Author Archives: Sandra Pesmen

Memories and Heirlooms Help Us Live On

As long as memories of us live on–we do too.

I make sure our children and grandchildren remember my husband, “Papa Hal,” with stories and anecdotes we continue to tell about him at every gathering around our family dining room table in the home we shared for 55 years.

But I believe tangible items help too.

This week I gave our 15-year-old grandson Josh, a musician, his grandfather’s tuxedo, complete with designer evening shirts, cumberbund, and accessories. Tall and slim like his grandfather, Josh was “over the moon” and marched around the house in it, planning to wear it when he performs, as well as (eventually) to his prom. “I’ll rock in retro!” he exclaimed.

His cousin, Sara, who is getting married in June, is equally delighted when she receives something  memorable from our family “treasure trove.” At a recent shower I gave Sara the silver butter dish her adoring grandfather and I received at our own wedding.

(And of course I included a check with a note on it that said, ” This is for the butter!)




Don’t Chase After Married Kids

There’s that temptation when you live alone after your spouse’s death, to want to tighten the bonds between yourself and the rest of the family, particularly children and grandchildren.

One friend of mine sold the large family home when her husband died and moved with her grown son into a small ranch home in the same town, close to her newly married daughter.

That was fine until last year when the daughter bought a home in a far away suburb, became pregnant. She just had the family’s first grandchild and my friend, who still works full time, spends every free moment at their home, babysitting when the parents leave and helping when they are present.

Last month my friend announced she planned to sell her current house and buy one closer to her grandchild so she can be more helpful.

The kids didn’t see it that way. Her daughter told her they’re thinking of selling their new home in a couple years and moving back toward the city because the commute is too far to work.

Let that subtle message work for all of us. They don’t want us on top of them. They will call when they need us. Trust me .


Randhill Park Welcomes Interfaith Couples

My nephew, who lives  in Arizona, recently came to Chicago and visited his parents’ graves in Shalom Memorial Park and Funeral Home in Arlington Heights, IL.

“It’s such a pretty, restful place” he told me, “And now that I’m turning 70, I’m thinking of my own final plans, and I was wondering what to do because my wife of 26 years is Christian and I’m Jewish. I want to keep the family together.”

Fortunately, the Jewish cemetery where his parents are buried includes a special section for people who have intermarried, and he was able to pre-plan satisfactory arrangements.

This problem becomes even more relevant as more people  continue to marry outside their faith.

Shalom’s Executive director Maynard Grossman explains: “Many families we serve have individuals from different backgrounds and traditions. Shalom Memorial Park and Funeral Home are formally affiliated with Randhill Park Cemetery to accommodate the needs of these diverse families.

Randhill Park is a non-sectarian cemetery located on the grounds immediately adjacent to Shalom Memorial Park. Many interfaith families are drawn to Randhill Park’s lovely Garden of Devotion. This private garden was designed particularly for the needs of interfaith families.”

Randhill Park offers a full range of options including its general grounds, outdoor mausoleum and columbarium. For more information about Randhill Park, please contact  (847) 255-3520.



Help Keep Sales Associates Working

Headlines screamed “American Retailers Lay Off Thousands!” again last week, and we learned the reason is that too many shoppers are doing their shopping online.

Well, I am not one of them. I am doing my best to keep sales associates working.

Aside from EBooks from Amazon, I pretty much browse through the Internet for ideas, then go to retail stores to see, smell, touch or try on the items I searched. That goes for food, fashion, furniture and anything else I need.

I met a woman on a plane last month who works as a personal grocery shopper. People phone in orders to her company and she goes to the store and squeezes the lettuce for them, fills the order and has it delivered. I know it’s a time saver for busy people, but it’s very expensive and also, when I worked full time in the city while caring for a home and family in the suburbs, I relished that quiet time alone in the supermarket on weekends (where nobody could get at me.)

The same goes for clothes and home furnishings. For example, if I see a dress online that interests me, I search for a nearby store where I can try it on, feel the fabric, and decide if it’s really the same pretty shade it appeared to be on my computer. Also, I can see if it fits properly. If the answer is yes to all that,  I pay only what the dress costs with no shipping charges, and carry it home with no need to wait for delivery in a week or  return it if it disappoints.

