Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

Welcome to my World---Woman, widow. senior citizen seeking to live out my days with a sense of whimsy as I search for inner peace and friendships. Jeez, that sounds like a profile on a dating app and I have zero interest in them, having lost my soul mate of 42 years. Life was good until it wasn't when my husband had a massive stroke and I spent the next 12 1/2 years as his caregiver. This blog has documented the pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties and finally, moving past it all. And now I’m ready for a new start, in a new location---a continuum care campus in West Michigan, U.S.A. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. (Just remember I'm looking through my prism which may or may not be the full story.) Stick around, read a while. I'm sure we'll have things in common. Your comments are welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Mental Health and Beyond Van Gogh


According to the Mental Health America website people over 65 comprise 13% of the population but account for 20% of the deaths by suicide. I was shocked to learn that two million of those of us over 65 have some form of depression and most of it goes untreated. In the future I will no longer make fun of the Medicare Wellness Test questions designed to open up a dialogue about depression and as long as I don't start collecting empty creamer cups from our cafe` and stuffing under my mattress I won't worry about my mental health. (Famous last words.) 

Why am I writing about this topic? Because last week I woke up sad and an all day rain kept me that way. Aside from the rain. I do have a clue as to why I was feeling melancholy. In the wee hours of the night when thunder woke me up I had a hard time falling back to sleep. I kept thinking about the stuff that made it through my big downsizing and how I should have let go of more. I'll never use up all the empty canvases or skeins of yarn or quarters of quilting fabrics in my craft closet. I'll never read all the books on my book shelves. Squirreling arts & crafts away for hard times when I might not be able to afford them is something I inherited from my mom and it’s been a life-long habit. Being in the eighth decade of my life puts a different spin on the habit, though, turning that stuff into unrealistic expectations. Is that a thing? Surrounded by so many people in my peer age group---most of whom seem happy and me with my unfulfilled dreams is why I’m taking my mental health temperature. Get out the violin to go along with my whining.

According to a report I read at the CDC---and this is common sense---it’s important for anyone evaluating an elderly person for depression to note that social isolation and loneliness are not significantly linked. A person can be surrounded by people and still feel alone and people can be alone but not feel lonely. However, a recent government study found that: 1) “Social isolation was associated with about a 50% percent increased risk of dementia, and 2) Loneliness was associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.” I won’t bore you with the other bullet points the study concluded. It’s enough to say that loneliness can literally kill us if we don’t get proactive for ourselves or someone we know who fits the profile. Start here with this article from the CDC Depression is not a Normal Part of Growing Older. I didn’t see myself in that article. I’m frustrated but not depressed, but a senior citizen I’ve known my entire life has tried to commit suicide so I know first-hand senior depression is real.

I went to the 'Beyond Van Gogh' exhibit that’s been traveling around the country this week with twenty-two other CCC residents. If you don’t know what that is, here’s a quote from their press release: “Beyond Van Gogh is a new truly immersive experience. While other shows use virtual reality or still images, our show breaks barriers by incorporating both still and moving art. Masterpieces, now freed from frames, come alive, appear, and disappear, flow across multi-surfaces, the minutia of details titillating our heightened senses. The show is projected on every surface around you, this makes you feel as though you have stepped directly into a Van Gogh painting...”

When I tried to find reviews of the art show for this post the first one I found was short and not so sweet. It said, “The show was a very expensive screen saver.” I had to laugh at that because the flowing and changing colors did make me feel like I was standing in the center of a giant lava lamp. I was mesmerized by it. As I watched the moving images and listened to the music a sense of wonder and peace came over me and it reminded my of one of my all-time favorite movie scenes (What Dreams May Come). Robin Williams’ movie character is walking in wet paint, as if he were part of a giant landscape painting. My smart watch registered the lowest stress level reading I’ve ever gotten in the three months I’ve own it…that’s how much the exhibit spoke to my soul.

