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Archive for May 2013

Thank you, Miss Florence

On May 23, I wrote a story about Miss Florence, aka Florence Petheram, who hosted Romper Room on Spokane television for 19 years.

She is 81 now and a children's book author. Today in the mail, she sent me a Mr. Do Bee postcard and a Romper Room ring.

It was instant “memory meld” — that's what I call when you see something from childhood and the memory is instant. You're back there, a 5-year-old, seeing the Mr. Do Bee poster in the Romper Room classroom.

I'm on a throw stuff out kick at home but I am sure grateful Miss Florence kept some of these invaluable mementos from days long ago.

Thanks for the memories, Miss Florence.

Spokane breaks ground on second Hospice House

Yesterday, I attended the ground-breaking ceremony for Spokane's second Hospice House. See story.

The house will be completed a year from now and will allow 12 patients at a time to die in beautiful surroundings.

Barb Cox, Hospice of Spokane's first clinical director, read a wonderful poem credited to Native American Chief Tecumseh.

Here's an excerpt:

“When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself.

Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools
and robs the spirit of its vision. When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”

(S-R photo by Jesse Tinsley, showing Willa Johns, a former Hospice of Spokane executive director and now a hospice patient, shoveling some ceremonial dirt. Barb Cox is pictured to her left)

Loss: We’re tougher than we think

The Council on Contemporary Families released a fascinating report today that showed we all might be tougher than we think when it comes to handling trauma and loss.

The report “examined the effects of marriage, divorce, and bereavement on life satisfaction up to four years after the event. Unlike much previous research, (the) study followed a large representative sample of more than 16,000 people, assessing them yearly with questions about life events and overall life satisfaction.”

“Following loss, most people report a modest, short-lived increase in distress that subsides within a few month,” writes Anthony D. Mancini of Pace University, author of the briefing paper titled “The trouble with averages: the impact of major life events and acute stress may not be what you think.”

Some highlights from the fascinating report:

  • Widowers and widows generally do OK.

    “The majority of grievers (59 percent) showed a remarkable degree of resilience, reporting stable levels of life satisfaction both before and after the loss. Contrary to the notion that older adults are especially vulnerable to loneliness and depression after bereavement, the members of the sample most likely to report stable levels of well-being were, in fact, the oldest.”

  • Divorce doesn't destroy your life forever.

    “The pattern we would likely anticipate—a decline in life satisfaction following the divorce—was shown by just 19 percent of the participants. Almost 72 percent of the people whose marriages dissolved showed relatively high levels of life satisfaction before the divorce and experienced essentially no change after it. Perhaps most surprisingly, we found a small but significant proportion of people, almost 10 percent, who showed substantial increases in well-being afterwards. These findings provide a more balanced perspective on claims about the long-term negative effects of divorce, at least for adults.”

  • Post-traumatic stress is not inevitable for military folks.

    “Contrary to the widespread assumption that PTSD is rife among returning military personnel, more than 80 percent of these soldiers displayed normal levels of functioning before and after deployment, and only about 7 percent showed substantially elevated symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder.”

“Love Laurie”

Gifts between us extend beyond our death - take Cpl. Thomas “Cotton” Jones who received a diary from Laura Mae Davis before he went off to World War II. He wrote about his life in combat and about his love for her. He wrote if he died in combat, she receive the diary back – with his words in it.

Jones was killed in battle and Davis did receive his diary, but not until decades later when the journal was on display in a museum and she went to see the exhibit. Read story.

War is mysterious in its reasons and in its details of combat. Jones wrote about his life at war, but often he wrote about his love for Laurie and the letters from her and his family, words he carried in his heart. Now - 70 years later – Laurie carries his words with her.

Words filled with love, words nothing – not even war – can destroy.

(Photo of Catherine Johnston's father, Don Johnston, in his United States Marine Corps days)


Boomers: We dream of travel

In my Boomer U story today, I looked at coming trends in boomer travel.

European river cruises are hot, as is taking trips with many generations in tow.

One boomer I interviewed for the story, Susan Snelson Spiegel, is an uber traveler and always has been. And she has combined travel with volunteering on many occasions.

What kind of travel will you do in your 50s, 60s and beyond?

I picture myself, in my 80s, on those bus tours seeing the United States in a new way.

Happy Memorial Day!

