CVIndependent

Fri07102020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Anita Rufus

It’s funny how seemingly unrelated events can coincidentally coincide.

I recently wrote about Cathy Greenblat and her stirring book, Love, Loss, and Laughter, featuring photographs of people with various types of dementia and reminding us that “someone is in there.” Cathy has inspired a local coalition of individuals and organizations to make Coachella Valley into a “dementia-friendly community,” patterned on similar projects around the world.

And now for something seemingly unconnected: The Board is a group of men, mostly of a certain age, that gets together monthly for lunch to gab, exchange stories, listen to speakers and generally socialize. They also occasionally have an event where womenfolk are invited. I recently attended just such an event, the day after attending a meeting of the “dementia-friendly” group, where one of The Board’s members, Larry Delrose, showed a film he wrote and co-produced, called Night Club.

Delrose’s film includes such film stars as Mickey Rooney, Sally Kellerman and Ernest Borgnine, in a story that centers on a residence facility where many patients have dementia. The film shows both the compassion and care given to such patients, as well as the callousness often encountered. It includes scenes that members of the audience laughed at nervously—possibly because the film showed many people in a situation in which we’re afraid we’ll one day find ourselves.

Delrose is a Rancho Mirage resident who has been in the Coachella Valley for 34 years. At 63, he has been married for 40 years, and has two daughters and five grandkids. He previously was a real estate investor, wrote a book called Directions to a Happy Life, and began acting and movie-making later in life in an effort to “pursue what you love to do in life.”

Why a movie on this subject? “I thought the movie business needs more mainstream movies that address social issues (instead of) extreme violence, dysfunctional families, horror and action,” says Delrose. “I thought I could present socially aware subjects to the moviegoer in a way that they could learn something about life, without being preachy, corny or too depressing.”

In her pursuit of photographs of people with dementia-related illnesses, Greenblat was determined to capture what makes them laugh, sing and dance. Delrose affirms that “music, dancing and being around younger people can help all older people feel better, especially music, (which) is like a free anti-depressant drug.”

This conclusion led Delrose, in part, to Night Club: “I want to make movies that expose a social issue for thought, make it a great script, get some well-known skilled actors, and bring in lots of kids and music. Night Club was a test for me to see if my idea was right, and based on how I saw people react, I now know that I’m on to something.”

What would it take to de-fuse the stigma attached to a diagnosis of “dementia”? We had a president, Ronald Reagan, who may have already been experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer’s while still in office. Singer Glen Campbell went on tour after his diagnosis, and only recently had to cancel performances due to escalating memory issues—although he is continuing to speak out about his condition.

Other famous people have gone public with their diagnosis and have helped de-stigmatize Alzheimer’s: actors Charles Bronson, Charlton Heston, Rita Hayworth, Burgess Meredith, Peter Falk, Estelle Getty; renowned composer Aaron Copeland; boxer Sugar Ray Robinson; singer Perry Como; and basketball coach Pat Summitt.

I can remember when the word “cancer” struck fear even in those who had not received the diagnosis. We whispered the word. We didn’t talk publicly about it. Then first ladies Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter and Nancy Reagan shared their own experiences with us, along with many others. Now cancer is recognized as a disease that can be detected and in some cases cured, or at least somewhat controlled; we have learned not to shun or fear people who have it. We speak out about it and walk with signs to raise awareness. Although we still fear hearing the diagnosis, we no longer worry about “catching it.”

A similar transformation took place around HIV/AIDS. None of us want to be told we have it, but we no longer fear being around people who have been diagnosed, as when people were afraid to send their children to school because they might “catch it.”

That is one of the goals of a “dementia-friendly community”—to not only de-stigmatize those with the condition, but to educate ourselves and our communities to understand that “someone is in there.”

The next time the person in front of you in line at Starbucks is confused by too many choices, or someone at the checkout counter at the market has trouble counting out change, instead of getting impatient and huffy, offer to help. That is the first step toward the Coachella Valley being a dementia-friendly community—and we all have an investment in that.

You can make a difference.

Although sexual orientation and dirty-trick campaigning have dominated the headlines regarding the Rancho Mirage City Council election, to my mind, there is a more interesting issue that has emerged: Should only older and more-experienced individuals be elected to represent the city’s residents?

Councilmember Dana Hobart recently made that assertion, casting Councilmember Scott Hines as “younger … (with) just ambition.”

Hines attended the Air Force Academy, earning a degree in political science in 1992, and then master’s degrees in public management from the University of Maryland, and organizational management from George Washington University. With more than 20 years of business and entrepreneurial experience, he is hardly a kid.

Hobart served in the Air Force for four years, then graduated from California State University and earned a juris doctorate from the USC School of Law in 1963. In addition to a long legal career and positions of prestige within the legal community, he successfully argued a case before the United States Supreme Court in 1976. 

Assuming these are both honorable men who want to serve their community, why would age even be a factor? Do older residents only want to see people their own age elected?

Here’s what I’m wondering: Is it time for the younger generations to take over? Remember that old saying, “Never trust anyone over 30”?

Although Hines is well beyond millennial age, a recent poll by Pew Research Center sheds some light on the ongoing conflicts between the generations. 

“Millennials,” defined as people between the ages of 18 and 33 by Pew, have very different views of traditional cultural norms and institutions. The underlying struggle to redefine our society is taking place throughout the country at all levels.

A recent column in The New York Times by Charles M. Blow, discussing the Pew findings, got me thinking. Yes, there is value in the wisdom we hope to have developed over many years of experience, but there is also value in accepting that society’s norms have already changed in important ways, and public policies must adjust to reflect those changes.

For example, 69 percent of millennials believe that marijuana use should be made legal, while only 32 percent of the so-called “silent generation” (those 68 and older) support legalization (although even that number has almost doubled since 2002). On the issue of whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry, 68 percent of millennials support such rights, compared to only 38 percent of the silent generation.

Millennials also largely believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases (68 percent), and that immigrants in the country illegally should be allowed to stay and eventually apply to become citizens (55 percent). 

