Posted by: Kathy Harmon on 3/7/2011 | 0 Comments

Those of you who follow my blog know that I frequently share stories about my mother.  She joined a group called Alive and Kickin’ last year and it has changed her life.  The group consists of 18 individuals aged 62-93.  Cal is the eldest member.  One would guess his age at 20 years younger.  He is absolutely adorable both inside and out.   He has a lovely voice, a great personality, and a terrific sense of humor.  Cal constantly makes up lyrics about everyday activities. I swear if we were single and I was 30 years older, I’d stalk him like a cheetah.  This is a story about Cal. A
Alive and Kickin’ gets what they term “gigs.”  They’ve become quite popular.  A couple of weeks ago they were scheduled to sing at a convention of Baby Boomers in the ballroom of a major downtown hotel.  They had to be there at 7:30 a.m.  This created major anxiety over transportation, rush hour traffic and downtown parking.   A rather complicated carpooling and caravan system was devised where several members were to drive to Cal’s home and he would then drive or lead them to the hotel.  As my 86-year old mother was nervous about the event, my sister Sandy stayed the night to insure mother arose at 4:30 and drove her to Cal’s at 6:15.  When he hadn’t emerged by 6:30 they called and woke him.  He apologized profusely, saying that he had overslept and promised he’d be down in a few minutes.  One group left but my mom remained and within 15 minutes, Cal came rushing out with another apology.  Seems he’d fallen in the tub or he would have been down sooner. 

 Once they’d parked and located the ballroom, they climbed several steps to the stage, warmed up for about 45 minutes and then the ballroom doors opened to 1,500 attendees.  When everyone had settled in their seats they were treated to Let it Be, Celebration, We Are the Champions, Stand by Me, We Are The World and ten additional contemporary pieces.  They received a standing ovation.
Now, if you are 86 or 93 you may understand that climbing stairs or even standing for extended periods of time can be taxing, especially after getting little sleep the night before.  When the event concluded some of the group went to breakfast but Cal asked my mom if she minded if they just went home, which they did.

As my mom left the car she reached over to thank Cal for his kindness and noticed that his arm felt wet.  This troubled her; so later in the day she called Cal to check in on him.  His wife answered and said that Cal wasn’t home.  He had gone to the emergency room.  It seems that when he fell in the tub he got a rather nasty gash in the upper portion of his arm.  The group dresses in red, white and black.  Cal’s sport coat is a darker shade of red, which effectively camouflaged the effects of several hours of bleeding.  He finally agreed to get nine stitches after losing a substantial amount of blood. 

 Aside from his comment about a fall in the tub, Cal mentioned this to no one.  He didn’t whine and he showed up to do his part with a serous injury.  What ever happened to that belief system?  Maybe that’s why they are called “The Greatest Generation.”    
I've attached a video of one of their rehearsals in hopes it will make you smile and cheer.

Alive & Kickin' - We Will Rock You

I volunteer at my church and is well known among the parishioners  - as is my cell phone number.  Over the past few years I have received several calls from seniors in assisted living facilities wanting to share the “goings on” of their community.  They frequently describe what someone said at dinner or the behavior of some notorious resident whose name, I am supposed to have committed to memory from previous conversations.  I frequently give advice on what response I might have to the words or deeds of these unkind acts.  For the most part this all seems rather silly or maybe the result of too little to do.    But a dear friend sent me an article yesterday that labels some of this behavior as bullying and perhaps that is what it is.

In the article Gina Kaurich, an executive director at FirstLight HomeCare is quoted as saying, “There is, in some regard, a caste system among residents,” Kaurich says. “There would be an elitist type of table in the dining room where you had people who could eat and drink and carry on conversations very well together. And if an individual who had trouble eating tried to sit with them, they would ignore them or say, ‘Why do you always seem to drop your fork?’ They’d speak meanly to them. It was like high school.”

“In the recreation room, if somebody didn’t participate the way somebody else thought they should, you’d see them get into that person’s face,” she says. “They’d be literally shaking their finger and saying, ‘How dare you call out Bingo when you don’t have a Bingo!’ or ‘How dare you sing that hymn that way!’ Even if the person was in a wheelchair, they’d be looking down at them, shaking their finger in their face.”

The article went on to quote a source called Bonifas to estimate that “10-20 percent of seniors are bullied with some type of senior-to-senior aggression in an institutional setting, much of it verbal abuse.  Both men and women can bully… but women tend towards passive-aggressive behavior like gossiping and whispering about people when they enter a room while men are more  ‘in your face’ With men, it’s more negative comments directly to the person…with women, it’s more behind your back.  But it doesn’t always stop at back-biting and bickering. Seniors have also been the victims of violence…sometimes over something as trivial as a coveted spot at the dinner table.”

