Asking around about favorite holiday memories, common themes come up. Childhood surprises and traditions are big. Special foods, traditional blessings, decorations, and song abound. But through all those things, the common thread is people.

We need each other; relationships are special. Family is usually front and center, but special memories and times often reach beyond family.

Sharing a low beach fire with grandchildren on a late summer night while watching a red crescent moon set silently into the lake is unbeatable. Far from any town or light, as blackness descends, the night sky unlocks a limitless treasure trove of stars; unimaginable in distance or dimension. We crane our necks to try to take it in. The vastness and density of stars, milky way, occasional satellite or rare prize of a shooting star bind us in common awe. It’s a prize night.

Two seemingly unrelated stories recently came my way.  They tie together.

The first was from a friend, concerned about a smart woman in her nineties used to making decisions and managing her life, who found herself unable to access needed medical support. This woman, a retired nurse with complex medical issues, felt frustrated and increasingly vulnerable; understanding what needed to happen, yet unable to find physicians accepting new patients.

The second story was about a twenty-six year old woman launching a career studying age. As an undergraduate freshman, she was horrified to discover people who need assistance with common household tasks or bodily functions, often felt shame over their condition. She came to view the world through a social justice lens and began to figure out what effects living in an ageist society had upon assumptions about life, death, and dignity.

Did you know that counting inland lakes and rivers, seventy percent of Berrien County residents live within one mile of a body of water? Not only are there forty miles of Lake Michigan coastline, southwest Michigan boasts 306 inland lakes and rivers as well. Couple that natural beauty with railroad, shipping and easy interstate connections to nearby cities, and you have core assets needed for economic growth. What a glorious area we live in!

                As a member of the Cornerstone Alliance Board, I’ve been privy to the impressive economic development work of the Alliance for some time. They are a local powerhouse responding to and attracting businesses seeking a place to call home. Now, recent creation of the Berrien County Economic Development Partnership offers a whole new level of collaboration.

A majority of people turning 65 can expect to use some form of long-term care in their lives.

What does that mean? How can I plan for it?

Needing long-term care means sometime in the course of our lives most of us will need daily assistance with routine activities such as dressing, bathing, eating and attending to personal needs. Assistance can be provided in a nursing home, but it’s provided increasingly in one’s own home.

How “livable” is your community? Having added three decades of life to life expectancy over the past hundred years, and recognizing persons’ age 85 and up are the fastest growing part of our population, it’s a fair question.

Do you know the interesting thing? Factors that make a community livable benefit all ages. For example, a person with arthritis may find he/she can’t walk very far. A community that installs well placed benches however, not only provides resting spots, but also place for moms with kids in tow and friends to rest and chat.

Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. MARIE CURIE

 We can’t control or predict the varied health issues we each will have to deal with, but we have more power over the future than most people realize. Dr. Harry Lodge, MD and Professor of Medicine at Columbia University points out that this is true for brain health as well as physical health.