In the Coachella Valley, particularly the western and central parts, we tend to think of the local population as made up of many retirees. However, according to the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership (CVEP), in 2011, only about 30 percent of valley residents were 55 or older.

Does that mean almost 70 percent of our residents are not having their interests represented when elected officials are from older generations?  Not necessarily. For example, in Rancho Mirage, more than half of the population is 60 or older. Yet, it is worth considering that elected officials are supposed to not only manage current realities, but plan for the future viability of their communities. That may require attitudes and philosophies that encompass the cultural changes we are already experiencing.

Local officials have to consider policy approaches that are necessary for their communities to be seen as welcoming to younger generations. At the national level, “the young-old partisan voting gaps in 2008 and 2012 were among the largest in the modern era,” said Blow. So if Rancho Mirage is largely made up of older people, does that mean their City Council representatives should disdain appealing to younger people? Not if they want their city to survive.

When I first moved to the Coachella Valley in 1985, I remember thinking that all the service employees who worked in local cities—waiting tables, cleaning hotel rooms, maintaining golf courses, working in sales, etc.—could not possibly afford to live in the cities where they were employed, and thus had less invested in making those cities sustainable. I remember when, in 1988, Indian Wells, which then boasted one of the highest per-capita incomes in the state, sought an exemption from having affordable housing built within their city’s borders. Thankfully, they lost that battle, thanks to a veto by the then-Republican governor.

The Pew poll showed that millennials are more racially diverse and less disapproving of government services. They are experiencing higher student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income. However, they are the future, and we need to incorporate their attitudes and needs if we hope to sustain our communities.

So, the question remains: Should only older and more-experienced individuals be elected to represent the city’s residents? Should age trump “ambition”? When Hobart was younger, wasn’t he ambitious?

As Blow puts it: “One might argue that millennials simply haven’t lived long enough to hit the triggers that might engender more conservatism … but it could just as well be that this group of young people is fundamentally different.” 

Is it perhaps time that older folks recognize that younger generations have something to offer as a balance, with a new approach to “the way we’ve always done it.” Our future will be as different from today as today is from the “traditional values” of a mere 50 years ago—a time that some in the older generation still cling to as what should be “normal.” Without that balance, and those new ways of looking at our culture and our institutions, we are only stalling the inevitable.

Maybe it’s time for older folks, myself included, to just get out of the way. Those with experience should teach, mentor and advise—but let younger generations lead.

My intention has always been to write about issues by introducing neighbors who are making a difference in our community, while hopefully informing readers about something they may not already know.

Once in a while, however, I feel the need to sound off on something about which I am outraged—something that affects all of us.

When I studied the Constitution in law school, I was particularly impressed by the guarantee of equal rights, an aspiration our nation has consistently pursued, and a cause in which I have been involved since “the good old days.”

You remember those times, don’t you? The days when if an unmarried woman got pregnant, she had to get married, and the days when child or spousal abuse was something that happened behind closed doors. It was a time when women didn’t even get close to the glass ceiling, and when blatant discrimination in the name of traditional norms was allowed and even encouraged. It was a time when husbands and wives knew their proper, God-given roles in a marriage, and when marriage could only be between two people of the opposite sex. 

The good old days.

We now live in a time when we have witnessed amazing social and cultural movements challenging those old norms—as we begin to recognize that the good old days weren’t so good for everyone.

By law, by court decisions, and by changed hearts and minds, we now accept the concept of equal voting rights, nondiscrimination in public accommodations, equal pay for equal work, and inter-racial marriage. We also accept that private consensual sexual behavior is just that—private.   

So how are we modeling our heightened sensibility about equality? 

In Uganda and Nigeria, American conservative Christian activists assisted those governments in drafting laws that criminalize homosexual behavior—with life imprisonment as a possible punishment. (They finally dropped the death penalty!) Public brutality against homosexuals has been the result.

In Russia, the Olympic Games were overshadowed by that country’s recent law that criminalizes spreading “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientations” and prohibits adoptions by gay individuals, all in the name of supposedly protecting Russian children.  

Even here in the Coachella Valley, we have “dirty tricks” politics that negatively characterized a candidate for the Rancho Mirage City Council due to his sexual orientation.   

The Legislature in our neighboring state, Arizona, passed a law that would allow, on the basis of religious freedom, businesses to deny services to people who happen to be gay. The cake-icer at the local supermarket could refuse to decorate a cake with “Happy Anniversary Larry and Joe.”

Which “religious freedoms” would be deemed acceptable? Would that law cover a Muslim car dealer who wants to refuse service to Jews? Or a Christian computer salesperson who wants to discriminate against atheists? If Arizona’s law prevailed, would there be a test when you walk through the door of a public establishment to determine whether you’re gay?  

In the United States, marriage laws are made by the states—but federal courts are increasingly overruling state laws prohibiting gay marriage, largely based on the precedent of the Supreme Court decision in Windsor last year. That decision said that the federal government cannot deny equal treatment of legal marriages, regardless of the gender of the spouses.

The decision struck down part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act passed by Congress, and ostensibly invalidated numerous state laws that specifically deny legal status for gay married couples, even if they have been legally married in another state.

Gay marriage is currently legally recognized in 17 states and the District of Columbia.  Courts in Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Utah and Texas have already acted to strike down anti-gay-marriage laws; some of those cases are being appealed. 

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” said Martin Luther King Jr. 

The arc toward justice on marriage equality is bending quickly—but not everywhere, and now marriage equality, and other forms of equality, are being fought using claims of religious liberty.

What about the rights of private business owners? The Civil Rights Act of 1964 says that a business cannot refuse service on the basis of “arbitrary” conditions like race, color, religion, or national origin. Arbitrary standards are based on individual judgment or preference. 

We allow businesses to post signs saying, “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone,” but only if based on objective standards—for example, if a customer’s presence may detract from the “safety, welfare, and well-being of other patrons.”

Objective standards can be equally applied—a bar refusing to sell a drink to an obviously drunk person, or a fancy restaurant refusing to admit someone wearing shorts and no shoes. 

Arizona lawmakers wanted to justify an arbitrary standard on the basis of the religious convictions of the business owner or employee. Sexual orientation is an arbitrary condition, no different from where someone was born, or their race. We should not be passing laws that enshrine arbitrary discrimination, no matter the justification. 

