Thursday, February 13, 2014

What Do You Do With Your Old Toys?

A man pulls over to the side of the road when he sees police lights in his rearview mirror. “How long have you been riding around without a tail light?” asks the officer. “Oh, no!” screams the man, jumping out of the car. “Calm down, it isn’t that serious,” says the officer. “Wait till my family finds out.” The officer asks, “Where’s your family?” The man turns to him and says, in a panic: “They’re in the trailer that was hitched to the car!”

Each day of our lives is filled with events which, if we would only stop, take a deep breath and see the potential they present for inspiration, can add meaning.

Several months ago I announced, on this blog, that my fourth great grandchild, Caroline, had been born. Her precious mother sent me a picture of her taken just after her birth. She looked so tiny, eyes closed, dressed in a cute outfit and resting in her mother’s arms – a "new toy" had been born into our family

And, alas, over the past eight weeks Carolyn, as seen by the latest picture received early just this morning, has suddenly grown from being a toy and became a child - a person with a smile on her face, big wide eyes and alert and well. She is no longer a “toy”, but a human being on her way up the ladder of life.

Later in the day I was visiting a 90-year-old friend in a skilled nursing facility. During our conversation, a physical therapist entered the room and said she had to have him do some exercises for 45 minutes. I agreed to wait in the visitor’s room.

As I was seated in that room I could see all the way down the corridor, which was lined with about 15 wheelchairs filled with aging persons in their 80’s and 90’s, in various forms of alertness and seated positions.

As I reflect on this scene, I realized that these were the remnants of toys born years before. As our toy no longer and now traveling the journey of life, it is both joyous and sad to see Carolyn's transition taking place. Why sad? Because I saw the elders, and many of them either didn't know, or accept the fact, that anything like this aging was going to happen to them.

How many times have I heard people say, “Oh, we do not have to worry, we have good insurance." Or, “We have a nice home and we can live our lives out there.” Or, “I don’t want to give up my independence, or burden my family.”

Talk to those who have experienced the real effects of that kind of thinking and you will quickly learn what a tremendous burden it in fact imposes on a family, and the danger it imposes on “old toys” when the proper panning is not done years in advance. More deaths occur among the aging as a result of falls than for almost any other reason. Simply because we are unwilling to believe that it can happen to us. From an early age we need to begin speaking to our loved ones about these issues as well as become realistic about our own aging process, and our willingness to give up our independence.

I would ask every person to answer this question; “What one thing would you want someone giving a eulogy upon your death (and we are all going to die) to say about you?” What I would want said about me is that I was “a responsible person.” A responsible person is one who plans the stages of their lives so as not to become an “old toy,” that someone now has to figure out how to find a place for when it's no longer useful.

Bernard ("Bernie") Otis is the author of the upcoming international bestseller, "How To Prepare For Old Age (If You Haven't Married Into A Wealthy Family)". If you have a question or comment, or a personal story about life and aging, please send me an email to

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


A young boy was speaking with his father and he asked him “How did we get born?” The father said, “Adam and Eve had children and when those children grew up they had children and that at has continued to this very day.”

The young boy asked his mother the same question, and she replied by saying, "First, there were monkeys, and those monkeys had children and slowly the monkeys began to turn into people like us.”

The child then went back to his father and said, “You did not tell me the truth. Mother just told me we were monkeys and the monkeys turned into people.”

The father said, “She was just talking about her side of the family.”

My good friend Lorrie Caplan-Stern, in her wonderful book “Giving Birth to My Parents”, tells the story of how - as she moved on with her life - she realized that she and her parents had gone in different directions and that she "in a sense" had to reverse roles and become the parent to her aging mother and father - so that they could all enjoy one another and strengthen their family relationship. I urge my readers to read this book.

My young friends, at a certain point in our lives we need to come to grips with the truism that we are no longer the child being raised, but the adult who must, just as our parents did when we were born, go through on the job training and learn to take steps to teach mom and dad how to live their new aging life. Easy it is not, but done right it yields big rewards including – Lots of Love. 