I was shocked.  Somehow I thought that when we moved into the next stage of our lives it would be lovely to have all of these delightful neighbors for company.  But I found that when I hit middle age I got my first chronic ache and started to gain a few pounds.  That made me mad.  Part of the anger was directed at me for not being more disciplined about exercise and diet but some of the anger was about the aging process which I could only temper not stop.  Maybe some of these folks are angry, frustrated, hurting and end up taking it out on each other,

I checked with my own personal “senior circle” and found that indeed moving to an assisted living or skilled nursing community involves a social adjustment.  Being the “new kid” in the building can be every bit as traumatic as changing schools mid-year in grade school.  One likened the senior cliques to prison gangs with the same intimidating behavior patterns you see on TV.   She admitted that might be a bit strong but said the power of feeling picked on or ostracized in a group setting can be extremely painful.

If you have family or friends in a senior community pay attention to the dynamic when you visit.  Ask those you visit how comfortable they feel, who they like and dislike and why.  If you uncover any bullying or isolation behavior, meet with the staff or other professionals to seek advice on how to solve the problem.  Acceptance is a human need.  Isolation and loneliness can lead to depression and illness. Bullying isn’t just a kid problem.

I am honored to be a recipient of messages from Norm McNamara, a man that I have never met but whose messages from Britain I anxiously await each morning.  He is one of the great Alzheimer's missionaries who, once diagnosed, embarked on a quest to find a cure for himself and all the victims of this and future generations.  In his most recent message he tells what it feels like to be bombarded by grandchildren's questions, the chaos of a home filled with family on holidays, the fear of losing precious memories and the blessed understanding of his wife and caregiver.  Please share this with anyone who you believe might benefit. 

Message from Norm McNamara:  "I wrote this on Boxing day and i hope it goes some little way of explaining how someone with the diagnosis of Early onset Alzheimers feels on such special days, hope it helps, best wishes, Norrms and family xxxxxxxxxxx

Alzheimer`s On Christmas Day

I have nine grandchildren, two of which live in Australia, one who still lives in the north of England, and six who were in the same front room as me on Christmas day. Can you imagine how hard it is sitting there watching your grandchildren, both young and old run riot, when you know that there is such a good chance you are going to forget all of these happy faces? I have absolutely no memory of last Christmas so being sat there wondering how long it would be before I forget this one was one of the most emotional times I have ever sat through. 

The sheer enormity of the situation runs through your bones like shockwaves!! I sat there, trying to smile through complete anguish whilst trying to answer a million questions at once from my darling little ones. It was grandad this? Grandad that? And I have trouble keeping up at the best of times!!LOLL but through all this, all I saw was their smiles and their hopes in their eyes, I could almost feel their future mapping out in front of them, so much to look forward too, so much to do and so much to SAY!!!LOLL 

Just then, a hand slipped into mine and when I turned it was my “Angel” Elaine who always seemed to know when I was struggling a little bit. She gently squeezed my hand and smiled at me just at the point where I thought I was going to collapse into a heap, sobbing and upset. I smiled back and nodded at her, saying in my small way I had just caught up with myself and was ok for the time being. Elaine is my tower of strength and without her and my family I wouldn’t have the courage to do what I do now. 

When you have been diagnosed with Dementia/Alzheimer’s you don’t think about Christmases, weddings, births ECT, in fact you don’t think about much at first because your mind is in such turmoil. Being diagnosed with early onset and knowing you have it can be a curse as well as a blessing. The blessing is that you can spend precious time with your loved ones and your friends, you can cherish every moment of the day, and in my case I can continue to raise awareness to this awful disease and hopefully be around when the stigma that goes with it is totally eradicated and a cure found. 

The curse is knowing you have it, which is sometime`s just as bad as having Alzheimer’s. Along my travels in life I have met someone who had a brain tumour and survived. I have met a few who have been diagnosed with Cancer and now look the picture of health. I myself 16 months ago had to have an operation for a serious Hernia which had its complications. The surgeon told my wife Elaine and me just before I went to the operating table that I had less than a 10% chance of survival because of my heart problems so if we needed to say anything now would be a good time, I survived!! 

But!! I have never met ANYBODY YET who has survived Alzheimer`s!!! NOT ONE SINGLE SOUL!!! Can you imagine the frustration that runs through me when you hear of certain medical bodies who will not put patient before cost??? Can you imagine the frustration at knowing that millions still think its and elderly disease and not a disease of the brain? 

All these things and more just give me the drive and determination to change things. But most of all, the thing that drives me forward more than anything is the look of hope and expectation in my grandchildren’s eyes!! The sheer innocence of what is yet to come and the longer we can keep that innocence in their eyes the better!! This is why a cure must be found and found soon. I don’t want my grandchildren or anybody else’s grandchildren going through the horrors of seeing their grandmothers of grandfathers succumbing to this horrendous disease. 

I mentioned earlier about never having met anybody who has survived this disease, and unfortunately that statement is 100%true, but I would like to introduce the first person who WILL Survive it, and that person will hopefully be yours truly, myself, and thousands of others who come after me. The time has come now to raise our voices and make 2011 the year we all survive. Let’s hope and pray this is the year that everybody who is connected in some way with this disease see`s an end to the turmoil and destruction this illness brings. 