As for gay marriage, before long, the U.S Supreme Court will have to revisit the issue and give a definitive ruling that once and for all sets policies for the nation as a whole, a position they avoided in Windsor

We all know people like the La Quinta resident (a service provider who shall remain nameless) who says, “I’m not opposed to how anyone wants to live, but do they have to whine about it all the time? Life isn’t fair. It wasn’t fair when my spouse died young and left me to raise two young children alone. But I didn’t whine about it—I just got on with my life.”

I have a gay son who was in a 20-year gay relationship that ended badly; a female cousin who has been in a 30-year lesbian relationship that is thriving; and lots of local friends and neighbors who are living together, married or not, gay and heterosexual, who just want the arc of justice, for themselves and their friends and neighbors, to bend a little more quickly. They just want to get on with it—live their lives, raise their children, participate in their communities, and have the dignity and equality each and every one of us deserves.

How long are we willing to wait on behalf of some of our brothers, sisters, children and neighbors for justice to prevail? 

I am not gay. I am just outraged.  

He’s known as Peter the Reader to the students he meets with weekly at Bubbling Wells Elementary School in Desert Hot Springs.

Peter Fredric of Palm Springs is literally—and literarily—changing lives.

“I saw an article in the paper,” says Fredric, “and I was looking for an opportunity to do something in the community. So, since I love reading and communicating, I decided to check it out.”

What Fredric checked out was BookPALS (Performing Artists for Literacy in Schools). The original idea was to use actors to engage students in the joy of reading.

“I did some work as an announcer and reporter for television, became a tech writer, an account executive, came to the desert to build affordable homes, and worked with local KESQ in their creative-arts department,” says Fredric. “I began my first classroom assignment with BookPALS in 2007. I just wanted to make a difference.”

That same impulse led Tere Britton, a Rancho Mirage resident, to take on managing the BookPALS program in the Coachella Valley.

Britton worked with NBC in community relations when she was a single young woman. After a move to Chicago, where she was involved on the boards of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Art Institute, and Museum of Contemporary Art, Britton eventually settled in the desert.

“I saw a posting in 2007 from Palm Springs Women in Film and Television (PSWIFT) looking for someone to run a local BookPALS program,” says Britton. “I remembered that when I was in the third-grade, an actor visited our class and read to us, and I was mesmerized.

“We now have 50 readers in 14 schools from Desert Hot Springs to Indio. I try to assign readers to schools as close to their homes as possible. Readers don’t have to be in show business; anyone can volunteer.

“Many of the classrooms we visit are in socioeconomic areas where students aren’t being read to at home, for lots of reasons, not least of which can be language difficulties. When you read to kids, it’s so important and fundamental to their lives.”

Jill Mincer Singer, of Palm Springs, is also a BookPALS reader. After a long, successful career as a designer, Singer is now semi-retired. “I decided I wanted to do something worthwhile for children. I heard about BookPALS from a friend, and it seemed like such a good idea.

“When I walk into a school and down the corridors, and the kids yell out, ‘Hi Mrs. Jill! You read to me last year!’ or ‘I love the book we’re reading!’ it makes me feel good. There is so much joy in their faces, and they’re so appreciative to have us coming into their classroom.”

Does a reader need special talents? “No,” says Singer. “Whoever reads should just be pleasant, friendly, speak clearly and use some inflection based on the story, or the kids won’t stay engaged.”

Peter Fredric says a reader just needs to enjoy reading, care about kids and show up. “The students come to depend on me to be there. You build a relationship with them, and you see that you can make such a difference in a child’s life. One girl told me she is now reading to her mother and helping her mother learn English. Toward the end of the year, I even have them read to me.”

Says Tere Britton (right): “There are no specific qualifications. Our focus is to stimulate interest in reading and writing. The teachers teach them how to read; what we do is encourage them to enjoy reading, and to want to do it on their own. We are enabling them to become critical thinkers, and exposing them to new ideas and concepts. And this program gives students a chance to relate to people in the community from diverse backgrounds whom they might never otherwise meet. Every reader brings something special to the classroom.”

BookPALS readers don’t need to choose the books themselves; school librarians will find age-appropriate books, or classroom teachers make suggestions, although many readers enjoy digging through the children’s section of the library. Britton provides training, and teachers are completely supportive of the program.

I read for BookPALS one morning a week for two years, at Cathedral City Elementary School in third-, fourth and fifth-grade classrooms. With my grandchildren far away, it gave me a chance to interact with children, and it quickly became the highlight of each week.

I learned how dedicated elementary teachers are, how anxious to learn the children are, and how much a program like this can impact students’ future success in school and after. I keep the stack of valentines they made for me, including the one that said, “I want to be just like you when I grow up.”

A personal awakening came when I discovered a delightful book called The Cheese. It’s a funny story of “The Farmer in the Dell” from the point of view of the cheese that ends up standing alone at the end of the song. Before I began to read, I asked how many remembered the song—and only one hand went up. I realized these third-graders came primarily from homes where the cultures differed from what I experienced growing up, and they hadn’t been exposed to things we tend to take for granted. What a thrill for me when, after I sang the song for them and explained the game, they understood and loved the irony of the book.

My greatest joy came when reading a story with a twist, like Stone Soup and watching as a face here, and then a face there, lit up with recognition of where the story was going. These were students whose thinking skills were being stimulated, and I left those encounters so full of appreciation for what they were giving me.

BookPALS gives a book to each child annually. “For some students,” says Britton, “it may be the first book of their own they’ve ever gotten. I tell them, ‘This is your very own book. You can even start your own library.’”

Talk to your neighbors and friends about this program, and consider giving a couple of hours a week to an activity in which you will make a difference, and you will enrich your life in ways you’ll never be able to measure. You will just feel it, and it will fill your heart with pride and joy.

Peter Fredric says, “Real men do read to kids.”

Jill Mincer Singer says, “Doing this makes me feel so very, very good.”

Tere Britton says, “We encourage children to know the magic of books. Children learn through our readers how to enjoy reading. This is a labor of love.”

