young king threw his legs over the balcony, smiling and waving to his people, and snapped the pics. He did not seem to be in any kind of mourning and nothing I’ve read about Hindus and death explained his laughter. The only thing I have to go on is that old Aztec word: joy/pain. Even in the midst of the hardest things, something can happen that makes you feel grateful to be who you are, that gives you joy. The people also seemed joyful to me. Perhaps, as they truly believe that the King as gone on to something better in the next life. It may also be necessary to belittle death. They also do that in New Orleans. On the other hand, the Hindus revere their ancestors. There is a temple to the ancestors in every home where the ashes of the ancestors are kept.

I like that idea. All of the white guys around me agreed that they thought they’d like a similar burial, I like a simple temple dedicated to myself.

Signs and Omens



Dear Readers:

I have good news! My son-in-law, Don, who, as you may know from my last blog, was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer in August. Recently, we found out that he has a genetic marker that is associated with better treatment outcomes. We learned that his tumor did not originate in his brain tissue, but grew on top of a tumor of a different, more benign type. This gives him a better chance. His December MRI was very good—no cancer and we have renewed hope. He has also been cleared to go back to work in March, but must still have MRIs every eight weeks for….we don’t know how long. Nobody in the cancer business will commit to anything much (as I wrote in the set of blogs called “Cancerland” which set me to blogging in the first place). but we are cautiously optimistic.

I have finished my project for Oxford University press, the bibliography in Adult Development. What a nightmare. It consists of annotated entries for the 100 most important articles in my field.  This is the 2nd edition, so it was a little easier, but keeping track of 100 references while I sent the manuscript back and forth to my co-author, Steve Page (a Fielding grad), but us in revision hell a couple of times. Revision hell arises when you can no longer figure out which version is most recent.

I have also finished a first draft of my book on death and dying. I wish the title could be “The book I wish I had when my Mother died,” but I fear it is both too long and too narrow. But, that’s the idea I want to convey. I haven’t shared it with you because it has taken me a long time to get the voice right. And, it is also connected to an amazing string of circumstances that have driven me along this path, including my cancer and Don’s cancer, and Alice in Wonderland. The recent part of the story began when I wrote a first chapter that had to be thrown out because it was way over-intellectualized. It was a history of attitudes toward death and dying over the course of civilization, beginning in Sumeria. As my editor said, “This is not a good place to begin.” I knew he was right, but I was confounded by the idea of starting all over again.

I had realized dimly (even before I sent the first chapter to him), that it was the wrong approach. It was the way I approach everything—first from the mind. I needed to start far away and creep on the thing. When that approach failed, I felt completely out of gas. In desperation I contacted the Universe. “Hey,” I said. “If I am going to do this book, you have to give me something. I need inspiration.” This is where Alice comes in. Alice in Wonderland was one of my favorite stories as a child. I briefly considered changing my name to Alice, though I never got the nerve to tell my Mother that. What came to mind, finally, was Alice asking the Mad Hatter “Are we dead yet?” Mind you, Alice never really says that in the book, so I was off on a search for what she did say. I sure remembered something about being dead.

So, it turns out that the first thing Google brought up was a set of articles by literary critics who argued that Alice in Wonderland was a story about dying—down the rabbit hole we go. How surprising! Alice came back to me just when I needed her. It also explained my fascination with Alice as a child. I have been thinking about death and dying for a long time indeed. Then, just about the time that I was writing about how people learn to cope with a terminal diagnosis, we learned that Don had brain cancer. I was beginning to wonder why this was happening to me. Six years ago, when my friend’s daughter committed suicide at the age of 12, this journey began when I went to Hospice of Santa Barbara for help in supporting my friend. Two years later, I was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. Two years later, Don was diagnosed. I couldn’t shake the feeling that, somehow, I was stuck in a weird place.

I began to worry that people around me would die in traumatic ways because I was writing the book. As a developmental psychologist, I know that this kind of thinking is typical of four year olds, but I couldn’t stop feeling that I had somehow been appointed as the Angel of Death. In fact, I was worried that someone I knew would be murdered when I wrote the chapter on the subject. And, believe it or not, a friend of mine called to say that someone had tried to murder him. He had spent 36 hours in a coma, but, thank God, he had survived and was going to be okay.

You may want to steer a wide path around me these days, though I have finished the first draft of the book now and don’t expect more weirdness. I’m polishing it chapter by chapter and taking it with me on my vacation this month. We are going to Indonesia on a diving trip that Larry is planning. After the diving, we travel to Bali where I do know that a favorite tourist activity is participating in a funeral. That sounds like a perfect capstone to the story. I’m hoping the Universe will leave it at that for the time being. We return on the 5th of March and we leave on Monday.

I think I’ve said before that Carl Jung felt life should be lived mythologically and we should take advantage of the strange coincidences that mark our journey through this world. I’ve been taking his advice as best I can, so here I am, trying to make sense of it all, bumbling along, crafting my narrative and calling upon the Universe to make it worthwhile.


