Caring is a verb – so says my sister Diane Carter

My older sister is a nurse who has devoted her life to caring for the elders of our society. She started out as a Candy Stripper in her teens, and eventually became the President, CEO and founder of AANAC, a national organization for nurses who work in long-term care. She received recognition by Long-Term Living Magazine as one of the ten most influential people in the past 40 years in the field of long-term care, for her visionary work in recognizing the power of the Internet and Web-based learning and the creative force behind the development of the American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination.

For the past few years she and her husband have taken on most of the care for my 89 year-old Mom, who is in assisted-living. Before that she also cared for my Dad until his death at age 91. My sister Diane knows long-term care. She is the best person in this country to be providing these services to my parents.

What Diane finds most unforgivable in those who work in the field of long-term care is when they don’t seem to understand that caring for someone is a verb. It isn’t talking about what they need or how to get it, it is stepping in to help them get what they need and cannot access for themselves, or in some cases, don’t even recognize that they need. My Mom became ill this past week, stopped go to her regular activities and was coughing quite a bit. Nobody showed concern or called Diane to tell her that Mom was feeling poorly. This made Diane mad.

What does caring mean?

According to the OED, caring is displaying kindness and concern for others. It is the work or practice of looking after those unable to care for themselves, especially the sick or elderly. The example given is the “caring” professions.

How do we show we care about those we love? By actions to help them feel better. When I’m in here coughing my head off, Mike makes me some Breath Easy tea. When I’m dizzy he helps me with my balance. This is love and caring. This is something we can all learn about love. LOVE is also a verb!

You may see love as flowers, chocolates and lovely words around Valentine’s Day. It is so much more!


Do you ever wonder what you should have been?

I believe our culture or at least our parents teach us that we could all be great at something, and as a mere teenager we were supposed to know what that was. At a time when all we really care about is fitting in and learning about sex, we are supposed to do a in-depth analysis of our innate abilities and determine our path to greatness. That’s just crazy! All I remember about high school was that I loved to read, write and ice skate…

I have always envied those who just seemed to know what they needed to be at an early age. You know, those totally career-oriented nerds who took off on their career path at age twelve and succeeded in their early twenties. How did they do that? Probably mostly from heavy parental support and pressure!

Mike and I had a funny conversation the other day about what unique combination of talents and skills came along with our personalities. You know, the career where we could have made some real contributions.

Well, first of all, how many of us do make any real contributions to human history? Very, very few. And second, there is a reality to all of this dreaming. We do need to take into account where the jobs are when we need them.

Boomer World: “Because our generation was such an unusually large cohort, our very existence greatly increased competition for everything, but especially jobs. This was most true for those born after 1954.” from my book, Find Your Reason To Be Here: The Search for Meaning in Midlife.

Thailand, 1974

I became so frustrated with my lack of career potential after graduating from college with a B.A. in East Asian Studies, I next focused like a laser on a career in academic librarianship for my next degree, and it worked. I immediately got my first professional position at the University of Utah and then told myself that I would be a librarian until I figured out what I really wanted to be. In other words, reality rarely matches your ideal image of career development. It was only much later that I became a writer.

My alternate title…

Mike took a more scientific route. After leaving the Navy in his twenties and trying out a few different jobs, he took an “Inventory of Aptitudes and Knowledge” test to see where his innate talents lay. He found his best areas were electronics and acoustical engineering, so off he went on that career path. I just kept being a librarian to support my private interests and love of international travel. I was naturally drawn to the study of human behavior and it still fascinates me.

Sometimes I wonder how many boomers question the way their lives turned out. I find it’s best to not be too hard on yourself and the choices you made so many years ago. You need to give yourself a break, because you did the best you could with the decisions before you!

“I’ve spent too many years at war with myself…”

Every time I listen to Sting sing “Consider me gone” I get stuck on these words. Why do we spend so much time picking on ourselves? As a psychologist I assume we learn how to do this from our overly self-critical parents, and then carry on the practice by habit. Some say these patterns get stuck in our brains and are almost impossible to fight against or change.

I know I have been far too self-effacing for as long as I can remember and then, of course, others along the way helped me become even more critical. Now, in my 60s, I’m still working at fighting this pattern in various ways. It helps so much to have a close friend or life partner who points out how hard we can be on ourselves. I remember back in my late 40s I gained a lot of new insight when I read Gloria Steinem’s book “Outrageous Acts & Everyday Rebellions” but this is a process that will last forever I’m afraid.