Before you get to the main room with all the projections going every which way but on the ceiling you go past a series of boards with writing about and by Van Gogh. He was frustrated by his art and yet he created so much of it. It was a light bulb moment to be reminded that even the great artists struggle when it doesn’t work and are euphoria when it does. Van Gogh and Robin Williams had a lot in common in the mental health department and both longed to find something missing in their lives, something not even their great talents could give them. Especially their talents could not give them.

Reality Check: I love where I’m living now. I’ve got plenty of solitude when I want it and interesting people close by when I don’t. I've got Mother Nature's pretty face to admire just a short walk away. And on the bus back from the Van Gogh show I sat next to our CCC’s pastor. We "run" in different circles so I've only had one, one-on-one conversation with her in the past but it feels like we're kindred spirits and isn’t that strange given she’s a true believer and I call myself an agnostic. She suggested that we should get together for coffee and talk. What do you think that means? ©

 

 


 
Photos at the bottom I grabbed off the internet. The one at the top I took, then I accidentally dialed 911 in the dark and gave up on taking my own photos and videos.

58 comments:

  1. My favorite part of the Van Gogh immersive was the train running around the room.

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    1. My favorite part was when the iconic Starry Night was almost painting itself before our eyes. It was pretty cool and hard to name a favorite part.

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  2. I'm sorry, but I had to laugh at your explanation of the pictures. Yes, better to get the pictures from the internet. :D I think you should take up the pastor's invitation. She probably likes good conversations as much as you do.

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    1. My phone has a one button connect with 911 but I don't pay for that service so I was shocked that it even worked. It amused the people around me as much as it did you. The 911 operator wasn't convinced that I didn't help at first because I tried to whisper, so she asked me several times if I was sure I didn't need help and I had to explain how I was in the dark trying to take pictures.

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  3. I think it means you should get together and just have Coffee. *winks* If you are Kindred Spirits then what you don't have in common probably won't even come up. The Van Gogh Exhibit sounded like a Zen Experience for Artistic Souls. When I go to my Events I feel totally like waves of Peace wash over me. When my Home is in Order I feel that way about my Stuff as well, which is why it's important for me to get it in Order when the Weather comes back to where we can tackle it now I've got all these extra people willing to assist me who are living here full time. *Smiles* As for Mental Health, well... that's a loaded question in our Family since so many of us have Mental Illness or Brain Injury, we assess those things more regularly than most people probably do. You can be Mentally Ill and perfectly Content, you can be Mentally Normal and really suffer from what is a void in your Life's Experiences that you need or want to fill or fulfill. The Daughter is a prime example of a terribly afflicted person who was Content to be Homeless and living hand to mouth and experiences a lot of Joy and Laughter, yet I've known people who have everything and are utterly Miserable with zero Joy. And, since I tried to commit sideways once, I am no longer of the illusion I was Immune to it's risks and it could never happen to me, anyone and everyone can reach their breaking point or a sense of Hopelessness, just keep on Living... Life is a Journey with many twists and turns, Aging is fraught with difficulties that may never resolve, so I can see why Seniors are prone to depression and despair if they're not assessing their condition and guarding against bottoming out.

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    1. Lack of joy and hope really are the keys to good mental health, aren't they. Brain chemistry is an amazing thing when it's balanced just right and the thing of nightmares when it doesn't.

      I don't know how you can have coffee with a pastor and not have religion come up. But if anyone here on campus gets my story it will be her. I've been fan-girling her since the '80s when she wrote a weekly religion column for the newspaper.

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    2. Ha! As someone who served as a Lutheran pastor for years, I can guarantee you that it's possible to have coffee with a pastor without talking religion. Beer, too.

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    3. Good to know. LoL And you---you are just full of surprises.

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  4. All I can say is "Wow!" I would have loved to have a chance to see that exhibit. Thank you for sharing it. Your comment about your craft supplies makes me think about my own 'stash'. (Could have used the word 'hoard' but I won't.) We've bought a smaller place so will downsize one more time in this lifetime.