(Photo courtesy of Susan Snelson Spiegel)

Memoriam: Cup of tea across time zones

This Memorial Day weekend, you might be remembering loved ones who died this year or in recent years — or a decade ago.

If you can't visit the deceased at a cemetery, here's a suggestion I adapted from Paula Davis, a funeral director at Heritage Funeral Home in Spokane.

She said some families, spread far and wide, can't or don't do memorial services. She always urges them to do something “that you call your last good-bye.”

One family agreed that at 3 p.m. one Friday, they would have a cup of tea and think of their father. Siblings in other time zones had the tea at the same time, though it was different on the clock, of course. So 6 p.m. in the East, for instance.

I love the idea and think it can be adapted by families in separate locations pausing to remember a loved one Memorial Day weekend, across the time zones.

Doesn't have to be tea, either. Coffee works. And stronger stuff.

Enjoy the weekend. And remember.

(S-R archive photo)

Police line up

Police officers put their lives on the line each day for citizens and one another other – and often put their hearts on the line, too.When a Phoenix police officer was killed in the line of duty, three days later his friends lined up to show their love and support for his daughter as she graduated from kindergarten. See story.

Sometimes love means simply showing up, being present – and remembering.

The amazing Miss Florence

When I was 4 and 5 years old, I was enthralled every weekday morning by Romper Room and the beautiful Miss Florence who would call out children's names through a magic mirror at the end of each show.

I begged my parents to let me go on, and somehow, I was accepted for the program. But the two-week gig would have required a parent to drive me every morning to KREM's studios on the South Hill in the winter in the days before snow tires were very good.

We were a one-car family in 1959-60 and my mom had six kids and my dad a busy law practice and so, the plan looked impossible.

I must have been inconsolable, because I remember that one morning, the phone rang, and it was Miss Florence on the line explaining that I couldn't be on the show this time, but maybe “when the snow melts all off of the ground.”

I never did make it on the show and didn't pursue the “snow melt” promise. But I remained a forever fan of Miss Florence for making that phone call.

I recently interviewed Florence Petheram for a story that ran in the newspaper today. She is still beautiful. And at 81, still amazing, living in Auburn to be near her four grown children. She's written two children's books, skydived for her 80th birthday, has a special man friend and for Mother's Day, she requested a hula hoop! She'll be in Spokane Saturday, reading from her book Magic is for When You Need It.

Thanks for the phone call long ago, Miss Florence, and for the memories!

(Photo courtesy of Florence Petheram)

Tornado watch: Parents finding their children

On Morning Joe today, they showed over and over a very touching amateur video taken of parents frantically looking for their children after the Oklahoma tornado. And children looking for their parents.

No one knew — or cared — they were on video and so it was so real, unvarnished emotion. And so moving. Parents held onto their children for dear life.

Others searched the crowd outside school, looking, looking, looking, asking friends.

Tears and screams and one boy, lost among the adults, looking at adult faces, hoping to spot mom or dad.

Reality TV, with its staged tears and fake scenes of drama, has nothing on the real thing. This is life.

Wonderful and terrifying, all the time, really, not just in tragedy.

But a parent and child united, that's what blows everything away.

(S-R archive photo)

Remembering Vivian, Vicki, Shirley and Janet

The Women Helping Women Fund luncheon was held today, an annual event that has grown to spectacular proportions, with 1,600 women and men contributing $125 each (and more) to help fund 20 community programs for women and children.

The speaker, Paralympic medal winner and author Bonnie St. John was terrific, the lunch menu  an upscale BLT  was creative and tasty and I sat with a table of remarkable women, including table chair Jamie Tobias Neely, writer and EWU teacher of journalism.

But I felt a tinge of sadness after I read the page with the names of the luncheon founders — Mari Clack, Marcy Drummond, Vicki McNeill, Shirley Rector, Janet Skaden and Vivian WInston. All but Mari and Marcy have died.

I wrote the first stories on this revolutionary early 1990s idea when it was unheard of for women to be asked to contribute $100 (the suggested donation in the early years.) Yet the founders didn't flinch at the asking. They knew the need was great. They asked and women opened their purses and wrote those checks.

Now these big-ask fundraisers go on all the time, though Women Helping Women luncheon is the biggest.

I thought of the day I interviewed the women about their vision, which began as a discussion in Vivian's living room. And now four of the six are dead. McNeill, former Spokane mayor, died first in 1997. The others died throughout the 2000s. Vivian made it to 97 years old.

