What does aging well look like?
My mother used to live in a retirement village in Florida. It’s graduated care so as people lose their ability to care for themselves they can move to another unit. It starts with a typical apartment and then progresses to assisted living with an optional Alzheimer unit and a hospital-like unit as well.
I typically took my mom out to eat to give her a little variety in her life. But I also ate meals in her dining room to share her daily experience. That was enlightening. She shared a table with three other women, all in their eighties and nineties. They ate in silence only breaking it to comment on the quality of the food or service.
Aging Well Means Dealing With Loss
When I visited I tried to make small talk with the ladies but none of them heard well, thus, helping me understand the reason behind the silence. But as I listened closely to the few comments they made, there were deeper reasons for the silence.
I think they all struggled with an immense sense of loss. Loss of their husbands, loss of hearing, loss of their family coming to see them, loss of mobility, loss of something to look forward to each day, loss of mental abilities…the list is endless. Whenever I would encourage them to “have a good day” the typical response was, “I don’t think it will be” or something to that effect. Ouch. So sad.
I usually left with two strong feelings; one, intense sadness for the grief my mother and others like her endure every day in the face of their increasing losses. And two; the fear of having to face that same situation.
Fast forward forty years. How will I handle the loss? If I allow myself to focus on the losses in my life I’ll be just like they were. I’ll despair. To sit at a table with people in silence and return to my room to take a nap and watch CNN is enough to make me want to scream.
Aging Well Means Focusing on What I Have
For me to age well I need to find what I DO have and dwell on that. What will I have in my nineties when I’ve lost most everything? God. That might sound simple or cliché but it’s true. It’s what the Christian mystics have always told us. It’s what people like Viktor Frankl said who survived the Nazi death camps. It’s what paraplegic’s like Joni Tada tell us who overcome their condition. To survive all encompassing losses God must become our all-in-all. I must find my satisfaction in Him alone because some day He might be all that I have.
Aging Well Starts Now
But here’s the real kicker…I can’t wait until I’m ninety to develop this mindset. I need to bring this perspective with me before my mind starts to slip. Finding joy simply in the presence of God needs to be a habit today because tomorrow might be too late. I might lose it all tomorrow and become a bitter man because I can only see the loss and nothing good about my life.
Now, this post is about the elderly. But it’s for you too. What are the losses that you are focusing on today that rob you of your life? Right now you have the luxury of distracting yourself from your losses through work, entertainment, relationships, etc. What if all of those distractions were gone? What would you have left? How would you face your losses? And then, how might learning to find your fullness and satisfaction apart from your accomplishments, possessions and relationships help you in your life today? It’s worth considering. It might be the difference between joy and despair in days to come.
You might enjoy this article: Understanding Older Adult Grief
Question: What needs to change in order for you to age well? Leave your comment below.