My young friends and relatives who order almost everything online cry, “I’m sooooooooo busy,” and they find me ridiculous. But I pay no attention to them. I have been equally busy over the years and was grateful for the opportunity to have both a family and a career during earlier years when so few women did.

Let me know if you agree or disagree. And remember, those sales associates need you!




Your Driving Is- Driving Me Nuts

You may not be guilty–but too many women drive around while talking on cell phones and clicking at texts when they should be watching the road.

I know, I know. The call came in while you were at the stoplight.

If so, then pull over to answer, or let it wait until you get where you’re going. Answering while driving is DANGEROUS for you and everyone in your path. (It’s also rude if someone else is in the car.)

Similarly, I’m annoyed when I see you turn left into the far right lane because  you plan to turn right later. As a driving instructor taught me: THAT IS AGAINST THE LAW AND WILL GET YOU A TICKET OF A COP SEES YOU DO IT. Always turn left into the same lane you are in, then turn on your right turn signal and cross to right lane. It’s not rocket science, yet too few people do it.

The last irritation is illegal use of handicapped parking spaces. It’s a great temptation to continue to use the handicapped card after your husband, who actually needed it, has died. Also, no one can actually catch you because many disabilities may not be detected by others. But if that card hasn’t been issued to you for your own disability–please do the right thing and throw it away. People with real disabilities need the space.

Fortunately, you can drive past it and count your blessings if you don’t




Move Over, Superman. SuperAgers Take Center Stage

Earlier this month I appeared at a seminar on “SuperAging”—a study of people over 80 who still maintain memories unusually well, held in Montgomery Place Senior Residence at 5550 South Shore Dr.,Chiccago,

Main speaker was Dr. Emily Rogalski, research associate professor for the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s disease Center at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. It’s one of 31 centers in the country studying Alzheimer’s disease, but the only center studying older adults who defy—for whatever reason—what is regarded the typical or normal memory loss for most adults their age.

The study also is trying to determine what is “common” versus what is “possible” at a certain age.

Dr. Rogalski reported that the study found one trait in common among the subjects and that was they all exhibited “curiosity,” which many seniors no longer do.

Another, more scientific commonality is that MRIs of those studied show all have an intact “anterior cingulated cortex”  in the center of the brain that affects the ability to control and manage uncomfortable emotions which is often the motivating force in negative behaviors such as substance abuse, binge eating, and suicide.

It also seems to increase the ability to focus and concentrate, which leads to strong memory retention. Research suggests that also may strengthen long- term memory and lead to a tendency to story-telling, all of which was shown in the study subjects.

I also spoke at the meeting, describing my experience as a subject in the SuperAger study. My talk is in the following post.





SuperAger “Exhibit A” Speaks

I’m SuperAger Exhibit A, one of 74 subjects chosen from 1,000 candidates to participate in the Feinberg Medical School’s Superager study.

Since my mother died at 40 , and my father at 50. They didn’t live long enough to have memory problems, and relatives who did live to old age didn’t exhibit any.

So who knows why we live so long, or why some of us remember more than others.? I don’t.

But I’m gratefully healthy, I walk 1 ½  miles a day, and, since Dr. Maria Piers told us many years ago, “To remain happy and fulfilled, don’t retire FROM something, retire TOO something,” — that’s what I did.

Since retirement 20 years ago, I’ve worked from home for my company, Widlist Media LLC, writing two blogs:, advice to widows, and, advice to joblorn.

I also give two seminars for senior organizations and communities:

1.Surviving widownhood.

2. a slideshow/ talk called “Celebrities I Have Known” based on my years as a features writer for Chicago papers and on my memoir, “Stairway to the Stars: John Travolta, Woody Allen, Joan Rivers..and Me.”

I joined the Superager program 4 years ago when I found a notice  in the Chicago Tribune, asking people over 80 who had good memories to call. Since I’ve always been told I remember things no one else does, I did call and was given a test on the phone.

During the test I was asked to listen to a list of 20 words then repeat back a many as I could.  I later felt I “cheated” because I instinctively “bundled” like words together, i.e. Shelter: house, tent, cabin. I did confess that and I was told that wasn’t cheating, it was “strategizing” and that was to be commended.