Christmas 2017

christmas 2017


As you may have noticed, I have not written in some time. Last I wrote was about how happy things were in moment, as I recall. I have been reluctant to write you for some months now since the news is distressing and I didn’t want to write until we had something hopeful to say. As some of you know, my son-in-law, Lily and Emmy’s father, was diagnosed with Stage 4 brain cancer in August and it has been very up and down since then. The low point was just two weeks ago, at the end of the chemo and radiation (it lasted six weeks). The good news is that we are past that dark moment and Don is recovering nicely from the doctors trying to kill every cell in his body and all the drugs that go with it to control the side effects.

I have started letters two or three times, but became quite nervous about the effect it would have on you (my readers), ruining some nice day you were having. I know from my own case as well as from telling people about Don, that it can be very jarring to hear that someone has cancer advanced beyond the first stages. We are praying hard and holding out every hope that the MRI in January will show that the tumor has been defeated. All of your best wishes and kind thoughts have been appreciated so far and I know all of you who are just finding out will join the chorus. Thank you for that.

Meanwhile, we are learning how to find the joy in the moments we have. Don and Lex and the kids are on a lovely trip to Pismo Beach to recuperate after the treatment and the fire.  Good Lord in Heaven. The fire. Can you believe Santa Barbara and Ventura had a terrible fire on top of everything else? I don’t mean to be a whiner, but….come on! Our friends who lived in the hills were all evacuated. At the high point something like 18,000 people were out of their homes. Some of our friends came to stay with us until they found something more permanent (they were out for two weeks). The air quality around our house was so bad, they needed to get over the mountains to regain their sanity.  We were in Seattle most of the first week on a trip we had planned months ago, thank heaven.

When we got back, the ash was still falling and we were all wearing masks (man! I’m glad I’m not a surgeon or a wall board guy). We took Lily and Emmy and went to Cambria to see the million Christmas lights at the Christmas market and get away from the air here. It was absolutely wonderful to breathe your way through tunnels of Christmas lights. Manu took her two kids, Kaiya and Lukas, to Hermosa Beach to stay with friends because the baby’s nose had started bleeding from the pollution. Brett stayed here to work at the restaurant, but he was distressed because Santa Barbara was a ghost town and his normally busy Holiday season was dead as a doornail.  Many businesses were really hurt by the smoke and fear.

On the other hand, we got to witness an amazing display of smart planning, competence in motion, and downright heroism on the part of firefighters from all over the country. You might drive by a truck from Montana Fire or one from Colorado as well as all up and down the coast. Day after day they fought it like it was a dragon. They called it “The Beast,” and as you watched it crawl across the landscape, it retained the shaped of a dragon for quite a long time before they began to contain it. But, contain it they did. Today, we were surrounded by people smiling and breathing easily as they returned to their homes. The town was flooded by relief and last minute shoppers. What a fire it was. They say, by the time it is done, it will be the largest fire in California history.

The skies are blue again. They cancelled the Air Quality Warning. They sent most of the firefighters home for Christmas, though the fire may burn quietly for another week or two. The grocery stores are jammed and here we are ready for Santa. As Emmy informed Larry and me early this week, we have to be sure to take the fire screen down so that Santa won’t have trouble getting in. I certainly don’t want any more trouble! May your holiday be everything you wish for and your New Year twice as nice.




Mother’s Day, 2017



Picture: My sister, Gail with Lukas, Alexis (daughter), Lily (age 9), me, Emmy (age 5) and Manuela (daughter-in-law), and Kaiya (age 2 and a half)at  the beach on Mother’s Day

Carl Jung believed that, as we get more mature, we are able to identify with more and more of humanity, with the planet and, ultimately, with the Universe. We have stronger feelings of being connected to everything. I think I’m finding this to be true. This month, it includes feeling more and more connected to my Mother who died in 2001. It hit me a couple of mornings ago, watching myself put on make-up in the bathroom mirror. I suddenly though of all the times that I stood in the doorway of her bathroom, watching her put her make-up on in the morning and take it off at night. Last weekend, my granddaughters stood around and watched me get made up in the morning.

My Mother would say things like “Never wash your face with soap,” as she rubbed Lady Esther cold cream, swiped from the jar with two fingers, on to her face and began scrubbing it off again with Kleenex. “And put lotion on your whole body every day,” she’d say as she pulled the bottle of Jergen’s Cherry Blossom Body Lotion from under the sink. She went to bed with cream on her face and lotion all over her body every night. She always took a shower at night. So do I. We learned to get into bed clean. A shower in the morning is a nightmare in my book.

That feeling of connectedness is sweet. I felt it again the other night as we watched a program on CNN called “Jesus: Fact and Fantasy.” Each show begins with a recent archeological find and pulls back to the political and economic situation of the time and then zooms in again on the details of living every day.