For more information, or to get involved, email Tere Britton at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Scroll down to watch a video on BookPALS. Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM.

Cathy Greenblat is a newcomer to the desert; she’s now settling in Palm Springs after living in Nice, France.

Greenblat earned her Ph.D. in sociology at Columbia University. She has published numerous books and papers, and has lectured in South America, Europe, India, Africa, Israel, the Far East and throughout the United States. She is soon heading for Indonesia and Australia.

In 2002, Greenblat gave up a tenured professorship at Rutgers to pursue her labor of love: photography and its ability to depict the sociology of aging.

Through the Coachella Valley Regional Office of the Alzheimer’s Association, Greenblat has been presenting her work locally. Her photographic display and its accompanying book, published in 2012, is called Love, Loss, and Laughter: Seeing Alzheimer’s Differently.

Initially focusing on person-centered care facilities in the United States with her 2004 book, Alive With Alzheimer’s, Greenblat’s photos now depict not only Alzheimer’s patients in the United States, but also in Mexico, France, India, Japan and the Dominican Republic. Her intention is to challenge stereotypes.

“People with Alzheimer’s are not, as they are often depicted, ‘empty shells,’ completely lost,” says Greenblat. “I believe (photography) to be the most effective vehicle to open people’s eyes … a better way to ‘face’ issues that are generally avoided.”

Greenblat’s photos capture the sheer joy, free laughter and loving interactions people with Alzheimer’s can have, in images documenting the impact of competent care and exposure to music and the arts.

One patient had been all but bedridden for several years—basically warehoused in a nursing-home facility. After his family had him moved to a place that features a person-centered approach specifically for Alzheimer’s care, his demeanor completely changed. Greenblat shows the once-inert man is clapping, smiling, moving along to music and even getting up to dance.

Cathy Greenblat’s pictures are worth seeing for the joy they evoke—the laughter between a grandparent and grandchild, for example, and the genuine affection between caring staff and their patients. Her photos allowed me to fully experience the reality that she describes: “Someone is in there … Quality health care allows people with Alzheimer’s to sustain connections to others and to their own past lives.”

According to HBO’s Alzheimer’s Project, 70 percent of people with Alzheimer's live at home, cared for by family and friends. In addition to hoping to preserve some personal dignity and a sense of connection to home, many family members may not be able to afford a care facility for their loved ones. Unless one is basically impoverished and eligible for Medi-Cal, the cost of such long-term care is not covered by Medicare or most health insurance, and few have prepared for their own situation by investing in long-term care insurance. This is an area long overdue for re-thinking by policy makers.

Phyllis Greene, a Palm Desert resident, had to make the difficult decision to move her husband to a local group-home care facility. They had prepared for this eventuality by purchasing long-term care insurance.

“I realized that when he had no independence left, had become incontinent, and would wander away, it was time,” says Greene. “I couldn’t care for him myself. I couldn’t watch him all the time. I thought I would feel guilty, but to be honest, the impact on me at that point was relief.”

Greene visits her husband several times a week. He doesn’t always know who she is, often mistaking her for his own mother. “He speaks his own language and lives in his own internal world,” says Greene. “He can get very agitated when I don’t know what he’s saying. The main thing is, I know he is getting good care and is in a safe environment.”

Bill Couturié, director of HBO’s Alzheimer Project, says the decision to place a loved one in a care facility can be wrenching.

"Not only is it very expensive to pay for care in a nursing home, but the patient is someone you love a lot—a mother, father, spouse, someone who has taken care of you—so it's only natural to want to take care of them," he says.

But Alzheimer's takes a great toll on the physical and emotional well-being not just of the patient, but of the caregiver as well. “It's not uncommon for the caregiver to die before the patient,” says Couturié.

There is a tremendous cost to the public as well. The Alzheimer’s Association says that “in 2012, nearly 15.4 million caregivers provided more than 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care valued at $216 billion.”

Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. In 2013, statistics showed that 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia. (All Alzheimer’s is dementia, but not all dementia is Alzheimer’s.) Those numbers are expected to increase to almost 14 million by 2050 as Baby Boomers continue to age.

Anyone with concerns about memory loss or other possible symptoms of Alzheimer’s can take Ohio State University’s Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam (SAGE), which is designed to detect early signs of cognitive, memory or thinking impairments. There is no answer sheet—you just follow the directions and then take the test to your physician for an evaluation.

The local Alzheimer’s Association office has helpful tips for caregivers and family, and sponsors caregiver support groups where people can share their stories and solutions.

“My goal is to change minds and hearts, to have this work be a catalyst for education, cultural understanding, and social action,” says Cathy Greenblat. Seeing her photos has expanded my consciousness not only about Alzheimer’s disease, but about the need for a change in public policy regarding long-term care.

My mother used to call me from her retirement apartment in Florida totally hysterical because she couldn’t find her keys. “I know I put them exactly where I always put them, but they’re not there. I’m afraid I’ve got Alzheimer’s.”

“Mom,” I would reply, “stop worrying. It’s not when you can’t find your keys—it’s when you don’t know what keys are for.”

Although it’s good to keep your sense of humor, I’ve learned that Alzheimer’s disease is not something to joke about, no matter how that may alleviate our fears.

Get the facts. Talk to your family and friends about your concerns; reach out for support; lobby for informed public policy, and see Cathy Greenblat’s photos if you get the chance. (She will be featured on Saturday, Feb. 15, at 9 a.m., at the Annenberg Auditorium on the Eisenhower Medical Center campus, 39000 Bob Hope Drive, in Rancho Mirage.)

There IS someone in there.

Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM.

Some recent news items have demonstrated how difficult end-of-life decisions can be.

Jahi McMath, of Oakland, was only 13 when she suffered complications after routine surgery related to sleep apnea, and was declared “brain dead” by doctors, indicating “complete cessation of brain activity.” She was placed on artificial life support, but her “life” wasn’t supported: Her body was merely kept breathing by machine. McMath’s parents wouldn’t accept the doctors’ verdict. As long as her heart was beating, they believed she was still alive, an argument many people support.

