By Mary Fridley
In my last post, I wrote about Susan Massad, my best friend and an extraordinary doctor who devoted her life to working with people of all ages and from all walks of life to create their health, which she understood as inseparable from creating our lives. It is with great sadness – and even greater pride in how much she has meant to so many – that I write to let you know that Susan died on November 29. If you would like to learn more about her life, here is a tribute written by the East Side Institute (Institute), where she and I have been on the faculty, and where we created “The Joy of Dementia (You Gotta Be Kidding)” workshop and conversation series.
My previous agebuzz post inspired interest by Judith Graham, a respected columnist at Kaiser Health News (KHN), in devoting one of her columns to Susan and some of the health team members who were with her throughout her cancer and end-of-life journey. So while I miss Susan terribly, I am thrilled that so many more people around the world can benefit from her always humanizing approach to health care. I am also heartened by the many responses the KHN piece has generated, including the following, which I found especially touching.
“The reason I was attracted to the story was that I can see how helpful it would be to have a couple of people whom I could talk to about my life/death questions and decisions — without advice or strong opinions. The idea never occurred to me before; I thought these decisions and fears were something one had to keep to himself.”
As someone who believes that our lives are never well-served by keeping much of anything to ourselves, I applaud this reader for even contemplating the possibility of doing something different and have let him know I will support his journey in any way I can.
Also deeply moving has been the love and support I have received from friends and colleagues around the world, some close, others less so, but all urging me to take the time needed to grieve, to reflect, and to take care of myself.
I freely admit that I have never been terribly good at taking this kind of care for myself, but I am committed to doing something more positive this time around. Fortunately, my ability to do so was significantly bolstered after reading “Do you know what self-care is?”, by Institute director Lois Holzman for her “A Conceptual Revolution” column in Psychology Today.
“There’s been a lot of self-care advice out there, especially during this most unusual holiday period. As we begin a new year, it would do all of us well to try out some of the tips being offered for taking care of yourself and dealing with stress—deep breathing, meditating, exercising, eating and sleeping better, and creating your own special “me time,” to name a few.
The advice I have to add to these excellent ideas is of another sort and, because of that, it might even help you stick with those suggested wellness ideas. My advice is not so much about how you take care of what you think of as “you,” but about how you relate to yourself and everything around you…
…For, if you’re like most people, you want desperately to know—what to do in a particular situation, what’s going to happen, who’s right, and who’s wrong. But if the COVID pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we cannot know. We cannot know what to do, what’s going to happen, or who’s right and who’s wrong. The way to get through this, I’m convinced, is to embrace the unknown.”
Intrigued? Then I hope you will take a moment to read the entire piece.
In closing, I want to give a heartfelt thanks to agebuzz and its readers for being such a positive presence in my life and for allowing me to share my friend with you. If you are interested in learning more about Susan’s innovative approach to health care, check out Medicine Across Borders: The Subjectivity of Health and Healing, a compilation of her writings published shortly before her death.
I also want to express my appreciation to agebuzz founder Connie Zuckerman for believing that I have something to say and for making everything I write better.
And please accept my best wishes to you and yours for a safe, healthy, and hope-filled new year.
Mary Fridley is on the faculty at the East Side Institute in NYC, co-creator and leader of The Joy of Dementia (You Gotta Be Kidding!), and coordinator of Reimagining Dementia: A Creative Coalition for Justice. An accomplished teacher and workshop leader, Mary practiced social therapy for 12 years and uses the social therapeutic approach as a teacher and workshop leader. She is the author or co-author of several articles and chapters on the Joy of Dementia, including a chapter that appears in The Applied Improvisation Mindset published in August 2021. Additionally, Mary is a guest blogger for agebuzz and a playwright and theater director. She makes her living as a non-profit fundraising consultant. She can be contacted at [email protected].