About Kristen Falde Smith
The creation of Artichokes & Grace, Getting to the Heart of Aging With Our Aging Parents & Within Ourselves is the culmination of my decades of experience in the rewarding and enriching field of gerontology. I discovered shortly after I began working with older adults that although the work could be sad and difficult at times, there was much joy and laughter to experience as well. I began to wonder if I could somehow share, through real stories, this more uplifting perspective of caring for aging parents while we also continue to advance in years. And I wanted to accomplish that without diminishing the sadness and struggles involved. With this intention in mind, I offer you Artichokes & Grace, a book about aging – our parents’ and our own – with a focus on joy, laughter, gratitude and hope.
I’d like to share with you a little more about my background. I’m the narrator of this book, so my own story may shed some light on how I approach the themes that are included in Artichokes & Grace.
I have been thinking about aging since the age of 23! That may sound a bit unusual. However, my very first job out of college, equipped only with a BA in Sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, was to provide social services in a retirement home and skilled nursing facility. At the time, I didn’t really know anything about older people or whether or not I would enjoy working with them. Fortunately, the Executive Director took a chance on me. So I would have to say that I sort of “fell” into gerontology. Hard to believe that was over 40 years ago.
Three years into my first job, I knew for certain that I had a special ability to respond effectively and with unexpected compassion to the needs and wants of older people. I decided to pursue this work as a career and enrolled in the Master of Science in Gerontology (MSG) program at the University of Southern California. I graduated with highest honors in 1978. I was in the second graduating class. We were considered the “pioneers” in this relatively new field.
Many of my friends had difficulty understanding why I wanted to work in the field of aging. “Isn’t it depressing?” they asked. “Aren’t you around death all of the time?” The answers were “no” and “yes.” I was, indeed, around death more than most people my age. Sometimes that was pretty tough. However, my work was not depressing. I had the opportunity, in my small way, to make the older years a bit better for some people. To me, it felt like an honor. And what I began to learn from the residents’ life stories made my understanding of life so much deeper.
In the decades that followed, I worked within long-term care in a variety of ways. I moved from social services into administration. While raising three children I served in volunteer leadership positions within a non-profit Board of Directors. Then, as I moved back into the workforce, I translated my volunteer work as the Chair for an ethics committee into a paid position as Director of Ethics for a large non-profit corporation.
I share this brief summary of my work to emphasize the different ways I’ve been involved in the lives of older people and their families. Social services gave me direct, one-on-one interactions. This included help with decision making about important life transitions. I was often a confidante, when necessary, a cheerleader, and sometimes a hand holder at the final breath.
My years in administration presented the challenge of constantly striving to provide the best quality of life for the older people within our service and care. Through my position in ethics, I worked with staff with the goal of offering the highest form of respect and dignity for the lives we touched.
And now, here I am, 66 years old and pretty much becoming my own client. I have now also experienced the very personal losses that come with aging through the death of both parents. I lost my father to prostate cancer and my mother to Alzheimer’s disease. Yet, I completely believe that as we pass through time and experience these losses, we can choose joy, find the humor, be grateful for opportunities to care, and have hope, no matter how things turn out. This is the basis for Artichokes & Grace. This is the basis for who I am as a person.
My hope for you, dear reader, is that the stories of Artichokes & Grace will give you new ways to think and feel about aging. As you care for aging parents and grow older yourself, remember the words of this book that challenge you to focus on joy, humor, gratitude and hope. And take a deep breath and smile.