The parents’ very public fight with the hospital, which wouldn’t perform “unethical” medical procedures and life support on what they considered a dead person, finally led to a compromise: She was officially declared “dead.” Her body was then moved to another facility which agreed to continue the life support.

A second case involves Marlise Muñoz, of Fort Worth, Texas, who died after a possible blood clot—while she was 14 weeks pregnant

According to one interpretation of Texas law, Muñoz cannot be removed from life support, although diagnosed as brain dead, because medical intervention is keeping her fetus alive. Her husband and her parents support terminating life support, and he is suing the hospital based on his legal right to act as a surrogate for medical decisions affecting his wife.

He claims they had many discussions about end-of-life choices (both are emergency medical personnel and well aware of the ramifications), and that she would not want her body artificially sustained, regardless of the pregnancy. The condition of the fetus is not clear; it may have sustained serious damage due to a lack of oxygen after Muñoz’s sudden illness. 

The third article that brought this subject together for me concerned the death of Ariel Sharon, former prime minister of Israel, after spending over eight years in a “coma.” Although in a “vegetative” state—he apparently lacked consciousness or cognition—he still had some brain function. Sharon’s life was sustained at his family’s request until he died at the age of 85.

If you were in a coma, would you want your life to be sustained by machines, immobile in a hospital bed for eight years? If not, you’d better tell someone!

Carl Hiaasen, a Florida columnist, wrote after the highly publicized Terry Schiavo case, “…[I]f a reasonable amount of time passes—say (fill in the blank) months—and I fail to sit up and ask for a cold beer, it should be presumed that I won’t ever get better. When such a determination is reached, I hereby instruct my spouse, children and attending physicians to pull the plug, reel in the tubes and call it a day.”

John Wisor, of Palm Springs, is president of The Living End, a local nonprofit which focuses on end-of-life decision-making. (Full disclosure: I am a member of The Living End’s Board.) The organization is supporting a pending book on the subject, which I am writing.

“Our mission is to educate both professionals and the public regarding the importance of having discussions with loved ones about the choices one wants to make for treatment at the end of life,” Wisor says.

“This should not be a decision left to chance, or even to doctors. The right to refuse treatment has been affirmed as an individual right, and Congress passed a Patient Self-Determination Act in 1990 enshrining that right for every individual over age 18.

“This is one of the most personal choices one will ever make in one’s lifetime, and it is important to not only have the conversations, but also to put one’s wishes in a legally-binding writing and then ensure that they will be respected. We can help.”

According to California Healthcare Foundation’s extensive 2012 survey, as many as 60 percent of Californians say these decisions are “extremely important”—and yet 56 percent have never communicated their wishes to family or doctors. And while 82 percent say it is important to put their choices in writing, less than 25 percent have ever done so, in spite of free forms made available by the state.

“We recommend using the form Five Wishes,” says Wisor, because each state implemented the law with their own forms, and what works in one state might not work in another. Five Wishes forms are valid in 42 states.

“People have such difficulty having these discussions, and these forms include not only the legal decisions—like who you want to speak for you if you can’t speak for yourself, and what treatments you do or do not want—but also non-legally binding things that a stressed-out family might not consider.

“Even with written forms and clear communication, one’s own choices do not necessarily prevail, but without them, one is at the mercy of professionals or legislatures whose influence can overwhelm the situation.”

Anyone old enough to have experienced end-of-life situations knows how problematic they can be. I’ve seen my own share of horror stories. There was the drug-addict son who claimed to have his mother’s consent to act as her surrogate, and prevailed over other siblings who wanted their cancer-riddled mother to receive the most aggressive pain relief possible, even if it might hasten her death. He maintained they were trying to kill her. The hospital delayed for days until it became clear he did not have any legal authority. That family’s relationships never recovered.

Then there was the gay man whose family disowned him when he came out—and then his family overruled his long-time partner’s ability to act as his surrogate. There was no writing to validate his wishes.

I once knew an elderly couple who had discussed their preference for no extreme measures for many years, and even named each other as the surrogate for decision-making—but when push came to shove, the wife couldn’t bring herself to end life support for her husband, even when all hope was gone.

A recent effort, “Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death,” encourages discussions that help people plan for decisions that might need to be made.

As for me, I don’t want to be kept alive to make everyone else feel better if I can’t be an active participant. And I especially don’t want anyone to feel guilty about whatever decision is made—I want it to be my choice, not the courts’ choice, or the state’s choice, or even my family’s choice.

For heaven’s sake, and your own, talk about it!

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In 2000, Pay It Forward, a movie starring Helen Hunt, Kevin Spacey and Hayley Joel Osment, made an indelible impression on me.

I believe every occurrence in every moment of our lives is open for us to learn something from it—if we can just figure out what that lesson is, whether we like it or not. We can then pay it forward in how we live our lives.

So it’s the start of the new year, and we’re doing what we do every year—comparing lists of bests and worsts, wins and losses of the previous year. One list I’m always both ready and reluctant to see: celebrity deaths.

The older I get, the more I notice that lots and lots of people I used to “know” are gone: movie stars, local heroes, famous leaders and friends. But instead of lamenting losses, I’ve decided to celebrate lessons learned and pay them forward.

Jonathan Winters died this year at the age of 87. He was the reason my late husband, John Aylesworth, came to Los Angeles from New York, to produce one of Winters’ television series. Although I never met him, “Jonny” had an enormous impact on my life. He was the first comedian I had ever seen who played out his childlike stream of consciousness. We all have it; we just don’t often “see” it, and hardly anyone can express it in real time. (OK, Robin Williams can, but he didn’t die this year.)

Sometimes, when I’m noticing every little thing that distracts me from what I’ve set out to do—those flowers need more water; I should spot-clean that rug; better put those shoes away; have to mail those letters; where are my keys—I think of the way Winters made each of those tiny observations funny: by sharing them, using characters to mock them, taking our obsession with them to its absurdity, and making us laugh at ourselves through him.

I try to catch myself and verbalize—even if I’m alone—the games my mind is playing. I laugh out loud. Thanks for that, Jonny.

