Five things I learned from moving often as a child.

Born in New York, Denise Demaras spent much of her childhood moving from place to place. She learned to cope with disruption and find meaning through creative expression and mindfulness – and today helps others to do the same.


Change is a choice.

As a young girl I was quiet, an introvert. At age eight my family began moving often, which caused me a great deal of fear and anxiety. New places were difficult to manage at first. I was on stage as the new girl in school. I learned to transform myself, really change myself from the core, to be outgoing.


Curiosity promotes personal growth.

There are many different cultures in one country, one city, one town, one state, even one neighborhood. People with different lineages had different foods, different holidays, different beliefs and values. Moving opened an entire new world for me. It made me curious about people and the many ways to live.


Learning how to be alone helps you never be lonely.

I learned how to entertain myself. I wrote letters. I explored parks and nature. Creativity, especially drawing while listening to music, playing with fashion, writing, illustration and photography, helped me to express myself and process my emotions.


Know and accept everyone, yourself included.

So many accents! People can be very mean and tease a child who speaks with the wrong accent or wears different clothing. I learned to pick the most important things to emulate in the different terrains as we moved. Observing the varying cultures so that I could ‘blend’ in without losing my own identity was important to me. 


Letting go leads to creativity.

Throughout the moving about, I had to go with life; resistance was not an option as a child. Letting go of familiarity to start over again and again became a pattern and that pattern was creative. I stayed with the creative beat of my heart – it is the beat of my life still. 


Denise is an artist, author, meditation teacher and the founder of Solutions Coaching Method. She continues to move often.

Five things I learned from becoming a university student (at the age of 82)

Mary George left school in 1945, going on to work as a dental nurse, get married and bring up two children. More than six decades later, recently widowed and finding herself with time on her hands, she enrolled on a degree course with the Open University. Here are some of the things she learned from returning to formal education in her eighties.


It’s never too late to be the person you’ve always wanted to be.

Lots of things happened over the years that didn’t quite go according to plan. I very often felt that I was second-best, never quite getting to where I wanted to be in life. Doing the course made me think that perhaps, just once, I might achieve what I really wanted to achieve. The fact that I did get the degree – which I still pinch myself about at times – has helped to tell me that I can speak out, I have got a voice. In recent years in particular, matters of principle matter a lot more to me. In the past I would have sat back and afterwards thought I should have said something, but I am much braver now. I will express an opinion where perhaps in the past I wouldn’t have done, particularly if I feel it is something that should be addressed. On the other hand, I quite like a quiet life, thank you. I don’t get involved with arguments if I can help it. Let’s rephrase that: discussion is one thing, argument is another. I now have the confidence to “discuss” more than I used to, but arguments I still try to avoid!


It helps to have an objective – as long as it’s something you enjoy.

I think it’s a good idea to set yourself an objective, give yourself something to work towards. It may not necessarily be study, it may be things like reading a book a month, going out and mixing with people, going to a meeting when you don’t really want to go but doing it anyway. The more you get out, meet people and do things, the more you find that you can. When I make myself go out, very often I feel the better for it. I suppose the hardest thing is being disciplined. Doing the degree was a lot of work; I had to be firm with myself and allocate sufficient time for study. There were low times when I wondered whether I was wasting my time, but I wasn’t going to be beaten. You must enjoy what you are doing. If you don’t enjoy it, forget it. Put it down to experience and find yourself another objective.


Being an older student has its advantages.

I know I’m not the only one who’s left it late, nevertheless the majority of people on my course were very much younger. As an older person I found that I had a very different perspective. The fact that I’d moved about the country, done different jobs, met a lot of different people in different contexts, it all influenced how I looked at things. Perhaps I could compare and contrast more than some of the younger ones. Also, because I had been used to writing always by hand, I often found exams easier to do than those who had only ever used a computer. I would encourage someone considering study in later life to do it! Yes, as you get older you’re not so quick on the uptake at some things and physically you’re not so adept, but I don’t think it necessarily means you’re losing your mental abilities. In any case, you never stop learning even if you don’t bother with books; you’re learning all the time from the people that you meet and the things that you do.


Doing something positive for myself was good for the whole family.

By the time I was halfway through my degree I had three grandchildren at university. This really spiced things up. They thought it fun that they were studying for a degree and grandma was doing the same. I don’t know if it sounds silly, but that was a spur. My children had got degrees, my grandchildren were trying to get degrees – I’d got to keep my end up! It helped that my family as a whole were supportive. They didn’t laugh at me or say, “Silly old biddy! What does she want a degree for?” I suppose I’ve always hoped that I have been helpful to other people; I would like to think that I’ve been helpful in my life. This time I did something I wanted for myself, yet I think it was a good thing for the family as a whole. Branching out and going back to school was my way of saying, “I’m in on the act as well” – it gave us all something in common.