The three Carter kids at Grandma’s house at Christmas

Just recently I was rearranging things and came across a small photo of myself at around age three, looking pretty sassy in my new Easter clothes. Now I focus for a few minutes everyday on that little girl, on loving her all the way through and sending good thoughts for the many ways she might feel really good about herself for the rest of her life. I feel so much compassion for the battles she has fought in her war against herself and visualize how much easier her life could have been if she had learned self-love at an early age. I seems it has always been easier to be critical rather than compassionate towards myself.

I watched a marvelous 2005 movie recently called, “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont.” It’s about a retired older woman, played wonderfully by Joan Plowright, who befriends a young man, played by Rupert Friend, (YUM!) by chance on the streets of London. It’s has a lot of insights into aging and how we treat our elders with a number of great lines, but the one that keeps coming back to me is:

“It’s very important to praise people a lot early on, otherwise they might die of disappointment.

The most important healing tip I’ve learned from my own brain injuries (TBI & concussions)

I just saw an interesting piece on the importance of sleep on the NBC morning news show, which reminded me of the most important thing I have learned from experiencing a traumatic brain injury and a few serious concussions. That is the amazing healing powers of sleep!

I’ve always been a pretty good sleeper and enjoyed every minute of it, but now I see that sleep, whenever you feel like you need it, is your best brain restoring behavior. When we are younger we may try to get away with less sleep than we need, but, as we age, deep REM sleep is essential to brain health and memory retention.

After my traumatic brain injury fourteen years ago, I had no choice but to sleep quite a bit for months afterwards. I also had fractured ribs and breathing problems. That kept my activities to a minimum. But my brain did slowly heal itself over a few years. It literally re-wired itself to work well again.

It was only after a recent serious concussion in April 2021 that I knew that I must take it really easy on my brain and rest whenever I felt fatigued. Then I read Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s amazing book “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientistʼs Personal Journey” where she explained how she slowly healed from a terrible stroke. There she re-emphasized the need to sleep as soon as you feel any need for it. In this way I have slowly regained clarity and stability over the past year and a half.

We must all stop fighting sleep and ENJOY IT! It has such a healing effect on your brain and every other part of your body. If you don’t believe me, believe the Dalai Lama:

Married or single: Do you still believe in love?

Did you know there are 128 million single adults in the USA today? That’s roughly one half of all American adults! As a psychologist, this topic has always fascinated me. Why do we choose to remain single or get married at any age? One thing is certain. The factors surrounding that choice have changed dramatically in the past 70 years in this country.

My parent’s wedding photo from 1951 in Kansas

I’m fairly certain my mother felt she had no real choice when she married my father at age 19 in 1951. Nothing in her world encouraged her to consider college or a career. Every woman she saw around her was married or getting married at a very early age, and safe effective birth control was not available. Single career women were quite rare.

Oh how things have changed! When the man I loved asked me to marry him at age 22 I said no. I said if I was to marry anyone it would be him, but I was far to young to even consider it. In fact I did not marry for the first time until I was 39, and even then for the wrong reasons.

Yesterday I sat down and counted up exactly how many years of my life I have spent single and married. Guess what? It was exactly 24 years of each, and Mike was the same! I enjoyed being single most of my early years, and my marriage at age 39 was no wedded bliss. In fact it was very hard on both of us, and ended seven years later in divorce.

I also resented the negative press single people got in this country back then. In fact I wrote an essay about that years later. It was in my first book. It was called, “I said I’m divorced, not contagious.” Historically, divorce was not something that was done in my family. My brother and I were the first to do it, so in my first book I thanked my parents for giving me a solid sense of independence and self-esteem so I could leave my mistakes behind and move on with my life as a stronger, more resilient single person.

After the divorce, at age 49, I spent a few years considering my options. Did I want to remain single forever? I studied the situation in depth and decided one of my fondest dreams in life was to believe in love just once and have it be a good thing. In fact, after I lost my job/career in 2004 I started my own dating service which I named “Intriguing Possibilities” an offline way to meet local older singles. In a rather convoluted way, that is how I met Mike, the love of my life and my present husband. We’ve been together for 17 years now and wouldn’t have it any other way.

I felt so good about it I wrote the book “How to Believe in Love Again” tracing my own process through numerous heartbreaks to genuine love trust and loyalty.

My point is simple. You choose and then stick to it, or change your mind later when you finally meet the best person for you to spend your life with. And you will know when it is right, especially if you are older and wiser. You will know who to trust no matter how many times you’ve chosen Mr. Wrong.

In an interesting coincidence, right before I met Mike I won this frig magnet in a white elephant exchange:

I rest my case!