Apparently, they have recently found a site where they believe Joseph and Mary lived when Jesus was a boy. The narrator casts Joseph as a successful artisan, who had a nice home (several bedrooms) and would have had disposable income (modern terms seem so odd in this context). Mary would have had some jewelry (glass beads, twine, shells). Mary was probably a spinner—an artisan herself, he notes. She probably owned some cosmetics—kohl around her eyes and something to pink up her cheeks. I suddenly felt like Mary could be the woman next door. The narrator speculated that she would have read the Torah to Jesus. He noted it was the responsibility of a Jewish woman to school her children in the Tanakh, the traditional texts of the Jews. Now, this point is disputed and one of my friends has argued that she was, most probably, illiterate. Nonetheless, being in charge of Jesus must have been a challenge, what with him running around arguing with the rabbi and so on.

It came to me that I felt connected to all women, back to Eve with her fig leaf, flowers in her hair or an African woman with rings in her ears and her nose. Cleopatra with kohl around her eyes. Women have been painting their faces (as my mother would have called it) and teaching their children since the beginning of time. It feels like these daily rituals are the ones that trigger that connected feeling. Funny how small actions link us to the largest feelings. Jung argued that we connect with the ancient archetypes of human race—Eve (mother), Cleopatra (warrior), Spider Grandmother (fire carrier for some native people), Empress, Crone, Sage.

In those moments of connectedness, I am filled with a sweet calm that is rare in this bustling house with friends and children and grandchildren. It’s a floaty feeling, a little nostalgic, maybe, certainly a faint longing. You can notice your breath go off into the universe. The Yogis tell us to breathe out compassion. Sounds like a good plan to me.

Here is a poem for Mother’s Day that I wrote maybe 30 years ago:

Second Thoughts

They take the last pickle in the jar,

drain cartons late at night and leave

juice on the window sills where

I can’t see it until it sticks to the glass.

Also, I have no juice in the morning.

They start stealing real small,

pens and pencils, working up to

five and tens, not to mention

twenty-five years from the middle of my

grown-up life including one track

of my mind even when I am supposed

to have a weekend to myself.

I hate them because they don’t know

how much better it is to have me for a mother

than my mother. They can’t imagine life

without Palm Springs or MTV, because

they don’t pull weeds or wash windows,

because I would rather die myself,

because I won’t ever know how it

would have been without them.






Sitting in a cafeteria-style diner that sells soup in New York City, having been served Asian Ginger Mushroom Soup with way too much cornstarch, I’m waiting for an 8:40 flight on Virgin Airlines to deliver Larry and Lily to JFK. Larry was seventy last month. Lily is nine. I will be seventy-three in March, and you know what? It is very fine—excellent, in fact.

There is a certain sense of joy and relief at being over seventy. I will, no doubt, find many things to gripe about and sorrows aplenty, just like in the rest of life. But, to my relief, I have turned out all right. It has all turned out, and I am as satisfied as a fat cat in a sunny winter window. Oh sure, things go wrong in my life, but the thing is, they cannot any longer have gone wrong early. ‘Early’ in my life has been over for a while now. No matter what happens from here on out, I’ve done all right, and I no longer have the time to really mess it all up. My kids are interesting adults. My grandchildren are handsome, healthy, and (of course) gifted.

I know that the world is in a state, and it troubles me often. The knowledge drives me to join up, to donate, to get trained, and so on; but I no longer worry about it  so much. The world has been in a state for all of my life. From Hiroshima (when I was not quite eighteen months old), through the Cold War and the War in Vietnam, right on up to the Clinton/Trump election, the world has always been in a state. There is so much to be done. There always has been, but I’m convinced that you can’t stop it from being in a state. Old age brings some certainties.

Meanwhile, I find much to appreciate. For instance: the people of New York, despite their harsh demeanor in restaurants, have been friendly to me at every turn. Maybe it’s my age. And I’ve noticed that these days the highway patrol peeps (especially the young ones) take one look at my license and then gently remind me to drive safely, preferably at under eighty miles an hour. (The frequency of this response is increased by mentioning that one is going to pick up, or coming home from dropping off, one’s grandchildren. And this has happened to Larry, too, so it isn’t only that I’m so insanely good-looking—for my age, of course.)

Having time to do small things—to read labels in the store, to nurture seeds, to go the extra block or two with the dog, to talk for an hour with a four-year-old—is lovely. Not doing things is also a luxury. Being able to take a nap in the middle of the day on a Tuesday is terrific. I used to say things like “What do you think I do all day? Lie around watching television and eating bonbons?” Drop by these days, and you might just catch me with a bonbon or two.

Furthermore, I have few regrets. I could have made other choices, taken different turns at many points; but since it’s all turned out pretty well, The Way It Could Have Been doesn’t haunt me. When I first began to study aging, I was struck by a piece of research that concluded that women over seventy worry less. I’ve been waiting ever since to see if that was true. Seems like it may be—though I am loth to tell you this, in case doing so should trigger a curse that then gives me something to worry about. Like how my mother used to warn me that she’d give me “something to cry about”.

So: I’m not crazy about aging, and I’d just as soon it stopped right now. But old age?

Old age—like old friends, old love, and many kinds of old cheese—is just fine

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