“This is because of you” I thought silently, thanking Vicki, Shirley, Janet and Vivian, the women now gone. “Thanks for thinking so big. It worked.”

(S-R archive photo of Vivian Winston)


How will you maximize your retirement funds? Many people are heading across the US borders to foreign lands and calling their destination their retirement home - and enjoying more  luxury than they could in the USA.

 Where would you go?

(S-R archives photo)

Across the globe – together again

We love our dogs. Each year we spend $$$ on their health and happiness. Last week I spent $700 for emergency care and tests and meds for my beloved Bella. She stayed close to me during my cancer treatment so I figure she should get good medical care, too. And a new gel foam bed for her aging body.

One man says he owes his life to his dog, Casey, a service dog who detected explosives in Afghanistan.  But they were separated when Marine Sgt. Ross Gundlach went home and Casey stayed behind.  After some searching, Gundlach learned that Casey was now in Iowa, working. Gundlach pleaded his case for her return to him as her handler. And soon some very kind compassionate Iowans surprised Gundlach with a reunion – and a gift: Casey.  

 A happy story from Afghanistan to home.

(S-R archives photo)

Boston bombing: One month ago today

NPR's Morning Edition had an excellent report on the Boston bombing which happened one month ago today.

Only one business has not reopened. And the reporter talked to many witnesses who were there that day.

Their comments reflected how grief works.

One man said his birthday was coming up soon and after that, he was putting the memories away.

“If you dwell on it, it will swallow you up. Every wound needs to heal.”

A grief therapist said there should be no timetable to the grief. Some will move on; others it will take a long time.

Several said: “The vision of that will never disappear.”

One young man choked up when he said: “I remember walking over people” and he thought: Not as hurt as some others. So he walked to the more injured. But he wonders: Who am I to make the decision?

A firefighter friend gave him this advice: “You cry. You let it out.”

It is good our culture is getting more conversant in grief. And so many are willing to step in and help others as they struggle through grief that lasts a lot longer than one month.

(S-R archive photo)

Meeting Dr. Joyce Brothers in Spokane

When I heard the news yesterday about Dr. Joyce Brothers, I remembered meeting her and writing a story about her. I remember that, somehow, I picked her up at the airport and we did the interview in the car. I remembered she was kind of crabby. And that's all I remembered.

I spent an hour searching our digital archives for the story I wrote about her. I was sure it was in 1994 or later. Our archives were stored digitally in 1994 and beyond. No luck.

I finally went down to our newspaper library and in Brothers' clipping file, I found the story I wrote March 19, 1990. Memory is odd that way. It's nearly impossible to remember anymore if something happened five years ago or 10.

Brothers had come to town, sponsored by Hospice of Spokane, to talk about grief. Her husband had died the year before.

In the story, I reported (in a fairly gentle way) on her slightly rude behavior at the airport when her luggage was lost and how distracted and aloof she seemed in our interview.

Her coldness and aloofness were all I remembered thinking back, but the story reminded me that at the end of our interview, she cried about her husband. And at her talk, she cried, describing her grief. And her words about grief — before I understood myself about grief because I hadn't lost then any of the people I have lost since — were so right on the mark.

For instance, she said: “The only thing I regret is that I discovered how right he was about all the small things, and I can't tell him. For example, he would always come in the kitchen and close the cabinets. I cook and I always leave the cabinets open. He'd say: 'You are going to hit your head.' And by God, I did. And I wish he was here so I could tell him.”

When she sobbed during her talk in front of 800 people, she said: “I wouldn't be human if I didn't cry.”

And the audience was amazing. They let Brothers cry. “They took off their glasses, wiped the tears away and then placed the glasses on their faces again.”

Godspeed Dr. Brothers. Thanks for the memories.

(Spokesman-Review archive photo of Joyce Brothers in the 1960s)

Angelina speaks out

I have not cared for Angelina – given all that she did to mess with Jennifer Aniston’s marriage to Brad. But today…my heart has softened. Her story of facing her high likelihood of breast cancer – genetic certainty – will offer hope to the women who receive their diagnosis today and tomorrow and next week and…

Women make all kinds of difficult decisions when faced with their own mortality in the middle of motherhood. And death at an early age is not an option when parenting sweet children who need and love you – and worry.

