For many people in the later years, the sphere of relationships is continuously diminishing. Various theories on disengagement suggest that this is the normal pattern of life for people as they retire. The word “disengagement” itself suggests a withdrawal from active life. I remember when my father retired at the age of fifty-five. It seemed early at the time, but he was convinced that he had had enough of the trials and tribulations of his job and was now ready to “take life easy”. That he did. He had a number of hobbies and now had plenty of time to pursue them. However, what I began to see was a gradual process of isolating himself away from the very active life he had led to one where there would be the passage of longer and longer periods of time when he was not out connecting with others. He stopped engaging in new pursuits and opportunities that might be stressful or challenge him to take some risks. Of course, with taking risks comes making mistakes, perhaps being rejected and it was as if he wanted to protect himself from the jarring emotions that sometimes one must face with that kind of engagement. His world became smaller and smaller and as this was happening, he began to focus more and more on his health and the potential for becoming ill. It was as if he almost willed himself into illness by dwelling on the fear that perhaps he might get cancer. His mother had died of stomach cancer in her forties and left him having to become the caretaker of a sick father for many years until his eventual death at 94. I often felt that he had held the loss of his mother very deeply within him, no permission really being given to him to properly grieve the loss of his very close relationship to her. Each of his four girls watched as he seemed to create a self fulfilling prophecy of his fears, finally being diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of 74.
I recently visited a new dear friend Audrey, who will be reaching the ripe age of 99 this year. She was showing me pictures of her recent trip down to New Orleans with her doting daughter for a family member’s ninetieth birthday. Listening to her account of the adventures she experienced with her charming way of drawing people to her like a bear to the honey pot, left me feeling in awe of her seemingly natural ability to connect with others. Quiet and serene, she seems to be driven by this desire and it certainly is looking good on her, with a smile so radiant you can’t help but feel good in her presence. She is the greatest example of lovin later life that I have seen, finding joy in each day and looking at each possibility to engage as a gift to see the cup of life as being half full and not half empty. There is no walker in sight and she remains living actively in her own home, still cooking, with the loving eye of her daughter watching over her. She continues to extend her warm nature out into the community through volunteering once a week at the hospital, something she has done for many years. It brings her ongoing engagement with new people, the joy of companionship and an affirming sense of satisfaction that she continues to make a difference in people’s lives.
Finding this sense of GRACE in aging seems to require that we are willing to be Generous, Resilient, Accepting, Compassionate and maybe most importantly, willing to Engage. As a budding boomer, I am part of the generation that loved to protest. To stand up and say that things could be different. I suppose that coming into Elderhood will also be a time of learning to create the life I really want, a quieter time of reflection, but definitely not one of moving to the sidelines. Guided by the inspirational few of the generation before me that have forged a path of movement towards self-fufillment, emotional interdependence and communal contribution as they age, I too want to pick up the torch and find nurturance in this time of life through spiritual, meditative and contemplative practices. I do believe that there is a new way of aging that is sending out a call to shift our viewpoint of the later years of life that may carry with it a unique pleasure. It is a pleasure that grows from an intensified consciousness of the preciousness of life, of time, and of other human beings.
When you begin to sense that you are reaching an ending, it creates new conditions of thoughtfulness, reflection, memory, and desire that are inaccessible to those oblivious to the passage of time. This new sensitivity can add an enriching dimension to the meaning of one’s life. It is not that we are not met with trials and tribulations, nor are we immune to fears, failures and frailties, but perhaps this changing mindset is a true illustration of the saying, “Living well is the best revenge.”
Come pick up the torch with me and explore the path to Grace Full Aging: Creating the Life You Want in a one day workshop to be held March 28th. Call 250-863-9577 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details. Click here for flyer: GRACEFULL AGING FLYER