After acceptance, I was taken aback  when they asked me to volunteer to donate my brain (which they MRI regularly)to the study  upon my death so they can compare it to those of dementia patients.

I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to do that. Then I thought, “ What will I do with it?”  (Also, I rationalized that it wasn’t like donating my body, which I wouldn’t do because I don’t want a bunch of young med students standing round, pointing and laughing. Or as Bob Hope said, saying “ that one need pressing.”)

One thing they don’t talk about in these research studies is how difficult it is to grow old and widowed as sickness and death encroach  your circle of friends and family.

It takes a strong sense of self and an even stronger sense of humor—and the ability to look death in the eye as a noble combatant you’ll have to face one of these days.

Many of us try and make sensible exit plans and my friend Estelle was no exception. She lived in a small suburban ranch with a cement driveway. Her neighbor built a small garage on that driveway and after 50 years, the automatic door broke. The repairman said it would cost more to repair the motor than replace the door, so she agreed. As he was writing the invoice, he told her, “This is a great door. If there’s even  a slight whiff of carbon dioxide the door flies up.”

And she said, “Stop right there. Fix the old one. I’m usieng the garage to get out of here.” And Estelle told her she better not change the door because she only had a driveway and she was going to use it too!









Participate in holiday–and in Life

I think I feel it  most at Spring holiday time, when we women used to gather at the meat counter of our local market buying brisket or ham–whichever our holiday required.

And we gossiped: “No one makes a brisket as good as mine, I make it with beer–and my sponge cake uses 13 eggs,” one would boast .

Another would chime in, “All the children love my bunny cake. I sprinkle pink coconut over the top and use a marshmallow for a nose, with a cherry for the mouth.”

But we aren’t hearing that anymore, and those ladies aren’t at the meat counter anymore. (Where have all the butcher shops gone?)

The next generation has taken charge and younger men and women in the family, plan, prepare, or order the meal, using shortcuts where they can because every one is too busy working to make much from scratch.

So should we complain about taking a back seat ?
No way! Enjoy it.

If you feel left out, stop right there.

Don’t ask permission to participate in holiday preparations. Bake that sponge cake or coconut bunny dessert. Bring it to the dinner with or without permission, and see how glad everyone will be to have such a delightful reminder of yesterday.

If you keep participating in the family’s holiday parties, you continue to participate in life.

And if you have no family party to go to, invite yourself to a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen and help serve.

That may be an even greater way to participate in both the holiday and in life.

My Grandson—WHO????

Sometimes I wonder just how foolish the younger generation thinks we are.

I just got a phone call from a young man who said, “Hi, this is your oldest grandson.”

The line was somewhat garbled, so I said I couldn’t hear him. He tried again, “Is that better? This is your oldest grandson.”

I do have a beloved grandson in another part of the country, but I was sure that voice on the garbled line with no traceable id, wasn’t him. So I asked, “Who is this?”

And that fool took a shot: “Michael. It’s your grandson Michael.” And of course I have no grandson by that name,

I have been previously warned that scammers call seniors giving similar greetings, but I never thought it would happen to me.

If you go along with it, I’m told, the caller adds he’s in a foreign country and was mistakenly arrested and needs you to send money. They usually suggest various ways of dong that, often asking for your banking information.

Most of us are too careful to be swept into such nonsense. But  one more warning never hurts.

If you get such a call and can’t immediately identify the voice of your grandchild, hang up. Then check his wherabouts with the family. Then alert the police and your bank.

Has this happened to you or a friend? What was the outcome?



When Cell Phone Gets Unwanted Bath


We carry those cell phones everywhere.

We buy protective covers in case they drop and break. Sometimes we buy replacement insurance.

And now you can buy protection against water ruining them.

During my last visit to the Verizon store a woman came in moaning that she had dropped her phone in the washing machine. The salesman assured her not to worry, and for $23 he put the phone into a new “dryout box” that sometimes solves the problem. It did not.

Ah, but here’s something my personal IT expert says does work:

If the cell phone gets wet, put it into a bowl and cover it with dry uncooked rice. The rice should absorb the moisture.

It’s worth trying before you pay for dropping it into a magical drying box. ###