 In the years to come, Angelina will grow stronger in her conviction she made the right choice, her children will grow in their understanding of what she struggled with and how remarkably brave their mom is…and how much she underwent so she could continue to love them and accompany them on their journey through life. She will not be preoccupied with endless mammograms or freaked out with twinges within her breasts, wondering if it is cancer growing menacingly within her. Those twinges will be of love she carries in her heart, life’s joyful adventures, not agonizing over what may be quickly killing her. And today, I identify with an actress I now see as a woman of courage –  the same courage I once needed and found, too.

(S-R archives photo)

To retire…or not?

 Boomers may work longer than their parents for many reasons. But interestingly, perhaps the US economy needs you at work just as much as you need to be working.

A colleague tells me that his retirement simply meant that he was allowed to choose where and when he could work. Of course, he has a very portable career. So, what choices are there for you?  Change jobs? Leave fast-paced  office for easier work and friendlier environment? Less stress?  Take a chance and start that business?   

What plans or choices have you made about retirement?

CPR at the Cemetery

Heritage Funeral Home and Crematory always offers some interesting programs each Memorial Day weekend, coming up May 25, 26 and 27.

This year it's a tribute to veterans with displays and memorabilia, classic cars and musical entertainment all three days in the Heritage Chapel. Plus a brass band concert at 6 p.m. Sunday May 26 in Greenwood Memorial Terrace Cemetery.

But Heritage is also offering free CPR classes, using the hands-only method that recent research says is effective. Some people are too intimidated to perform mouth-to-mouth, so the hope is that the more people who learn the hands-only method, the more people will do CPR in emergencies.

The staff at Heritage had training because people sometimes pass out at memorial services, according to funeral director Paula Davis.

The staff learned so much that they are offering free lessons to members of the public, in partnership with  American Medical Response.

The classes will be offered at every hour on the hour all three days, starting at 10 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m.

No need to sign up in advance. Just show up. You could save a life someday because of it.

(S-R File photo of hands-on CPR)


Anna Quindlen’s column on motherhood continues to be the best reflection on the experience of every woman who has raised children. The days are long, the years fly by.

Take a moment and read her words. Then grab your child and go outside and play.

(S-R photo)

Today’s spot of beauty

These trees in my neighborhood bloom magnificently for just a short while.

Even in their prime days, the blossoms begin to shudder onto the street, especially if there's a wind.

It's hard to know how to behave in the face of such beauty. I sat on the curb across the street from them for a good 10 minutes with my grandchildren Saturday. And we just talked about those blossoms.

My grandchildren were my excuse to pause and appreciate. But why can't I do the same during morning walks by the trees? Sit right down there and stare for many minutes. Instead, I rush by, eager to get a workout in.

In this world that can be so ugly, beauty should always be a show stopper.

(Tony Wadden photo)

Memories of GU’s COG

Gonzaga University is bidding farewell Wednesday to the COG.. The COG was the university's central dining hall for 58 years. A new university center will be built in its place.

Sunday, I walked through the COG for the final time, snapped this cellphone photo of the outside, and memories filtered back from 1973-1974, my freshman year, when I ate three meals a day there.

The linoleum in the bathroom near the entrance is exactly the same linoleum. The cafeteria smell is the same. I peeked in the windows and the way the food was arranged looked different. We didn't have salad bars, for instance. One night a week — Saturday? — was steak night. Might have been just one Saturday a month.

People complained about COG food, but I loved it! And I gained the Freshman 15. It took until my junior year in Florence to walk it all away.

An open house is scheduled for GU community folks and alumni between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wednesday. I can't make it, so I said my own goodbyes yesterday.

May I call you?

Susan Crandall’s new book reveals what dating after 50 can be like.  Men and women are having fun together, savoring romance, discovering true love.  

Some of her findings in Thinking about Tomorrow: Reinventing Yourself at Midlife follow:

People are nice — way nice and you see old friends in new ways. Sparks may fly with someone you already dated - when we have lived a few decades into  adulthood, perhaps all that experience influences our view of a potential mate.

Puppy love still exists. When friends of ours fell in love - one a widow, the other divorced - we commented, “Oh, they got to fall in love again. How exciting!”

We’re comfortable with our sexuality - we know who we are and are more confident expressing passion. 

Nobody sweats the small stuff - life has taught us what is worth getting worked up over and what is simply not worth making a big deal about. 

You don’t have to change each other. As anyone who has been married for five minutes knows: the plan to re-model one's mate never works.