Agua Caliente Chairman Richard Milanovich died in 2012, but to me, it feels so recent. He was very smart about how the tribe made local political contributions—generally to support likely winners, so that tribal interests would be heard. Milanovich and I met when we participated in several events on the same stage; we always were glad to see each other. He was a warm and charming man.

When I announced I would run against Sonny Bono in the 1996 election for Congress, everyone assumed it was unlikely that I would even make a decent showing against such a well-funded and high-name-recognition politician/celebrity. The chance that someone like politically sophisticated Milanovich would support me seemed impossible—but he was an early, quiet supporter, without being asked, with great warmth and encouragement. I’ll never forget that. I learned that it’s not enough to hedge your bets; it’s also important to do it with sincerity and class. Richard Milanovich was a class act.

Local philanthropist, socialite and TV-station owner, Jackie Lee Houston, known for her pile of blonde hair and her amazing presence, died in 2011, but that, too, seems like yesterday. I didn’t “know” Jackie Lee, but I did meet or see her a couple of times—and each time was significant for a different reason.

My first meeting with Jackie Lee was at a birthday party for singer Jack Jones. The crowd was glittery; the atmosphere was festive; the private home was lovely. A chair—situated somewhat to the side of the crowd, strategically and beautifully placed near a small table with a slender lamp on it—looked like an ancient throne of some kind, festooned with ribbons. I noticed it when I arrived, and it had remained empty.

Then, all of a sudden, there was a subtle shift in the air, and Jackie Lee was magically seated in “the chair.”

I am nothing if not brash—to the point of occasional not-socially-correct behavior—and I figured since we were at the same party, it would be neighborly to say hello. So I approached “Mrs. Houston,” introduced myself with a couple of lame local references, and commented that I had been wondering for whom the throne had been placed.

She laughed heartily and remarked that she knew she had forgotten something—“my crown.” For the remaining moments of our ensuing conversation, I was completely at ease. Now that’s a skill to pay forward to everyone you encounter!

My other lesson from Jackie Lee Houston was about her husband. I’ve never officially met Jim Houston, but at several events at which I was in their company, I saw the kind, loving, compassionate and totally supportive role he played on her behalf. That is the appropriate way to show true loving concern for someone you care about. I remembered that example when my husband was ill.

Eleanor Parker was an actress when movies like The Man With the Golden Arm were being made. She died in 2013 here in Palm Springs.

The 1955 film was highly controversial at the time, and was denied the Motion Picture Association of America seal because it dealt directly with drug addiction. It also starred Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak. (When I was in my teens, there was nobody I wanted to be more than Kim Novak!)

Parker’s performance in that movie has never left me. Her insecurity and the irrational fear of losing her relationship with her drug-addicted husband led her to a manipulating dependence that was debilitating and totally destructive. I never forgot the lesson Parker’s character taught me: Co-dependence goes in both directions. I’ve remembered that with the alcoholics and druggies and vampires I’ve encountered over the years. Thank you, Eleanor!

Finally, we lost actress Julie Harris in 2013. She was brilliant, and I remember seeing her in The Member of the Wedding back in 1952. I identified with her spirit and her frustration at what it means to have to grow up.

In 1955, Julie Harris again stunned me in Steinbeck’s East of Eden, directed by Elia Kazan, playing opposite James Dean. Any man who has not seen that movie should do so. If ever a script expressed the frustration of brotherly competition, and how one figures out what it means to be a man, this is the one.

I most remember Harris’ plaintive tone of voice, her fragility combined with enormous strength and determination, her yearning to bring healing to a distressed family, and her compassion and love for a man struggling to find himself.

The lesson from Julie Harris in East of Eden? Love is the only thing that matters, and it has to begin with knowing how to love yourself.

Pay it forward. Happy New Year!

Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM.

I was struck by the recent story of a 65-year-old woman who gave up a baby son when she was 19 and unmarried. The story ended tragically: She discovered he had been one of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing when he was only 21.

Then I saw the movie Philomena, based on a terrific book by Martin Sixsmith. It’s the lovely story of a woman who sought to find her adopted son after more than 50 years of anguish

Those stories brought home for me how lucky I was to receive perhaps the greatest gift I’ve ever received, about nine years ago.

I, too, had given up a baby boy at birth, when I was barely 18 and unmarried. It was the “dark ages” of the 1950s, when young women had few choices. Most adoptions then were “closed,” meaning no information could be garnered by the birth parent after the legal adoption was completed.

Young women were often consigned to homes for unwed mothers to wait out a pregnancy with the understanding that they would not be able to keep the child. It was a secret we kept, even within our own families, as if it had never happened. But I never forgot, and I spent years agonizing about whether I had made the right decision for that child. Had he been raised in a good family? Did he feel abandoned? Was he loved?

Over the years, I made sure the agency that handled the adoption, Vista del Mar, knew where to locate me in case my son ever wanted to make contact, but I never wanted to push myself into his life. Maybe he didn’t know he was adopted. Maybe he didn’t want to know me.

I found a reunion website where I could register for free, the International Soundex Reunion Registry (ISSR), and completed their application form. Their policy is that if they receive an inquiry from both sides, they will let each know of the other.

When my later-born twins, Michael and Susie, were about 16, I thought it was time for them to know they had a half-brother out there somewhere. Michael fantasized about his older brother, deciding his name should be Steven. When Michael’s son was born— my first grandson—he was named Stephen: same name, different spelling. My heart swelled.

After almost 45 years, I got a phone call. It was a Sunday night. My husband answered the phone.

“It’s for you,” he said. “It’s a woman who says she’s a social worker with Vista del Mar.” My heart literally skipped a beat. “Oh, my God,” I thought, “he’s dead.” I always figured that if my first-born died, someone would let me know.

I took the phone, and a lovely woman gave me the news that my son was seeking to find me. She cautioned that reunions go badly sometimes, and that I might want to seek some counseling before contact was made.

“Do you want us to give him your information?” she asked.

“Absolutely! And please tell him it’s enough for me just to know he’s alive, in case the only reason he wants to make contact is for medical information or something like that. But if he’s willing, I would love to talk with him.”

Early the next morning, I got a call from ISSR. They informed me that my son was seeking me through their registry as well.

“Do you want his contact information?” they asked.