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    1. I keep telling myself on my one year anniversary here I will do a thorough cleaning and downsize again. By then I should know what I need and don't need.

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  5. It means she likes you and it will not matter if you religious beliefs are different. Reach out for coffee with her and enjoy making a new friend.

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    1. I've had it in the back of my mind to do that down the road when I want a conversation about religious beliefs or lack there of. Didn't expect her to be the one reach out to me! And we were not talking about anything but dieting and knee surgeries.

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  6. I'm glad you wrote about mental health. Depression isn't always easy to talk about, and it's not always easy to treat, medically. We are fortunate to be living at a time when people seem more open to discussing it and finding some answers. The past few years have really been difficult for many of us. I don't even think we can imagine how deeply we are affected by the pandemic, mass shootings, and war--not to mention the personal challenges each of us must manage. I didn't realize how deep the need is until my daughter became a psych nurse at a local hospital. Often, they are overwhelmed by the number of people needing help. Although I am not trained to understand how the brain works, it seems that when depression is treated early on, there is a greater chance for healing.

    The Van Gogh exhibit sounds wonderful. I smiled when I read that it brought your stress level way down--isn't that amazing! The body, mind and spirit are interconnected, for sure.

    I think that you and the pastor might have much in common. It might be fun to have coffee and chat.

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    1. The pandemic has really made it hard on people's mental health, As much as some of us like being alone the pandemic proved we also need outside stimulation proportionally as well. It just seems like we can all pay attention to our friends and family when they are showing signs of depression and urge them to get some help, instead of just brushing it aside.

      I will have that coffee and chat some day.

      I really loved the Van Gogh experience. My stress level at 'normal' registers in at 50 but at the show it was 32! Never been out of the 40s before then not even during sleep cycles, Now I'm obsessed to see if I can Zen out like that again maybe be sitting at the lake.

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  7. I think it means the pastor finds you an interesting person and she would enjoy having coffee with you. Genie

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    1. She and I do have stuff in common like we were both class junkies in our younger years and got degrees long after the normal age people get them. We both kept our maiden names and both like to paint. We both struggle with our weights. Both are widows but her husband committed suicide which is spooky given that I had the mental health part of this post researched and written before our bus ride home.

      Thank you for the first name.

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  8. Dear Jean - you nailed it for me & helped me figure out exactly why my thoughts keep meandering back to my experience at the Van Gogh exhibit, it Does make me think of that particular movie! I went with a couple friend so I had no choice but to leave when they were ready but I could have happily continued to stay longer soaking up the wondrous atmosphere. I felt like I'd been transported to a different realm.

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    1. I could just feel it absorb all thoughts and feelings of other things and wash the away so all I felt was peacefulness. "Transported to a different realm" explains it to a T.

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  9. I adore the description of the Van Gogh exhibit. It confirms what I've thought about, having not experienced it, but observed online. I didn't know there is a Medicare Wellness Test. Another exciting thing to look forward to in my future.

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    1. Watching it online doesn't began to tell you what it's like to experience that show. I would do it again.

      Seniors tend to laugh about the Medicare Wellness Tests. When they first started doctors asked the questions, then it got passed down to the nurses asking them. The last one I took as on the check-in form where it's easy to lie about your answers because no one is watching your body language so the questionnaire is totally ineffective, I'm guessing.

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  10. I suppose that, for some people who aren't moved by art or even Van Gogh's story, the exhibit could be like a big screen saver. I'm glad I'm not one of those people.

    To touch on Pam's comment, I think those of us who are tuned into the world (or at least Life Beyond Ourselves) are experiencing some level of sadness and despair. We're at least feeling beaten down by the years of the previous administration, followed by the pandemic and its horrors, then the rise of anti-government, anti-intellectualism, conspiracy theorists who have tried to take down our democracy, seemingly without accountability. Add to that the nonstop gun violence and deaths without action to stem them, and we just feel stuck, mired in our own mess.