Have you dated after 50? What was the experience like for you?

(S-R archives photo)

Remembering Father Kevin

He was my first professor at graduate school that summer of ‘79 and he taught “Theology and Spirituality” – a broad title for a class taught by a slender man. Kevin Seasoltz, a Benedictine monk, was a contemporary Renaissance man. He spoke without wasting one syllable; every observation was a tightly phrased, perfect comment.  He integrated science, literature and theology, applying theory to real-life circumstances. We read six books in six weeks and wrote six papers. I was busy – and attached myself to his every thought.

 “The evil of the day is sufficient thereof…” no need to seek suffering in an attempt to prove one’s attention to faith. Life will provide suffering enough. Man, that was an understatement. And on leadership: “to be in a position of authority requires one to “author” life into others;” lead them with grace and humility. “Surround yourself with excellence” and you will succeed in your work and be a better person. Do not be afraid of the giftedness of others – they do not threaten, they bless.

People who touch our lives, even briefly, can have a sustaining presence and impact on us. Kevin may never know how his ideas, comments or advice influenced me - and others - for decades. I still seek people who are smart, wise, compassionate and kind. Kevin was right: I am enriched, not diminished.

Kevin died last week. He enjoys now the magnificence of a new life he often reflected on: “life does not end, it is just different.” May he enjoy the company of angels and saints, friends and family who have gone before him and may the God he served so faithfully, welcome him home.

The Friday night high

I have several retired people in my life, and they often have to think a minute to remember what day it is.

When you work, the week organizes itself. So I always know when Friday rolls around.

It's a great feeling to do the countdown to the end of a work week, especially a week like this past one where everyone was working so hard all around me to launch the newspaper's new Friday 7 section. They did a great job, and it's wonderful the newspaper is growing again.

Tick, tick, tick. Minutes away from going home.

What replaces this feeling when you retire?

Can you celebrate Friday for Friday's sake?

Do you hear that?

Many people will say, “God told me…” But how? And how do we authenticate those messages? Are they from God or from our own longings, imagination? How do we tell the difference?

Swimming last week (the pool is my favorite location for intense prayer – laps back and forth create a rhythm without distraction) I was praying and pleading and longing for guidance. As I touched the wall and prepared to turn, I could “hear” with my heart and my head, “Trust me.” 

Jesus promised he would send his Spirit, an advocate, who would guide us – perhaps with messages we can hear.  For now, I am listening.

Have you ever heard the voice of God?


(S-R archives photo)

Suicides on the rise for aging boomers

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a sad and troubling report today.

Suicide deaths rose fairly dramatically, across the entire country, for all age groups, but especially for aging boomers.

The report does not analayze why. But now that this sobering report is out, I expect the theories will begin.

Some of the findings:

  • From 1999 to 2010, the age-adjusted suicide rate for adults aged 35–64 years in the United States increased significantly by 28.4 percent — from 13.7 per 100,000 population to 17.6.
  • The suicide rate for men aged 35–64 years increased 27.3 percent — from 21.5 to 27.3, and the rate for women increased 31.5 percent from 6.2 to 8.1
  •  Among men, the greatest increases were among those aged 50–54 years and 55–59 years, (49.4 percent — from 20.6 to 30.7, and 47.8 percent — from 20.3 to 30.0, respectively).
  • Among women, suicide rates increased with age, and the largest percentage increase in suicide rate was observed among women aged 60–64 years (59.7 percent from 4.4 to 7.0).
  • Firearms and suffocation were the most common mechanisms for men; poisoning and firearms were the most common mechanisms for women
  • From 1999 to 2010, suicides by suffocation increased from 18 percent to 24 percent of all suicides for men and from 12 percent to 18 percent of all suicides for women.

May Day: Welcome best month of the year

Welcome May!

This morning in water aerobics several of us reminisced about May traditions, including baskets of flowers left on porches and all the Mary crowning ceremonies that took place in Catholic schools during May.

Mary crowning ceremonies still happen in some schools.

There are special Mary hymns, too. But it took three of us to piece together parts of them.

It takes a village these days to remember…

Happy May!

(Tony Wadden photo)

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About this blog

Writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., addresses issues facing aging baby boomers and seniors as well as issues of serious illness, death and dying, grief and loss.

Ask a question: Catherine welcomes questions about aging issues and grief. Email her at

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