We Must Live In Hope 

Where There Is Hope, There Is Life 

Very best wishes, Norrms, Elaine and ever increasing family!!LOL xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx"

I will do all that I can to help Norm win this battle.  Please help.

I just spent the last three days unnerved–actually, really frightened– locking my doors and windows, hiding in my home and office, and worrying about “what ifs.”  The source of my anxiety was an e-mail that arrived in my husband’s office  e-mail,  initiated by someone who called himself “The Contractor.”   He claimed that a “friend” had contracted to pay $50K to assassinate my husband in a way that no one would suspect. 

Having had an attack of conscience, he
offered to call off the “hit” for the sum of $70,000.  Unlike the typical scam, the English was perfect, the writer seemed to know details about us and it did not require us to respond.  It forbad contact with police, FBI or any authority and promised the assassination would be carried out if my husband did not follow the instructions explicitly.   

It closed with the caution that we should do as we were told or spend the rest of our lives looking over our shoulders wondering when it would happen. The Contractor wrote, “I’ll be in touch within 72 hours and I expect the first $20,000 at that time.”  We’re good Internet researchers, but we couldn’t find any references to this type of scam.  The anxiety rolled over us.

We called our local police department, and the chief responded to the call.  At the time, he believed there wasn’t anything they could do; the next day, though, he requested that my husband file a police report that they would use to execute a search warrant on Google.  The website.  A search warrant on Google!  

I didn’t sleep well the first night but moved the next morning to DEFCOM 1, which means “Defense Readiness Commission,” if you  haven’t seen a recent sci-fi movie where aliens attack the White House.  Just as a point of reference, 911 put the U.S. at DEFCOM 3 and the Cuban Missile Crisis at DEFCOM 2.  As a nation, we have never been at DEFCOM1, but I’m personally there now.

For starters, I’m angry at myself for worrying about this nonsense and being unable to shed that inner voice that says, “But what if this is real?"  My husband jokes that he feels slighted that The Contractor would get only a lousy $50,000 for putting him down.  But what kind of person gets their jollies at this level?  Then I remembered all of the “greed” scams that sit in my junk/deleted box and a cold chill ran down my back.  If there are thousands of people taken in by the Nigerian Scam, how much more powerful would this approach be to that same target market?


I know my mother.  I am surrounded by people who love their families deeply and without reservation.  If my mother were to receive this type of message and it threatened her life she would share it with me and I could easily dissuade her.  BUT, if the message threatened me, my sisters or any one of her grandchildren, she would empty her bank accounts, sell all that she owns and tell no one for fear that harm would befall a loved one.  The prospect is terrifying. 


I have a college degree.  My husband graduated from Stanford Law School with honors, and yet we bought into this scam emotionally.  Our web-savvy intellects couldn’t control our fears.  Tyler Clementi is dead after being humiliated by web postings of his intimate relationship with another man and the students responsible are being charged with invasion of privacy.  Senator Lautenberg, D-NJ suggested that “Colleges should adopt a code of conduct that prohibits bullying and harassment…”   Will a threat of expulsion fix this problem?  Our children are committing suicide because of the powerful emotional stigma imposed on them by their social networks—Facebook, Twitter, and the rest.  Seniors’ savings are being drained by scammers who promise windfalls.  And now the web has become the grim reaper.


The Internet is where I spend my entire work day.  It’s where I shop, and it’s where I find virtually all of the information that I need for the articles, books, and seminars I write.  But there are corners of the web where evil thrives.  I do not believe in killing mosquitoes with cannons and I can think of no way that the web can be adequately monitored or controlled that does not also restrict freedom.


9/11 occurred while I was consulting out of town.  I watched the events unfold from my hotel room.  I couldn’t get a flight out so I rented a car and drove all night to get to the safety of my own home.  In the middle of the night, exhausted, driving on a dark, deserted road, the enormity of what had just happened hit me and I began to sob uncontrollably.  I’d lost my innocence.  That’s how I felt two nights ago:  My life had been invaded.

This scam is just as deadly and could have consequences equally tragic.  It makes people afraid and desperate; the stress, anxiety, depression, panic and fear could cause a stroke, heart attack or other serious illness.  It can literally frighten someone to death.  It will be the fear--not the hit man, not The Contractor--that pulls the trigger. 

I need you to help me alert those around you about the existence of this scam.  I did not include the actual e-mail because it is so chilling.  Please send this alert to everyone you know and ask them to do the same.  Just send this link  And thank you!



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  • In the years has been online, we’ve received hundreds of e-mails from visitors asking questions about legal documents, how to start retirement planning in their 50's, as well as advice on traveling with grandpa and the kids and making everyone happy.   We’ve also received personal stories of triumph and tragedy including the creative, often humorous ways people cope with stress, relationships, balancing career and family, 70 hour work weeks, job loss and the "agony and defeat" they encountered starting a new company.   In our newsletter, I periodically share stories about my glorious 86 year old mother and have named a collection after her.  This is YOUR SPACE.  Ask for advice.  Share stories.  I love your e-mails. It's simple.  Just click here!