    I say go and do whatever you can to find your Joy. Talk to your new friend, stay healthy, make plans for your craft stuff whether it's to use it or give it away, and keep going to all these lovely outings. And keep those Regrets at bay. It's too late for those, and who needs them?

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  11. You can always pass your extra craft supplies on to your craft coordinator there or even to a local school. I remember the art teacher at my kids' school was always happy for donated supplies.
    Now that I am retired and have more time on my hands, I don't often feel productive enough and that can get me down. I can't find a purpose yet and days just fly by without much difference. I have family and friends that help but I wish I felt more useful some of the time.

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    1. The CCC is working on remodeling their sales office building (about the size of a four stall garage) into a crafts and hobbies building. So I'm thinking along the same lines as you are about donating my stuff to them. The best of both worlds.

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  12. I've seen the ads for the Van Gogh experience and thought about going. Now that you give it a great review I'll put it on my list. I think we all have our good days and bad. It's balancing all of it that takes some work.

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    1. I wouldn't have gone on my own so I was really glad the CCC organized a couple of groups to go see it. When you first get into the main part of the exhibit you think its not a big deal. Then things start moving and flowing about you can feel your body relax and your mind free itself. They let you stay as long as you like.

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  13. You really nailed it in your second paragraph. I think my sadness comes mostly from the outside---all the things you mentioned. I had dropped out of keeping up with current events for a while but have dropped back in again because these times are too important to not be informed. But it takes its toll. Yesterday I sat by the lake for a half hour working on my Zen after watching the news working and it helps.

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  14. Wow, with all that swirling around at the exhibit, I'd need something to hold on to. Amazing images. I'd have coffee with the pastor. You all ready admire her and it could be the start of a fun and challenging friendship. Stirring up the intellect is always good.

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    1. I worried about getting dizzy like those old black light posters made you do in the '60s but the movements are so slow they don't effect you that way. Only once did it feel weird and that was for only for a moment the first time I looked down at the floor. It passed as quickly as it started. There were lots of chairs around to sit and watch.

      You're right, I could look at coffee and conversation with the pastor as a challenging friendship to stir my intellect and curiosity. She'd be bound by some kind of code not to gossip about my lack of religion around here.

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    2. This post speaks to me...I have had depression on and off all my life. Most recently (and more intensely than in decades) earlier this year. Mine usually has a "trigger" event that just overwhelms my sense of safety and connection. So I can totally understand how older and/or isolated people can feel bereft of joy and hope. I've been there. It's awful. Thankfully, I've also learned how to help myself, or get help, when I need to and my episodes are now infrequent. BUT I was just coming out of that depression when I went to see the Van Gogh show! I did like it, but found it challenging to read of his mental health issues and I found the music to be melancholy. Maybe it was my state of mind at that time. It was a cool experience nevertheless. Have coffee with the pastor; god works in mysterious ways. LOL

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    3. I don't remember the music being melancholy but I do remember saying at one point, "That music is weird." Knowing Van Gogh's history with mental illness I would have recommended not reading the boards before seeing the actual show.

      You work so hard at finding joy and peace in your life I'm glad you've found the ways that work best for you to keep your depression at bay. People are good at covering it up so it's hard to know what goes on in other people's heads. You're sharing your journey in your blogs has got to have helped others as well as yourself.

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    4. Thank you...I feel vulnerable sharing, but I also believe keeping our human struggles a secret behind a "pretend-jolly" exterior isn't helpful to others. I know I feel supported just knowing I am not alone with whatever I'm dealing with -- that others know and understand.

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    5. Yup, it's not easy letting your vulnerability show but I've got to believe it does help others while helping ourselves.

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  15. I wish I had gone to the Van Gogh exhibit when it was in Seattle. I think she found you interesting and wanted to get to know you better.

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    1. I'll bet the company that produced this will come up with something else to use the same process on and next time you'll not hesitate to do see it.

      You might be right. All I really know is we don't have any trouble talking together like we've known each other for years.

