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

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