Keeping healthy requires both mind and body.

I feel we are a whole, mind and body;  if you try to keep one part healthy it helps the other. I’ve been fortunate – I’ve had my ups and downs healthwise, but I’m fairly stable. Like everybody else I have the odd dose of flu or coughs and colds. I’ve also had two hip replacements, which were quite a trial at the time. On the whole though I manage to keep well. I try to eat sensibly and keep my mind active and I think that helps. I believe that if I try to keep the little grey cells working, that is going to benefit me in other ways.  I’ve also got this odd streak of not wanting to be beaten. The family says I’m stubborn; you can take that which way you like. I’ve got a pedometer now and I’m trying to check that I keep walking. After I had my hip operations I was given some exercises and I still do those every morning after my cup of tea. (I’m a little bit decadent; I’ve got a teasmade, so every day starts off with a cup of tea in bed.) Whenever I can I use the stairs rather than the lift. It is an effort and sometimes I get to the top and I think, “You silly ass, why did you do that?”, but I know it’s good for me.

Mary will be 90 next month. She is currently studying with the University of the Third Age and Future Learn.

Five things I learned from my parents’ dementia

Between 1990 and 2000, my father lived with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. A few years later, my mother started showing similar symptoms and was diagnosed with exactly the same two conditions.  Here are some of the things that living with and loving them during that time taught me….


Being right isn’t always what matters.

It’s not worth contradicting someone who is losing their memory unless you absolutely have to. In the last few months of her life my mum starred in a movie, robbed a bank, fought with the Canadian army, sneaked a train ride to London without paying the fare and had an illicit night in a hotel with a strange man, all whilst apparently bedridden in a nursing home. She liked to tell of her adventures. We liked to listen to them. It was a relief for all of us not to have to quibble about what was actually ‘true’.


Memories are good, but so are lots of other things.

Memories are good but so are cuddles, hand-holding, singing, armchair-dancing, eating ice cream, pretending to be farm animals and numerous other things. It’s ok to be silly, ok to find ways of connecting that don’t require language, ok just to be here, now, without reference to what went before, without planning what might be to come. Many of us could probably benefit from doing more of these things anyway.


You’re allowed to feel whatever it is that you’re feeling.

If people haven’t lost someone they love to dementia, they may not understand when you grieve for someone who is still alive. We expect it after a death, but are less familiar with the kind of protracted heartbreak that comes from relentless, incremental loss. However, just because people around you can’t always empathise, don’t imagine for a second that you are not allowed to grieve. You’re entitled to feel whatever it is that you’re feeling. Don’t give yourself a hard time for that, on top of everything else.


It’s important to look after yourself, for everyone’s sake.

This process can last a long while so it’s worth figuring out how to keep yourself sane and healthy along the way. I say this with feeling – because I didn’t. So take time out. Don’t try to be superhuman. Know that it’s ok if you can’t visit as much as you’d like, if you can’t fix things, if you need to say no sometimes. If you go under, you won’t help anyone – you’ll just get shouty and resentful and hate yourself and everything will be harder than it needs to be. When you are gentle with yourself, you improve your chances of being gentle with your loved one, no matter what they do or say. So if you’re not great at taking care of yourself for your own sake, then know that you need to do this for theirs. Remember to eat and drink and sleep and cry and find kind people to lean on as necessary. Do fun things and laugh – yes, laugh, as often as you possibly can. And finally – ask someone else to buy the birthday card you know your loved one would wish to give you if a) they knew your birthday was coming up, and b) they remembered who you were, and get them to coax a wavering signature and seal up the envelope so that, when the day comes, you can look genuinely surprised and delighted to receive it. Don’t do all that yourself. It’s just a bit too hard.


Beautiful things can be found when you least expect them.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can discover beautiful things in your loved one that you didn’t know were there. A playfulness in someone who was driven and uptight. An ability to show physical affection in someone who was aloof. A rebellious streak in someone who was always impossibly ‘good’. Whatever you can find to enjoy – enjoy it. My dad was a strict man and, as a child, I was often scared of him. During his illness he became softer and sweeter, less materialistic, clearer that all that mattered was his family – even as he stumbled over our names and, eventually, forgot who we were. One day I arrived home to find my parents standing together at the doorway. “Have you met my wife?”, he asked. His eyes shone as he ushered us together, so proud to see two people he loved meeting for what he thought was the first time. Back then I could only see the sadness of his forgetting. Thankfully, years later, all I can remember is the love.