As the years go by we suddenly realize that our experiences in life and the decisions we make are in a different generation from that of our parents, and we need to have the patience and take the time to share our experience with each other so that we all understand each other’s thought process in raising us. Thus, as we listen to and help them understand why our life decisions vary from theirs, at the same time we gradually help them adapt to the changes that are taking place in theirs life.

We become the teachers and they are the children.

As Lorrie so excitedly says, this has made a wonderful change in her relationship with her parents and helped them make the journey though the final stage of their life with happiness and joy.

Each day, in my own life, living an active role in an assisted living center I watch as this process evolves. Those residents whose children visit regularly and communicate their feelings and thoughts with them are vibrant, active and happy. Those who are at different levels of understanding about their children’s lives are sad, lonely and have no level of happiness.

We all need to recognize that, as Lorrie points out, it is only by working together as a family and by being willing to change our belief system to meet the new challenges we face, can we truly say we lived our lives in bliss.

Bernard ("Bernie") Otis is the author of the upcoming international bestseller, "How To Prepare For Old Age (If You Haven't Married Into A Wealthy Family)". If you have a question or comment, or a personal story about life and aging, please send me an email to

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


A 24-year-old woman lives with her parents in Connecticut. She is in love with a Navy officer from Virginia. She suddenly finds herself about to become mother and is concerned about her future. Her father, an old-time farmer, confronts the young lad and asks him if he is ready to marry his daughter. The Officer says that he cannot do that because he must take care of his ailing mother and father and, in addition, he is scheduled to go out to sea for an extended period of time. “However,” he says, “Here is what I will do.  I will give her $5,000 to cover the medical expenses involved and if it is a boy, I will give her $2,000 a month support and pay for his college education. In addition, if it is a girl, I will provide $5,000 for medical expenses, $2,000 a month for support and I will also pay for her wedding when that time comes.”

The father thinks for a minute and then asks, tongue firmly in cheek, “And if she has a miscarriage will you give her a second chance?”

Some people may not respond well to the above joke. It is placed here as an example of a potential real-life circumstance. Some of us believe we need to laugh at life's misfortune in order to cope. You see, as we journey through life we face many challenges, and each day brings new experiences to us. Yes, we were children once and suddenly we become the parents. There is no way to train for that position except to follow our instincts in each situation, hoping our decision will turn out right.  After all, didn't we more often than not react positively to our parent’s decisions?

Well, alright.  Not exactly. 

If this is not complicated enough, we suddenly find ourselves being the parents of our growing children and our aging parents. WOW! The fact is that sometimes we get it so wrong and make terrible judgments, judgments which bring pain, anger and disruption to our relationships. Can we be forgiven? Are apologies enough? Is there a second chance to redeem ourselves? Our faith may tell us there is - but what about those we love? Even though we may go on to redeem ourselves by leading good lives, helping others and making a positive contribution to society - not because we feel that we have to, but rather because we sincerely want to - what about those who were so hurt by our actions? Are they willing to forgive? Will they be willing to look inward and realize that even they had made bad judgments along the way? Maybe not as serious as those we made, but nevertheless judgments which caused us hurt, but which we overlooked to maintain our loving relationships?          

There was a talented young man (his name and some minor facts are omitted to protect his family) who gained fame and fortune during the 60’s. His story appeared in Time Magazine and at his funeral the most famed in his profession spoke of his accomplishments. Unfortunately, while traveling the world on behalf of one of his famous clients he, through their influence, became hooked on drugs, destroyed his family and his relationship with them, lost his professional standing and spent time in jail. When he came out of prison he dedicated himself to helping the elderly, and the poor, and, eventually, died from the results of his indulgence. His loved ones, as should be in similar circumstance, reached out to help him through his final journey, even though the scars left by his actions will always remain.

The message I leave to my readers is this: Yesterday is gone. Let us each day move on. In the words of Rabbi Alexander Steinbach, “Through Storms We Grow ...”

Bernard ("Bernie") Otis is the author of the upcoming international bestseller, "How To Prepare For Old Age (If You Haven't Married Into A Wealthy Family)". If you have a question or comment, or a personal story about life and aging, please send me an email to