Life happens, and life is chosen. Both are true.
And they are true for most of one’s life. With, I would say, an emphasis on the making good choices part. However, as one who is aging into an elderhood I did not foresee, I have become more definitely aware of the “life happens” part.
“Aging” is not a word people like to use these days…at least the younger ones who are afraid that they are…well…aging. Whatever euphemism we choose to use, “growing up”, “getting on in years”, “becoming elders” or insisting on a “young-old” designation, life, in terms of getting older, is definitely happening to us. Those of us beyond 60, may be finding we don’t necessarily welcome all that is happening.
In the natural order of things, my parents died, my father at 75 and my mother at 90. A real felt loss. Two years ago death arrived uninvited to my generation, at the time of my younger brother’s demise at 67. The losses are piling up. My marriage dissolved. My pace is slower. My aches and pains are more prominent. Life happens. Grief is alive and warranted.
I’m now finding myself paying more conscious attention to the second part of that paradoxical equation, just in order to help me deal with the first part.
- What life choices are required of me at this point in my existence?
- Where is the process of normal aging inviting me to grow?
- How will I live with the life that is happening to me and enable myself to still live the life I want to live?
Sparked by conversations with my elder neighbors, I am spending more time contemplating these choices. One 94-year old neighbor was not so worried about her health. Rather, she was concerned that her longevity was a “punishment” for having lived a healthy life. She was ready to leave her life. A good death for her meant “now.” Her decline presented itself in arthritic hands that could no longer sew, and she had a hard time cooking. Both things she loved to do. Her declining eyesight had mandated no more driving, signifying more limitation. And yet, she was a lively being.
Her frustration was that she did not feel useful. Nearly 20 years older than I, and still interested in the world around her, she couldn’t figure out how to let go of what she used to love to do….. and still feel useful. In looking around my senior independent residence, I note that she is not the only one amongst us who has lost an essential and self-nourishing ability to see and play with their prized stamp collection, or to manipulate a sewing needle, or to read the newspaper.
Her children weren’t helping. They routinely ignored her pleas and suggested she had reached an age where she didn’t need to be useful. Duhh…
I don’t think it’s ever time to ignore the basic human need to be useful. But it’s a dilemma.
- How do we structure the “sooner than later” conversations that help us plan to make the time at end-of-life fulfilling?
- What kind of growth is required of us to “accept” our losses, and not feel so diminished by them?
- How do we encourage adult children to listen to their parents when they are struggling to figure this out?
- How do we make changes in the structure of our elder living institutions to encourage a community of “contribution” where people feel they have a part to play on this earth?
I am articulating my choice for 2016. I want to continue to live well. And I want to slow the pace of my normal decline. Although I have lost my sense of taste, I still see and react well enough to drive, and my hands still pound the computer keyboard with great joy. Two books are writing themselves in my head and I know they will emerge in time.
My specific priority for 2016 is healthy eating and regular, very targeted, exercise. I want to make those single, simple, choices in real time on a daily basis. On the days that I succeed with my resolve, I feel terrific. Thus, I commit and strengthen that intention, in public. And will keep reporting in.
P.S. That the “usefulness question” even exists, saddens me deeply. It warrants exploration in our wider community and probably on a national scale. How can I help?
Let’s all think about it.