I responded by telling them I wasn’t sure why he was seeking to make contact, and that I didn’t want to push myself into his life any further than he might want. “Please tell him that I would be very happy for him to call,” I said—and silently hoped he would.

Not an hour later, the phone rang, and there he was. He spoke in a rush of words, clearly a bit nervous, as was I. He told me about his family, and why he had decided to reach out to find me.

My son is an adult-school teacher who was conducting a creative-writing class. He had given his students the assignment to write about their greatest regret in life. One of his students, an older woman from England, wrote about how she had given up a child at birth and had spent the rest of her life worrying whether she had handed him over to a better life. After the discussion, my son decided to find his birth mother so he could let her know that she had, in fact, made the right decision for him.

Amid his rush of telling me about himself, he dropped into the middle that he was gay and had a longtime partner. I responded by saying, “You couldn’t have chosen a better birth mother!” We both laughed.

We talked some more and decided to meet the following week in Los Angeles, where he lived.

I knocked on his door, full of anticipation and very nervous. When he opened the door, my first thought was: “He looks like Michael’s brother!”

Michael loves to brag that he can eat the hottest peppers imaginable. My first-born grows such peppers in his garden. Other such similarities blew me away. When he proudly showed me his closet, full of animal prints, I knew he was my son!

I had brought pictures of his half-brother and half-sister, and other members of my family. He proudly showed me pictures of his family. His father had died a few years before. It was his mother who had given him the information that allowed him to find me.

After our first meeting, he scanned some of the family pictures I had brought and inserted himself into them. He found beautiful poems written by others who had been through similar situations and shared them with me.

A few months after our initial contact, he was able to meet Michael and Susie here in Palm Desert. We were having drinks in a restaurant when a couple sitting at the next table offered to take a picture of us all. The man asked, “Are the two boys twins?” We all laughed.

Not everyone who reaches out has a positive experience. In my case, I’m grateful to no longer live with the doubt about whether I did the right thing. He had a much better life than I could have given him.

In my letter of thanks to ISSR, I wrote: “My other children are thrilled that they have the chance to know their half-brother after so many years of fantasizing about him. If you don’t already know the story, my other son had made up a name for his ‘brother’—calling him Steven. To then find out, so many years later, that my adopted son’s name IS Steven was almost more than we could comprehend!”

My holiday wish for others who have gone through a similar experience is this: Never lose hope. Share your stories—miracles can happen!

It’s just not supposed to be this way.

When a young child dies, there is always an outpouring of support for the parents, and a lamenting of the lost possibilities of a life that will never be fully realized. But what about the loss of an adult child, whose life has already taken its own direction?

My youngest stepson, Thomas Aylesworth, died at 34, a victim of melanoma. He had received treatment in his 20s for a skin-cancer growth on his shoulder, and successfully came through it to pursue a successful career as a chef. Several years later, he discovered a lump in his chest. Six months after that, he was gone.

The doctor said to think of this virulent type of cancer as if someone scattered seeds in an empty lot, and eventually, some of them took root. It was little comfort for the family, but at least we knew what was coming, and had time to spend with him during his brief and final illness.

Two local women didn’t have the benefit of time.

Diana Fitzgerald of Indio is still living with the pain of losing her only child, Joseph, at “28 years and 55 days,” as she puts it. She candidly explains: “He killed himself.”

Diana remembers that when she put herself through college at the age of 28, her son was then in first-grade. “He said, ‘Isn’t that cool, that we’re both going to be in first-grade together?’”

Joseph was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after experiencing behavior problems in his teens; he also suffered from depression as an adult. “He was originally misdiagnosed and then had side effects from medication,” says Diana. “He finally stopped taking his medication. Without health insurance, he had a revolving door of doctors. He had married, and about a year after his wife suffered a miscarriage, he took his own life. He shot himself.

“I remember when his wife called me at work to tell me what had happened. I didn’t believe her. I slammed the phone down. I just screamed out, ‘It can’t be true!’ I knew he was not doing well, and had told the receptionist at work that if he ever called, I was to be interrupted, no matter what I was doing. The day he died, he did call, but there was someone else on the desk. I was in a meeting and wasn’t told that he was on the phone. About two hours later was when my daughter-in-law called.

“When someone is killed by another, say a drunk driver, we can make it someone else’s fault. But when your child kills himself, who do you blame? I still feel guilt 11 years later.”

Perhaps the worst moment of the ensuing events came when Diana returned to work after the funeral. “A woman who cleaned the offices saw me and said, ‘I heard your son died. What happened?’ I said, ‘He killed himself.’ She looked right at me and said, ‘Well, you know, that means he’s gone straight to hell!’ How insensitive can anyone be?

“I joined a support group for a while, but what stays with me is that I was his mother, and I was supposed to protect him. When people say, ‘I know what you’re feeling,’ they really can’t know. I hate feeling as if people look at me, when they know what happened, and judge me.

“The only advice I can give others is that you have to accept that everyone handles grieving in their own way. We just need to comfort each other, no matter what the circumstances. Joseph was funny, and fun to be around. I miss him each and every day of my life.”

Barbara Marx of Rancho Mirage lost her son, Jim “Jimmy” Autz, in 2006, when he was 47. Jim had alcohol and drug issues, but he lived a productive life, running his own business producing stage shows in Los Angeles. He also loved to collect wine.

“Jimmy had an extensive collection, maybe over 1,000 bottles,” says Barbara. “He clearly enjoyed what was not necessarily the smartest thing for him to pursue, considering his problems with alcohol. He had one called ‘Screaming Eagle’ that he just loved.

“Jimmy had been to the Betty Ford Center and had done pretty well. My husband (Bill Marx, not Jimmy’s father) and I tried to get him into rehab again just two days before he died. He looked terrible. Bill had to literally walk him across the driveway. When Jimmy saw me, he started to cry. But he didn’t stay (in rehab); he signed himself out the next day and drove himself back home.

“I kept calling, and he didn’t answer. A policeman (later) called to tell me he had died. His roommate at the time had found him on the floor. He loved his wine and drank it constantly, so proud of some of the bottles he had accumulated. I think he must have died from cirrhosis, although I’ve never really known for sure.