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  16. I was glad you said this. "social isolation and loneliness are not significantly linked." I have to say that during the pandemic when I was really isolated, I never felt lonely. In fact, most of the time -- not all, I did melt down a few times -- I never felt depressed or lonely. It was more frustration of lack of control than anything else. But I always had people I could talk or zoom or email with and even though we distanced for much of it especially at the beginning, Rick in person and a few friends who would sit on one side of the driveway in a mask as I sat on the other. But I felt good, physically. I think when I go down the rabbit hole is when a limiting health scare hits me and I think of all I didn't do when perhaps I could have. There is a good deal of food for thought here. Of late, I've felt out of control with my body, the weather, travel (or lack thereof). And don't even start me on war, insurrection and mass shootings. That always brings me down. Not jump off a bridge down, but down.

    The VanGogh sounds like the Klimt I saw in Paris and it was the most remarkable art experience of my life -- and I've had plenty. I haven't seen the VanGogh (partly because I didn't want to diminish the Klimt and partly because it cost a bloody fortune (far more than Paris). I felt the same as you. I never wanted to leave.

    Have coffee. If you feel compelled to lay out parameters (don't even try to convert me!), do it! But you may find you have a lovely new friend who is interesting and finds you interesting as well. And we all need friends!

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    1. If the Klimt show was like this YouTube video https://youtu.be/5oqaytfujI8 the Van Gogh was produced very much the same only with mellower music and more flowing changes. I would definitely go see another art show done in these formats. It wasn't that expensive $40??? I bought the ticket through the CCC that is charging to our money fee.

      I like your set parameter's idea should the convert me issue ever come up with my potential new friend. But she's the Hospice pastor whose job it is to hear stories like mine and those of true believers to make them feel good about passing in good standing. As least that's my take. LoL

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  17. Yes, have coffee. I'm STILL downsizing (12 years since we sold the house) so I think it is a never ending process. I feel you made a wise move to be in the CCC. Like you said, you have people and things to do but can also be alone. Win/win. I was raised Catholic (12 years in Catholic schools) but now don't practice any religion so officially agnostic. Are you allowed to invite a friend for lunch or dinner? Has your niece visited? Thanks for bloggin!!

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    1. My niece has been here twice and my brother once as were two friends from my old senior hall and a friend from the blogging community. People invite outsiders for lunch or dinner all the time but since I eat here 98% of the time if I'm going to have a meal with someone, I'd rather go off campus.

      The pastor lives here in one of the town houses, but she's a morning person who does a lot of stuff on campus with religion, Bible study, Christian book club and morning mediations.

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  18. Downsizing isn't something I have to worry about, why does the word "worry" seem so negative compared to the word "concern".........sorry off topic there.

    Art isn't something I know anything about, ok I know who Van Gogh was but that's about all.

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    1. 'Worry' and 'concern'--- I can see why saying something like "I'm worried about you" seems like its coming from a different place than "I'm concerned about you."

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  19. Jean, I always love to read what your readers are thinking, so I was looking at the comments. I happened to notice that you mentioned that the pastor is a Hospice Pastor. I don't think I knew that. I've been a cancer patient for the past 24 years (I know...it's crazy, but I am really glad to still be kicking!), and I think hospice pastors might be a bit different than your typical pastor. I believe most of them have some medical training and they do a lot of coordinating between patients, families and health care providers. Forgive my drama, but I think they are right up there with the angels. I can't imagine being in that profession, but am so glad for those who serve.

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    1. The CCC has Hospice nurses but the pastors (3 in all) probably does work closely with them and the families. I went to a lecture given by a Hospice pastor and I agree they are pretty special people who have to know something about all religions.

      Twenty-Four years! Your cancer doctors must be miracle workers.

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  20. I think it means the pastor thinks you are a lovely person that she would like to cultivate a friendship with.

    Deb

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    1. Or maybe I look like a person who needs her soul saved. LoL

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  21. I just couldn't go see what they did to his work. So glad you like where you are.

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    1. Your comment hung out in my spam folder a few days. Sorry about that!

