Embrace the Challenge of Getting Older
My parents died within the last decade and I watched them age over a period of 10 years with a plethora of emotions.
It was was a whole new experience for my brother and I, one for which we had not consciously thought about or considered the possible elements.
As they progressed through their eighties, the rate at which they changed mentally and physically, increased and it was reminiscent of how fast we grew up as small children and adolescents.
As my parents aged, we dealt with issues as they arose, first a series of falls for my mother that resulted in various broken bones and finally a broken ankle from falling down the stairs.
In parallel were issues of painful arthritis, increasing mental decline for both of them, and increasing angina pains for my father.
With no prior preparation, my brother and I were learning as we went along.
Should we be sympathetic or stern; provide help that “enabled them” or show tough love; help solve their problems or let them figure it out themselves, especially when fear of changes seemed to dominate their minds?
It occurred to me that there had to be a better way than this to grow older; did God mean us to just wither away and peter out in a pathetic, sad old way, in our own unsuitable homes because we were too afraid of the alternatives?
Should we tassel with worry inflicted on loved ones over what “event” was going to happen next (falls, fires, and/or fatal forgetfulness)?
My answer was an emphatic “no”, but to get it right, I envisioned a scenario where we embraced growing older as we would a loved one, by cuddling, nurturing and making it our own willing companion.
This was a polar opposite from what I’d previously encountered.
People would say, “Oh let’s not talk about growing old, it’s too depressing” and so on.
But, the answer I felt was to talk about it and make us more mindful and less fearful of what lay ahead for each of us.
So doing would get our minds accustomed to the road and events ahead, just as we’d prepare our children for the thought of going to school as opposed to just announcing it on day one of kindergarten or first grade.
Why were we ignoring the elephant that existed in each of our lives, especially when we had the experience and wisdom of 50-60 years of living?
Talking about aging within a Church group setting was one of the easiest things to accomplish; tell your story of dealing with aging parents and it quickly becomes just as vibrant a subject as that of younger parents talking about child-raising.
The group then reflects the stories of parents’ aging onto themselves.
How will we react when our children want to help us with getting rid of stuff, downsizing, finding the courage to move to a more suitable and safe place to live, encouraging the family discussions of end-of-life wishes, and so on.
With my parents, I realized that I was “a day late” in suggesting they move to a ranch style home; they knew it was the right idea but the mere thought of moving was so energy-sapping that they couldn’t embrace it.
And suggesting that my brother and I would do it all for them was also met with resistance or guilt, or fear, or maybe all three.
They were trapped in a declining quality of life and increasing danger until an “event” would trigger an enforced change.
Rather than being able to be proactive and be in control of their situation, they were totally hands-off and thus only able to react after some adverse event had occurred.
Growing older is just another challenge from God, like those sent to us throughout life.
Learning to walk, swim, pass exams at school, pursue a career, marriage, raising children are all challenges that we took in our stride.
Why is growing older wisely, gracefully, spiritually not one more of those challenges? We retire and erroneously think that the challenges of life are over.
But, the art of retirement is a challenge, as is growing older.
So, let’s challenge the prior conventional wisdom on these topics and help everyone in their 50’s and older to see aging for what it really is and embrace it.
In so doing, we will make the best we can of it both for our own unique life and our loved ones.
Chris is a recently retired aerospace engineer and business owner who believes that every day of life needs to be lived to the fullest. “The Third Thirty” addresses the myriad of challenges that we face as we age, and encourages people to think differently about aging, embracing the challenges instead of ignoring them. His workshops equip Churches and other organizations to initiate their own “Third Thirty” discussion groups, promoting awareness of aging in a positive, realistic and spiritual manner.
He is an active member, and former Vice-President of the Presbyterian Older Adult Ministry Network (POAMN). Originally from the UK, Chris has lived in the USA for the past 28 years and now resides in New Orleans with his wife of 41 years. His passions are world travel, experiencing other cultures, the challenges of aging, and good food and wine.