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Martha Stewart Takes on Health Care

The domestic doyenne dishes about the opening of her visionary medical center for seniors, her own health challenges, and the lessons learned while coping with the loss of her mom.

Senior Care in America continued...

"Being healthy is all about being prepared," agrees Ridge. "Our health care system is not prepared, and the vast majority of individuals are not prepared. Having someone with Martha's clout and her ability to speak will raise awareness of this issue. Just like they look to Martha for planning other aspects of their lives, we think they'll look to her for this aspect as well."

Steel, for one, hopes Stewart can bring these issues to the forefront -- because he sees a tidal wave coming. By 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 87 million people in the United States will be older than 65 -- more than 20% of the projected population. "I can tell you that American geriatric medicine has gargantuan problems," Steel says. "There's too much expensive hospital care, and there needs to be more care at home. But unless we have places like Stewart's center that can make good outpatient care for seniors possible -- and good geriatricians to provide it -- there will be a serious crisis in geriatric care."

Big Martha, RIP

She may have had her own struggles with the health care system, but Martha Kostyra, in many ways, was just about the perfect example of living well into your later years -- still active and energetic as she approached her 93rd birthday. She seemed indomitable, so her death was likely a shock to her daughter, says Pamela Sollenberger, MS, a certified grief counselor who serves on the advisory board for the American Academy of Grief Counseling.

"When someone has been very ill for a long time, we're a lot further along in our grieving when that person dies," she says. "But if it's a relatively sudden loss, we have no time to prepare.'

The loss of a parent is particularly devastating. "It doesn't matter what age you are, you end up becoming that orphan," says Sollenberger. "We look to our parents as the protector, the guide, the nurturer, the unconditional love source."

And just because Stewart isn't wearing her grief on her crisply ironed sleeve doesn't mean she isn't struggling in private. "Your grief is unique only to you. Yours is different than mine, Martha Stewart's is different than ours," Sollenberger says. "We may go through the same stages of grief, but we do it differently. The process takes a lot of time, and nobody can tell you when it's time to move on."

One way of grappling with loss is to channel energies into something that honors that person and creates a legacy for them. For Stewart, this could mean deepening her involvement with the Martha Stewart Center for Living, which mattered so much to her mother. Others, says Sollenberger, might work with underprivileged children, fund a scholarship, or contribute their efforts to some other cause that was important to the person they lost. Some people engage in what Sollenberger calls "instrumental grieving," which could be anything from chopping wood to hoeing the garden to kickboxing. "Sometimes it's easier to exercise your grief than to talk about it," she says.

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