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  22. My first response to the Van Gogh exhibit wasn't exactly negative, but I'm not sure I'd enjoy it. Of course, I'm one of those who still prefers books to audio books or electronic readers, so there's that. One of the things I enjoy about going to an art museum is the chance to interact with a painting, and it seems as though this kind of exhibit (any of them -- not just this one) is trying to evoke particular kinds of responses. Every now and then a painting in an exhibit will literally stop me in my tracks, and I can spend an hour in front of it. But, if this shows up in Houston, I'd be willing to attend -- except for the price.

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    1. I wasn't impressed until I got to the third room....and then it hits you. I wouldn't exactly call this an art exhibit even though it was. I've done virtual reality and it was like that only better because you didn't have to wear the goggles. It was more a stimulus to the sense than being able to examine and connect with a piece of art.

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  23. Kindred souls don't have to share every belief. Sometimes we meet people who we connect with across the waves.

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    1. We do have a lot of common interest and it didn't take long to discover them.

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  24. If there's 43 million seniors, I bet there's a lot more than 2 million who are depressed. Especially after the last few years. It's crazy making to watch the inability of our government to deal with the most basic of problems.

    My first impression when I heard about the VanGogh immersive was negative because I'm sort of turned off by all the hype about AI, but I bet I would enjoy it.

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    1. The Van Gogh wasn't high on my list to see either, but it was some place to go to help bond with other here who like art. Once there, standing in the middle of that room filled with moving color it made me feel like a kid again.

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  25. Sorry you have a friend who has attempted suicide. I've sometimes wondered about the welfare of some bloggers whose writings are concerning and then they suddenly don't post. Making everyone aware of this health concern is very important and is one about which we all need to be aware for ourselves and those around us. There's no shame in seeking help for any who might have questions.

    My son and family went into Detroit to see the Van Gogh exhibit which they enjoyed. He managed to take a couple short videos he sent to share with me. I think I would really enjoy the experience.

    As for your CCC theologian, perhaps she simply thought you were someone with whom she'd enjoy having a conversation. It could be nice to find one person in your new home with whom you could have deeper conversations if you haven't made such a connection yet. If she gets too much into religion for your taste I'm sure you'll deal with that.

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    1. I used to have a blogger friend whose husband committed suicide leaving here and two small children behind. She quite blogging and from time to time I wonder what happened to her. She was in so much pain. The CCC's pastor's husband did too only they were older.

      I think the pastor is the perfect person to have a deeper conversation with when I'm ready for it. I'm just not sure I'm ready for that yet.

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  26. Before I had the stroke, I never thought about suicide except for how horrible it was, how selfish, how incomprehensible to those left behind, etc. Since the stroke, and my continuing disabilities, I've thought about it in more concrete terms, like what would be my criteria for deciding I couldn't/didn't want to deal with it all anymore. Don't worry, I'm not even close to there yet, and may never be. But it has caused me to discuss it with both my children and my husband, who has had his own health scares/crises. And I think that's a good thing, that we've both thought about it, and decided that there might come a point where there's so much pain, and so little (or none at all) pleasure left, that one of us just couldn't go on. And if that time comes, we agree that assisted dying would be appropriate, and we would help the other if we could. I'm 69, in a wheelchair, in substantial pain (thank goodness for medical marijuana) some of the time, and although I'm improving all the time, the future is not guaranteed. It is actually reassuring to have that final backup plan. Right now, I'm having too much fun to consider anything like that, but things change.

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    1. Health issues in the elderly was one of the three main reasons for the high suicide rate in our age group. I'm so glad you are close enough to your family that you can talk openly. I saw what an unexpected suicide did to a neighbor's family and its not without long lasting guilt and what-ifs for those left behind, who did not see it coming. Keep that medical marijuana coming!

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  27. Does it matter why the pastor invited you? If you enjoyed talking to her, I'd accept whatever

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    1. That's a good point. I guess I'm worried I'd get asked to come to one of her services and would have to out myself as a non-believer and that could be awkward.

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