“When I found out he was dead, I just screamed. Still, today, I have the same reaction. I remember saying to him, the last time we talked: ‘Jimmy, where do I bury you if you keep this up?’ He said, ‘I don’t care to have this conversation.’ That was the last time we really spoke before he died. I still feel awful whenever I think about it.”

Barbara still has the urn with Jimmy’s ashes. “Every now and then, I stop and talk to him,” she says. “I think about him every day. A piece of him is still in my life. I try to focus on the times we laughed together—that’s how I get through it.”

When my stepson Thomas was going through the difficult chemo treatment for his melanoma before he died, my husband, John (who has since passed away), would walk through the house and suddenly say out loud, “It’s just not supposed to be this way.”

After Thomas’ death, John cherished the time he had spent with Thomas in the hospital, laughing out loud about past experiences. That memory of Thomas, his beloved youngest child, laughing out loud and still seeming so alive and hopeful, is what got John through it all.

When you lose an adult child, it feels like no one can possibly understand. Each of us has to find our own way through the pain, especially the inevitable feelings of responsibility and guilt. But help and support is available. Some of your neighbors do know what you’re going through.

It’s just not supposed to be this way.

Higher-education degrees are increasingly based on what you can do rather than how long you sit in a classroom, so it is pertinent to ask how technology is affecting K-12 education.

A recent symposium, “Literacy Summit 4,” held at Cal State San Bernardino’s Palm Desert campus, brought together four teachers showcasing their efforts to incorporate computer-based learning into their lesson plans.

The east valley’s Coachella Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) has made the news based on its ambitious goal of providing 18,000 iPads to its students. Katherine Quintana, who teaches at Coral Mountain Academy in Coachella, has already begun using the iPads under the CVUSD pilot program. Quintana has co-produced a short video documenting the project’s use by 120 teachers in CVUSD classrooms.

“The capabilities are endless,” says Quintana. “Students are empowered to find their own answers to questions. It’s instantaneous, spontaneous and exciting—a change-based learning model that supports critical-thinking skills where students can confront real-world problems, and teachers can more easily track student proficiencies.”

Apps such as Brain Pop provide students with instant feedback on their progress using animated lessons in science, social studies, English, math, engineering, health, art, and music. Google Earth lets students see the world they’re studying. Educreations enables students to create their own presentations and work collaboratively on projects.

Quintana says, “For the most part, it has been hugely positive. I’m not a real techie person—I was pretty much ‘old school.’ But this was a great opportunity to just jump into the pilot program and realize that we have kids capable of teaching their teachers and each other. It really helps teachers be better teachers.”

But what about local schools that do not have the same broad policy of incorporating technology by providing iPads to all students?

Karen Foerch taught fifth-grade last year in the west-valley Palm Springs Unified School District. She is now a technology specialist, teaching other teachers how to use technology in their classrooms.

“The classroom-management apps are particularly valuable,” Foerch says, “whether to track student performance and be able to provide instant feedback for students and parents, or to be able to contact parents directly so that they can manage students’ homework assignments and deadlines.”

Foerch found the use of technology actually improved the attention span of students with attention-deficit issues. “The technology approach to presenting material fits right in with how many students think,” she says. “That’s how their brains work.”

Applications like Class Dojo help teachers manage their classrooms, including tracking behaviors so that students and parents can access results without having to wait for formal teacher/parent conferences. Grade Cam gives teachers the ability to streamline time-consuming test-scoring and grade-reporting. Remind 101 lets teachers text students and parents en masse with updates on assignments and homework.

Foerch maintains, “It’s all about saving time and giving teachers more time to teach.”

Another app Foerch recommends to teachers is iBrainstorm, which lets students capture ideas instantly, organize them and share them with other students to collaborate on projects. “Using applications like this allows students to manage their own time,” Foerch says.

Then there’s Science 360, which immerses students in critical STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) skills and enables them to research materials that enhance their classroom learning.

Foerch uses apps like Dragon Dictation, helping students convert speech into text for improvements in writing and reading skills. It’s particularly helpful for students who are English-language learners.

Other helpful apps include Quizlet, which lets students create their own flash cards to facilitate studying, and Bluster, used by fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders to expand vocabulary skills.

Teachers Wende Hamann and Kelly Fitchpatrick teach humanities, language arts and social studies at Palm Desert Charter Middle School.

“The kids aren’t intimidated by all this,” says Hamann. “We need to learn the culture and how to implement these programs in our classrooms.”

Apps available via Google allow teachers to simplify grading and track assignments in student folders that are then accessible by parents. “Kids are learning, and we’re learning,” says Hamann. “A computer-based curriculum also allows us to teach what it means to be a good ‘digital citizen’ so that students realize that what they do on-line will be seen by others.”

Flipping the classroom,” based on the Khan Academy approach, is another innovation in K-12 education. Students watch videos of their teacher’s presentation of lessons as homework, and then classroom time is focused on research, problem-solving and group work. Students can more easily go back and review something to better understand the material, rather than missing an important concept in a traditional lecture format.

In a flipped classroom—increasingly being incorporated in schools across the country—the teacher is seen less as “the sage on the stage” and more as the “guide on the side.”

The world of education is changing rapidly. With more than 20,000 apps applicable to K-12 education already available, finding the right ones for a particular teacher and classroom can be a daunting prospect. Teacher websites, such as Teachers Pay Teachers, allow teachers to share information with other educators across the country. Many apps are free or available at very low cost, and according to the four teachers at “Literacy Summit 4,” they are well worth the effort.

Pat Fredericks, a member of Cal State University Associates, a CSUSB-PD support group, said in her opening remarks at the symposium, “There is a demonstrated need for these programs in the Coachella Valley. Applied technology helps promote technological literacy as well as program development.”

CSUSB-PD has opened the Porter Resource Room on the third floor of the Indian Wells Building, providing resources for history and social studies for kindergarten through sixth-grade, all aligned to the recently adopted core-curriculum standards.

If you haven’t visited a classroom recently, stop bemoaning the state of American education—and find out for yourself how technology is changing the ability of teachers to teach and students to learn.